compost bin on kitchen counter

16 Zero-Waste Kitchen Tips: A Beginner’s Guide

Having a zero-waste kitchen means practicing methods that eliminate waste resulting from cooking, cleaning, food prep, and storage. If you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, making adjustments in the kitchen is the perfect place to start. 

Recent sustainability statistics show that over one-third of all food produced is wasted. At the same time, almost 76% of plastic ends up in landfills—with non-sustainable packaging contributing to much of that waste.  

Though the goal is to eliminate waste, start by taking baby steps to slowly reduce your waste output until you get as close to zero waste as you can. Our guide can help everyone eliminate waste from the kitchen, whether you’re starting from scratch or a well-seasoned pro. 

1. Clean Up Messes With Sustainable Alternatives

If sauce drips on your dining room table or you spill a glass of water, it’s common to reach for a roll of single-use paper towels to clean it up. But the convenience of traditional paper towels comes with a cost. Their production causes deforestation and pollutes waterways, and a majority ends up in landfills.    

Instead, try grabbing plant-based paper towels or organic cotton dish towels as sustainable alternatives to single-use, disposable paper towels. Bamboo towels are hand-washable up to fifty times, and just one sheet is the equivalent of an entire roll of paper towels.

2. Use Sustainable Cleaning Products

Refillable glass or metal spray bottles are easy alternatives to plastic and when paired with non-toxic cleaners can help you significantly reduce kitchen waste. The versatility of cleaners like Dr. Bronner's castile soaps can clean everything from kitchen floors, counters, appliances, and dishes to even hands and bodies. You can also create your own sustainable cleaning solution with baking soda and white vinegar.

3. Repurpose Glass Jars

Once you’ve eaten the last of the pickles or pasta sauce, there are so many creative uses for the empty jars. You can fill them with leftover soups and sauces or reuse them to organize kitchen utensils. Repurposing Mason jars into drinking glasses is a great way to reuse everyday containers. Every glass jar that you repurpose is a glass jar that doesn’t end up in a landfill.

4. Bulk Up With Dry Goods

A quick (and cost-effective!) way to eliminate packaging waste from pantry products is to shop the bulk bins at your local grocery store. Grab a few glass jars you’ve saved and fill them with beans, rice, flour, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or any shelf-sustainable item instead of using the store-provided plastic bags. 

If the items you’re looking for aren’t available in the bulk bins, look for brands with sustainable packaging, like SIMPLi, which uses 100% recyclable, non-plastic packaging.

5. Use Plastic-Free and Reusable Food Storage

Put plastic containers in the past and move toward reusable and plastic-free storage. Reusable and compostable food bags can permanently replace plastic baggies, while glass containers can last a lifetime.

Plastic wrap is rarely reused and usually ends up in the trash bin. Instead, try beeswax wraps: a washable, reusable, and compostable alternative with a cool design that will have you a-buzz. 

6. Compost Organic Waste

list of composting dos and donts

Instead of tossing your leftovers into the trash, drop them into a compost bin. Composting takes food waste and scraps that would otherwise produce harmful greenhouse gases in landfills and converts them into beneficial items like mulch and fertilizer. Not only does composting result in less kitchen waste, but it also nourishes your soil with rich nutrients like potassium and nitrogen. 

Kitchen items you can compost:

  • Fruits and vegetables (don’t forget to remove any stickers!)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Nutshells
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves

Things to avoid composting:

  • Meat, fish, and bones
  • Fat, grease, and cooking oils
  • Dairy products and egg yolks
  • Fat-based salad dressings
  • Rice and other cooked grains
  • Oil-based nut butters

7. Conserve Water 

Conserving water in your kitchen helps the overall water supply system. It preserves the environment by allowing water to stay in rivers, lakes, and waterways. It also saves energy that is used to filter, treat, pump, and heat water, which helps reduce air pollution caused by the production of water treatment facilities.

How to save water in the kitchen:

  • Don’t let the water run while washing dishes unnecessarily
  • Turn off the faucet while you clean vegetables
  • Wash only full loads in the dishwasher 
  • Turn on the water only to wet and rinse while washing your hands
  • Check the faucet and plumbing for leaks regularly

8. Switch to Sustainable Coffee and Tea 

Ditch wasteful coffee and tea habits that pile up in your kitchen trash bin and start practicing a more sustainable approach. For coffee lovers, try swapping single-use, disposable filters and coffee pods for washable options, like reusable organic cotton filters and pods. For fans of tea, you can invest in compostable tea bags or a tea infuser.

Picking up coffee to go? Keep a reusable cup in your car. Coffee shops will gladly fill your cup. It saves them money and helps the environment!

9. Invest in Reusable Straws

Start your quest for a plastic-free kitchen, one sip at a time. Keep your kitchen drawers stocked with reusable straws. Five hundred million plastic straws are used each day, with a massive amount of them ending up in landfills. Glass and metal straws offer superb quality and durability, and compostable straws are perfect for those who prefer the convenience of a single-use option. 

10. Pick Reusable Napkins 

Disposable napkins may be convenient, but millions of tons of paper waste end up in landfills each year. Opt for washable, reusable, or compostable choices instead of single-use ones to curb your kitchen’s waste volume. 

11. Eat Your Leftovers

One person wastes one pound of food each day on average. Eating your leftovers reduces food waste (and potentially eliminates package waste of newly opened food items). Give your refrigerator a makeover and turn it into a well-organized storage dream to minimize waste and filter plastic out of the kitchen permanently.

  • Keep leftovers and older foods in the front so they get used and don't end up as waste
  • Stock with plastic-free items
  • Store food in reusable containers

12. Do More With Fewer Ingredients

visual list how to reduce food waste

Before you start putting items in your grocery cart, prepare a meal plan for the week. Pick several dishes that share the same ingredients. You can still have delicious, unique meals with much fewer ingredients and a lot less waste. Here are just a few no-waste kitchen benefits of meal planning:

  • Prevents overbuying and curbs kitchen waste 
  • Prevents ordering takeout that has a lot of wasteful packaging, straws, and non-sustainable utensils

13. Buy Local Produce 

Buying local produce can help lessen your kitchen waste. Because the fruits and vegetables travel less to reach you, the fewer food miles result in a lower carbon footprint.

Take a few reusable canvas or cloth shopping bags with you to the farmer’s market to help reduce your plastic consumption and keep harmful plastic bags out of your kitchen and landfills.

14. Use Compostable or Recyclable Cleaning Tools 

Sustainable cleaning tools for your kitchen can help you keep waste to the bare minimum. Instead of kitchen-cleaning tools made of plastic or other synthetic materials, try switching to pieces that won’t leave a harmful footprint on the environment. 

  • Recyclable dish scrubber: Try non-toxic and chemical-free options that also have 100% recyclable packaging.
  • Compostable dish brush: Switch to this bamboo-handled dish brush. When it’s been used up, just add it to the compost pile.
  • Compostable sponges: Get a plant-based scrubber that can be tossed into the compost once you’ve finished using it. The wrapper can be recycled.

15. Line Pans With Compostable Parchment Paper 

For a no-waste baking experience, pick compostable parchment paper to line your pans. Aluminum foil uses a lot of energy to produce and takes up a lot of space in landfills, while bleached parchment paper can release toxins when heated. 

Compostable parchment paper is non-toxic and bleach-free. After use, it breaks down completely in a few weeks and returns to the Earth, leaving no waste or pollutants behind.

16. Upcycle Food Scraps Into Tasty Recipes

Upcycling is a creative way to turn food scraps into snacks and meals. A lot of people discard parts of food that can easily be used as ingredients for upcycled goods, like a quick snack or sauce.

  • Citrus peels: Use them to make tea or add some zest to soups and salads
  • Apple cores: Blend them into your smoothies or turn them into apple jelly
  • Carrot tops: Give carrot tops a new life as the main ingredient of pesto
  • Potato peels: Roast them until they are crisp and add spices

Low-Waste Kitchen Products

person pouring bottle of the real dill on bowl of food

Fill your pantry with sustainable kitchen products to kick off your low-waste kitchen and pantry. Here are just a few of our many options to get you started! 

shār Impossibly Good Trail Mix: shār is Climate-Neutral Certified, their packaging is refillable and recyclable, and their label is home compostable.

Maine Grains Organic All-Purpose Sifted Flour: Maine Grains composts all of their byproducts or sends them to other food producers to be reused as organic feed for livestock. Their packaging is recyclable or can be composted. 

The Real Dill Green Chile Hot Sauce (Mild): Every part of their packaging is completely recyclable, their greenhouse gas emissions through production are offset, and they source all ingredients locally.

Starting your sustainable, waste-free kitchen and eliminating unnecessary waste helps protect the environment for future generations. Hive makes it easy to get started with the best products and sustainable swaps. 

We're here to help you make your zero-waste kitchen goals come true, so get started shopping sustainably today.

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