Updated: Nov 7, 2020
What is zero waste kitchen? Instead of jumping straight into uncovering its definition, let’s first agree on what a broader concept of zero waste is and what it’s not. In short, leading zero waste lifestyle means sending nothing to landfill. Considering that such task is nearly impossible in a modern society, zero waste supporters aim to reduce what they need, reuse as much as they can, recycle where possible and compost their organic waste. In 2013, Bea Johnson who started zero waste lifestyle movement introduced to the world 5 Rs of zero waste - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot, and those are pretty self-explanatory.
Following these simple principles, zero waste kitchen is a product of transformation where you say “no” to unnecessary items, ditch anything unsustainable and single-use while switching to “green” reusables, repurpose what you can, recycle and compost. Due to the rise of greenwashing - marketing practices based on misleading information that present a business, its products and goals as environmentally friendly - it can be an overwhelming task to determine what belongs to your zero waste “green” kitchen and what you can live without. That’s why we’ve put together a list of six proven zero waste kitchen essentials that would help you to replace single-use, plastic and unsustainable products that still live in your kitchen. So, here we go.
#1. Reusable covers instead of cling wrap
The first cling wrap was invented by pure accident in an American lab in the 1930s. Today, globally there are over 100 different brands of plastic cling wraps - altogether they are posing a great threat to our environment and health. The amount of plastic cling wrap used by households is massive. To comprehend the size of the problem, take this stat as an example - each year, Americans buy enough plastic film to shrink-wrap Texas which equals to 1/10 of Australia as to its size.
Plastic cling wraps are also rarely recycled - not only it’s costlier when compared to using virgin materials, it also causes clogging of recycling machinery. Eventually, most of the plastic films you use end up in landfills or incinerators where they release a highly toxic chemical called dioxin. According to the World Health Organization, dioxins can cause reproductive and developmental issues, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and lead to cancer.
Today, plastic food wraps are made from PVDC, PVC, and polyethylene and those are considered toxic for human’s health. Although food regulation authorities permit less than a fraction of one percent of PVC and PVDC to migrate into food and this exposure level most probably wouldn’t cause any damage to your health on one or several occasions, the amount of plastic wraps we use in our daily lives is highly concerning.
Finally, as with any single-use plastics, some plastic cling wraps inevitably escape into the broader environment and enter our oceans and waterways. There, it picks up bacteria and metals that binds well to PVC and PVDC. Those contaminated plastic particles then have a high chance of harming marine animals that mistake them for food.
So, all in all, although plastic cling wraps can be convenient, it’s better to avoid them by replacing with some more environmentally friendly options such as reusable silicone or cloth covers. You can also use a plate to cover your food or use pots to store your leftovers.
#2. Naked bin/Reusable garbage bag instead of single-use garbage bags
Did you know that globally households use over 425 billion (yes, BILLION!) single-use plastic garbage bags every single year? This number doesn’t include garbage bags used by commercial and industrial sector. Unlike other single-use plastic items, single-use plastic garbage bags are destined for the landfill and never get recycled. They also escape to the broader environment polluting our iconic beaches and national parks, and kill marine animals such as whales or turtles. Zero waste pioneer Bea Johnson advocates for ditching single-use garbage bags, too. If you want to significantly contribute to plastic pollution reduction and reversal of climate change, consider an old school naked bin. For your convenience you can line your trash bin with newspapers as our grandparents used to do - there are many DIY guides to teach you how to do it. If you are not quite ready to go naked, we’ve got for you an awesome reusable alternative - TOMbag reusable garbage bags. Made with recycled PET bottles, it’s highly durable, washable and waterproof. Still not sure what’s a reusable garbage bag and how to use it? Watch this review from one of our fans in America.
#3. Silicone baking mat instead of baking paper
Baking paper is another kitchen item that is good to ditch. And why? Although made from paper, it is treated with an acid during manufacturing process which gives it high stability and high heat resistance. It’s also coated with a nonstick material, typically silicone. All that makes baking paper non recyclable and non compostable - just something that goes straight into landfill. Consider instead silicone mats for your baking or roasting. They are highly durable and come in some cute designs. In a long run they will also help you save some buck. What’s not to love?
#4. Unpaper towels instead of single-use paper towels
It takes 17 trees and more than 75,000 liters of water to make one tonne of paper towels. Not only they require a lot of resource in order to be manufactured, paper towels also lead to a significant waste as they can’t be recycled. Due to their low fiber content, it just isn’t cost-effective to do so. The good news is that there are many reusable alternatives to old school paper towels - from zero-waste kitchen unpaper towels to fully compostable dish cloths.
#5. Tea infuser instead of teabags
Do you know that most of the teabags contain plastic as manufacturers are using plastic material to heat seal the bags? Recent research study showed that steeping a plastic teabag at brewing temperature of 95C releases around 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into a single cup of beverage. Alarmingly, it has been proven that exposure to particles released from the teabags has a dose-dependent behavioral and developmental effects. So, do yourself favor and start using non-plastic tea-infuser with loose tea leaves. Your tea would taste better and the planet will thank you!
#6. Dish soap bars instead of dishwashing liquid
Typically, dishwashing liquid detergents are coming in a plastic bottle, so that’s an additional plastic waste your household normally generates. But that’s not the only drawback. Most dishwashing liquids are made with chemicals that are potentially harmful for human’s health. This is especially of concern if most of the time your dishwashing is done by hand. One of the most commonly used ingredients in liquid dish soap is Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) that is there to cut through the worst of the grease. When absorbed by the skin cells, SLS is able to cause rash and other allergic reactions. Another typical ingredient in your dishwashing liquid soap is triclosan that is present in many other household products such as toothpaste, or antibacterial soap. According to a new study, long-term exposure to triclosan may lead to liver cancer in mice, so that’s another strong argument for ditching any commercial dishwashing liquid soap you own. For your zero waste kitchen cleaning, you can opt for minimally packaged and generally lower-waste dishwashing bar soap and pair it with a sustainable dishwashing brush or zero-waste kitchen sponge of your choice.
Of course, there are many more zero-waste kitchen swaps out there that can help you achieve waste-free kitchen and save money in the long run, but as with any new journey it’s always best to start slowly and replace unsustainable items in your kitchen step-by-step. We wish you all the best on this beautiful and rewarding journey that helps our planet thrive!