Reducing Your Household Waste: Kitchen Edition

A few months ago I shared in an Instagram/Facebook post a little about some of my adventures in working towards reducing our household waste, especially that of single-use plastics (think: anything you use once and throw away).

The impact that our waste, especially single-use plastics, has had on our planet has been weighing heavily on me lately and the more reading I have done on the subjects of recycling, plastics, and climate change, the more I have felt called to make changes in my household and community.

I truly believe that our personal health and the vitality of our planet are intrinsically linked. We all want to live in communities with clean air and water to help us thrive. We want to be exposed to fewer chemicals and toxins. We want to have beautiful natural areas and wildlife that are unburdened by trash and waste and the devastating impacts of climate change.

But…it’s hard. Just like we are a society addicted to sugar and convenience foods, we are also addicted to plastic.

So where do you start if you feel called to make changes?

I believe it starts with building awareness of the impact of your lifestyle and following that up with small but deliberate habit changes. Just like with your relationship with your weight, food, and exercise, cutting back on your plastic consumption requires persistence and a mindset that values progress over perfection.

While I have been working to make changes for awhile, I recently gave myself a mini-challenge to change a convenience habit that I had.

This spring, I gave up disposable coffee cups (which can often not be recycled) for forty days. If I wanted to get a cup of coffee while out, I required myself to bring my reusable mug with me. It took awhile to remember and adjust, but I now always try to keep a reusable coffee mug with me when I go out and have even benefited from the fact that the coffee now doesn’t spill everywhere when it bumps around in the stroller PLUS it stays hotter, longer. Win, win, win!

I wanted to share this because while the commitment I made here was a small one, the act of focusing on just ONE thing at a time was a helpful tool in creating space for long-term habit change.

Just like with any habit, trying to focus on too many things at one time can be overwhelming, so creating small goals for a gradual and sustainable approach is really where it is at.

While we have been working on making some of these changes gradually over time, and we CERTAINLY are not perfect, today I would love to share a few of the specific ways we have worked on reducing our waste in our household (today we will talk kitchen and food management) to hopefully inspire you to use some of these ideas yourself.

Is there just ONE item on this list that you can commit to?

#1) COMPOST WHEN YOU CAN

Composting your food and yard waste is a fabulous way to productively reuse your waste. While you might think that throwing out food scraps in the can with your other trash would “all end up in the same place anyway,” the truth is that organic waste that ends up in landfills actually generates significantly more methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, than that which is composted. By composting these scraps instead, you can significantly reduce the amount of methane emissions your waste produces.

When we moved to Philadelphia from California we were shocked at how much harder managing our food waste was. While we used to have curbside compost pickup through our city waste management program, which greatly reduced what actually went into our actual “trash can,” we no longer had composting accessible to us as part of our city garbage program.

However, with a bit of research (a few years later) we finally found a private, local service that that offers composting. We are currently starting a free trial with Bennett Compost which does weekly compost pickups from your home for $18 per month and it feels so great to be composting again!

If you live in a place that doesn’t offer city-wide composting, I encourage you to do a little research to find out what services are available locally or even start your own compost pile in your backyard!

#2) BYO PRODUCE, BULK, + GROCERY BAGS

My husband and I actually joke about how hard it is to get out of a Philadelphia grocery store without a plastic bag. Even if you bring your own bag, they’ll often offer an extra plastic one for your eggs, or, if you ask them to fill it up full so as to avoid using more bags than needed, they will often just double bag the groceries for you!

My new favorite way to reduce my plastic at the grocery store has been to bring my own reusable produce and bulk bags. I love the following set you can purchase on Amazon. These are great because not only are you eliminating single-use plastic for your veggies, you can also use them to eliminate packaging when you buy from the bulk bins! Another option? Reuse plastic bags you have at home.

When it comes to other reusable grocery bags, the best ones for the environment are ones that you already have in your home so try to avoid purchasing more if at all possible!

A 2011 study actually showed that you need to use a reusable bag at least 131 times for it to be better for the environment than a plastic bag because of the greenhouse gases used to create these bags in the first place. While this can be hard to hear, it is just a reminder that reusing and repurposing anything you already have in the home is a better option that purchasing new items whenever possible.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to clean your reusable bags regularly! Here is a great guide for keeping your bags clean from the American Cleaning Institute

#3) USE REUSABLE CONTAINERS, BAGS, AND MASON JARS INSTEAD OF SINGLE-USE ZIPLOC BAGS

With a little investment in some reusable containers for your kitchen, you can greatly reduce the amount of single-use bags that you use in your kitchen. I currently swear by reusable glass containers for leftovers and meal prep, silicon reusable bags which are great for storing soups, frozen fruits, veggies and more, and mason jars for storing bulk foods.

#4) TRY A REUSABLE PLASTIC WRAP SUBSTITUTE

While it can be helpful to reduce the amount of plastic wrap you need by using containers like the ones listed above for food storage, there are also a few reusable alternatives to plastic wrap that you can use over and over again for those instances when you need them.

I love using a combination of reusable beeswax wrap (great for cheese!) and reusable silicon stretch lids to cover up dishes of food. Only need a few of each? Consider sharing a set with friends and family members!

#5) SKIP THE STRAW OR INVEST IN A REUSABLE STRAW

Next time you find yourself out to eat ask yourself, “do I really need a straw?” If you can, skip it! If you DO love straws, consider investing in a metal or silicon reusable straw to keep in your bag. I especially love my reusable straws for smoothies at home!

#6) BUY FRUITS AND VEGETABLES WITH MINIMAL PLASTIC WRAPPING ON THEM

It’s always amazing to me when I look through the produce section of grocery stores to see how often plastic is unnecessarily used to package fruits and vegetables.

Next time you are at the grocery store, be mindful of what produce is wrapped and what isn’t. Are there grocery stores or Farmer’s Markets that you can visit that are more mindful to this practice than others?

#7) MAKE YOUR OWN MEALS AND SNACKS

Take out and delivery, prepackaged meals, and single-serve snacks can be some of the biggest offenders when it comes to extra plastic waste. For a long time I was a huge advocate of single-serve snacks because I loved how they helped support convenience and portion control.

However, upon reflection, I now believe the few extra minutes it might take to portion things out yourself are well worth the reduced impact on the earth and it is best to save single wrapped products for when you need them the most.

Start taking inventory of where you might be creating unnecessary waste. Is there anywhere you could cut back? Can you create your own single-serve portions in reusable containers? Get creative and I’m sure you can come up with some great solutions!

#8) COMMIT TO CARRYING YOUR OWN WATER BOTTLE + COFFEE MUG

As I mentioned earlier, this is such an easy way to avoid using unnecessary cups and bottles while out and about. You’ll also have the added benefits of staying more hydrated by having water with you and tea and coffee that stays hotter, longer!

The best bottles for the environment are the ones you already have in your home, but if you are considering buying a new water bottle, opt for metal or glass bottles. My current favorite is the 40 oz ThermoFlask bottle which keeps liquids cold for 24 hours and hot for 12 hours.

#9) MINIMIZE YOUR FOOD WASTE BY FREEZING FOOD BEFORE IT GOES BAD

One-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted every year. Crazy, right?

Not only does this food take energy to produce and transport, it also produces methane as it sits and rots in landfills. If you can, do your best to not contribute to this problem!

We’ve all been there, tossing out perfectly good vegetables and fruits that we *meant* to eat but never got around to. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. When you can, take a few moments to chop and freeze fruits and vegetables that you know you won’t get around to eating while they are fresh and store them in the freezer.

I like to keep a random bag of veggie scraps that I throw into soups later and like to use frozen fruit, especially browning bananas, in smoothies.

#10) BUY IN BULK

When possible, buy products that you use a lot of and store in reusable containers at home. Not only will you help reduce the amount of packaging, they also look so nice organized on your shelf or in your fridge. Extra points if you bring your reusable bulk bag (see above) to the grocery store with you!

#11) LEARN THE RECYCLING RULES FOR YOUR CITY

Turns out just because you WANT something to be recyclable, doesn’t mean it will/can be. Unfortunately, this is something I learned after years of throwing my disposable coffee cups in the recycling bin only to find out later that they are on the “no-can-do” list for recycling in my city.

While your optimism may seem harmless when you throw an object into the recycling that doesn’t belong there, it can unfortunately contaminate the recycling stream making it more costly to process recyclables also impact the ability for actual recyclable items to be recycled due to them being contaminated and soiled. (For more on this, check out the following article: The Battle Against Recycling Contamination is Everyone’s Battle)

Do your best to avoid contaminating the recycling stream by getting to know the rules for you city. If you don’t live in Philadelphia or the San Francisco Bay Area, be sure to check the website of your garbage company to find out what you can recycle in your local area!

City of Philadelphia – Know the Recycling Ins and Outs

Recology San Mateo County – What Goes Where (Guide to Compost, Trash, Recycling, and E-Waste)

Pro Tip: Print out your city’s recycling guidelines and post them near your recycling bin for the whole family to use.

#12) AQUIRE PRE-LOVED APPLIANCES/KITCHENWARE WHEN YOU CAN

I have recently become OBSESSED with my local Buy Nothing group for acquiring all sorts of pre-loved…everything. From a fruit and vegetable dehydrator to barbells to baby gear to fresh flower arrangements, I’ve been able to save money and waste by getting pre-used gear from neighbors.

The motto of Buy Nothing is to “Buy Nothing, Give Freely, and Share Creatively” and operates through hyper-local Facebook groups. Now before I pop on Amazon to buy something, I try to make a shout out to the group to see if anyone is looking to part with something first. Added benefits are that it is a great community builder and wonderful way to meet your neighbors as well!

I hope some of these ideas have inspired you to make some changes to your own lifestyle. Remember, keeping a mindset of progress over perfection is so important! Don’t minimize any little action you can take! What are you currently doing in your own household to minimize waste? What would you like to try from this list?

xx jen

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