With the world spinning out of control more and more every week, I for one have been struggling lately to feel like I have control over literally anything in my life anymore. I have been on a (very) slow but steady zero waste journey since long before the pandemic started, but I admittedly lost a lot of momentum when we went into lockdown. Over the last few months, though, I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of things in terms of sustainable living.
I thought it would be fun to do a little series of posts about my favorite swaps and strategies, and we’re kicking it off today with my guide to creating the sustainable kitchen you’ve always wanted!
- It’s not all on your shoulders
- “Sustainable” is different for everyone
- 10 Easy Swaps to Make Today for a More Sustainable Kitchen
It’s not all on your shoulders
I think a lot of people have this sort of underlying, constant existential dread these days – about many things but, in particular, about the future of the planet. In fact, the impact of climate change on mental health is something mental health professionals are seriously worried about.
I really believe that what we do on an individual level to live more sustainably can be hugely impactful – not just in addressing climate change, but also in making us feel a little more at ease about our place in the craziness of the world today.
But like, before we get into this, I want to make clear that personal contributions to the climate crisis will only go so far. We know that corporations are majorly responsible for the current climate crisis (in fact just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions), and thus bear a lot (read: basically all) of the responsibility for addressing it. So keep that in mind before you start to guilt spiral about not having a plastic free life.
That being said, I think it’s important to still recognize that we live in a society based on consuming as many resources as possible, and that isn’t good for our wallets, our minds, or the planet. So while we won’t save the earth by making these swaps alone, they definitely make a small difference, and help us to move beyond this hyper-capitalist mindset we’re all used to.
Anyway. I thought I’d start this little series with 10 easy swaps you can literally make today for a more sustainable kitchen because it’s somewhere we’ve all spent a lot more time than usual over the past few months. The kitchen is also one of the main waste producers in our homes. I know you’re eager to start greening your life… so let’s get going!
“Sustainable” is different for everyone
Before we get into the 10 swaps you’re going to want to introduce to your kitchen to live more sustainably, there are a few things I think we always need to keep in mind about sustainable living.
First, it really just isn’t feasible for all of us to become perfect zero waste humans overnight.
I say that I was on a slow zero waste journey before the pandemic because, really, I wasn’t expecting to live a zero waste life any time soon. (And I’m still not!)
Yes, it’s definitely something I hope to achieve one day… but there are a million factors that made it difficult even before we were confined to our little apartment with literally no means of transport aside from our legs!
For one thing, if you’re not fortunate enough to live near a bulk food store, it’s basically impossible to completely cut food packaging out of your life. Additionally, living in a city makes a lot of the DIYs that help make zero waste living both more doable and more fun – like repurposing old furniture or household items, composting, etc. – simply unrealistic.
Of course, some people can make all this stuff happen in their urban abodes, but those people have moneyyyyyy. We’re not all so lucky, so the true zero waste life can actually just be cost prohibitive, plain and simple. Which brings me to my next point…
You don’t have to buy a million and one trendy zero waste items to practice sustainable living.
I fell down this hole hard a few years ago. Let’s face it, sustainable stuff is cute and trendy… but it’s really not always necessary.
A lot of dedicated zero wasters will argue that the most sustainable approach is to use what you have before buying more. And I agree! So don’t go throwing away that 12 pack of sponges you bought a few weeks ago or all of your disposable/single use kitchenware. You have it… so use it!
Remember when you first learned about managing your environmental impact in school as a kid? I bet that was the first time you encountered the phrase “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse.”
Unfortunately, of the three, “Recycle” really stole the show, but in reality it should be our last resort! While recycling is better than landfills, it’s still using a lot of energy, and I hate to break it to you, but most of our recycling still ends up in landfills. The best thing is to reduce what we consume in the first place, and then reuse what we have as much as possible. A lot of what I have to share with you today is about refocusing on the other two, which are a lot more important than recycling.
Reducing consumption requires a complete rewiring of our entire consumerist upbringing. At the end of the day, buying a bunch of cute glass jars and bamboo kitchenware is great in theory, but it’s actually just one more form of (mostly needless) consumption… especially when you might be able to reuse some items, like food containers made of sturdier plastic for example, in creative ways all around the kitchen.
Finally, making the transition to a more sustainable kitchen should be fun, not stressful!
Think of this as a personal challenge. While all of my swaps can be implemented today if you want, you might feel overwhelmed at first. That’s ok!
The beauty of this process is that it’s completely self-directed. Make whichever swaps you’re ready to make today, and work up to the ones that feel like they’ll require a more substantial adjustment to the way you live your life.
Are you ready for some ideas to get your inspiration going?!
10 Easy Swaps to Make Today for a More Sustainable Kitchen
I’ll come right out the gate with one thing I think you do need to buy asap.
Beeswax wrap. I got my first set of four pieces about two years ago and life has truly never been the same again. Lots of people say these will last 6-12 months, but I can happily say mine are still going strong.
These are basically just small pieces of fabric that have had beeswax applied to them. They replace plastic wrap and tin foil easily, and you can even fold them up into little pouches to replace ziplock bags. Misplaced a tupperware lid? Beeswax wrap. Need to wrap up a cheese but there isn’t room in the fridge for a tupperware? Beeswax wrap will save the day! We use these daily in our kitchen.
(PS – If you’re vegan and concerned about the beeswax, you can also find vegan versions of this product. I’ve heard good things but I can’t personally vouch for them!)
Bonus: When your beeswax wrap does start to lose its hold, you can simply buy a new block of beeswax and reapply it yourself. True zero waste goals.
2. Thrifted Dinnerware
These days, a lot of the trendiest package free or zero waste stores, as well as hip kitchen or home suppliers, will try to sell you all kinds of sustainable and/or biodegradable dinnerware – from plates to silverware to cups.
While this stuff can all be great for what happens when you’re finished with it, we need to be honest with ourselves. It still had to be produced, using up resources and energy.
Well, boy have I got a cheaper and more sustainable option at the ready for you!
If you’ve recently moved or otherwise need to replace a few broken plates or glasses, have a look at your local thrift shop, antique store, or Goodwill. You’re very likely to find a nice range of options for (most likely) $1-2 a piece.
All that sad, lonely dinnerware is just sitting out there unused. Why not go give it a new home and save yourself some money in the process?!
Liquid soap has a number of environmental downsides. For one, it is far more likely to be packaged in plastic than bar soap, and apparently (I didn’t know this myself until recently) it’s cheaper to transport bar soaps than liquids – I suppose due to the sheer water weight of liquid soap.
Switching to bar soaps all around your home is a great (and relatively easy) step you can take towards sustainability. Why not start with a bar of dish soap?
To go along with your new dish soap bar, it’s also a great idea to swap out those blue or green sponges your mom used to use when you were little. Plus, they’re literally filled with bacteria. Gross.
Investing in a set of scrub brushes for your dishes is a great way to take one more consumable item off of your monthly supermarket list.
If you’re apprehensive about the lack of ~control~ provided by a brush on a long handle (as I was and still am) perhaps a washable unsponge might be better for you. Personally, this has been my choice for the past year or so, and I am very satisfied with the results!
5. Repurposed Jars and Containers
This tip is perhaps one of the easiest ones to implement. Just stop throwing away your jars! Save them all! Small, big, glass, plastic. They can almost all be used for something.
Not only does repurposing your jars help you make the big transition to bulk shopping (more on that below!), but it also makes your space so much neater and easier to navigate than when it was covered in open, half-used bags of grains, nuts and seeds.
A silicone baking mat is a must have for any baker who wants to think sustainably in the kitchen. These mats can go straight from the oven to the dishwasher, and you’ll never need parchment again!
While you’re at it, look into some silicone cupcake liners as well. Every little bit of saved paper is a win in my book.
7. Dish Rags or Bamboo Paper Towels
There are a few sustainable options to replace the paper towels that you’re probably going through faster than you’d like to admit.
My favorite solution is so ridiculously easy that you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it already.
I like to save one or two of the t-shirts from my yearly Goodwill donations and cut them into rags. By now, we have a stack of about 20-30 rags that we just throw right into the laundry machine when they start to get gross, so they’re basically always just cycling through. These are perfect for wiping down the counter after cooking dinner, cleaning up if something falls on the floor, or… well, anything really.
I do acknowledge that sometimes a paper towel really is what you need to get a job done. There are several companies these days making bamboo paper products – including paper towels and toilet paper – which are more sustainable.
These days, we order about 6 paper towel rolls every eight months. Before we started this rag method we were using paper towels up left, right, and center. Honestly, it’s partially a mental game. I think we grow up so attached to paper towels that you don’t even think about how many things can be done using cloth. But truly now that we use cloth I’ll never go back.
Over the last few years, canvas tote bags have had a little heyday – and I’m not complaining!
Depending where you live, you may have already gotten used to bringing several of them along with you when you shop for groceries, as many cities have started to impose small taxes on disposable plastic bags. If you’re not using tote bags yet, though, now’s the time to start!
For one thing, tote bags are extremely cheap. They’re also a really fun to way to show some personality while carrying your shopping home. Plus, once you get in the habit of keeping them around, you’ll basically always have one at the ready in your backpack, purse, car, or bike.
Another thing to think about is switching to these reusable produce bags, which come in lots of fun colors. Some grocery stores in the UK have started transitioning to compostable produce bags in the store, and maybe that’ll soon become widespread in the US too. But why not cut down the consumption even more and buy a few produce bags that’ll be with you for the foreseeable future?
9. DIY Cleaning Supplies
Pretty much any and every cleaning product you use in your kitchen can be made at home with products you already have.
We use strong white vinegar to clean our sink, stovetop and counters, and it works better than most cleaning supplies we’ve purchased from the store. There are also recipes aplenty online for DIY dishwasher soap, floor cleaner, and hand soap.
10. Shop in Bulk
Ok, I’ve saved one of the biggest ones for last. Bulk shopping.
As I’ve already said, this swap isn’t so accessible for everyone. If you don’t live close enough to a bulk store, the effort of getting to one might not be worth it.
If you can though, fill those jars and containers you’ve been saving with rice, seeds, nuts, flour, pasta and even chocolate chips right from the bulk bins. No plastic involved… just make sure not to forget your jars when you go!
If package free bulk shopping isn’t an option for you, one thing you might consider is buying bulk sized packages from your regular supermarket. That 10 or 20 pound bag of rice certainly uses less plastic packaging than 10 or 20 one pound bags. In fact, some bulk packaging is even paper-based.
If you want to really level up here’s something I’ve done at my local NON-bulk shop. I did my regular weekly shop but limited myself to only shop plastic free. You will likely have a similar experience to me, wherein you end up with like, 7 eggplants and maybe a bell pepper if you’re lucky.
While you do this, really notice how much stuff is in plastic unnecessarily. Take a picture even. Then email the store.
I know, I know – it’s super extra. But I’m not saying like, be a dick to the store. Just email the store and tell them what you did. Tell them you tried to shop plastic free and you were shocked by how little you could get. How this was disappointing in 2020 and you want to know more about what they’re doing to change this! Shops rely on customers. If they know that customers want change it’s more likely to happen.
What swap will you make first?
No matter where you’re currently at in your zero waste journey, there is more than likely huge potential for you to green your life and make the dream of having a more sustainable kitchen a reality.
A lot of these tips are things you can act on today, so don’t wait. The planet needs our commitment to living more sustainably, and the more we all jump on board, and share our ideas with one another, the faster we can make these tips mainstream and accessible for everyone!