A Zero-Waste Home Kitchen: 4 Simple Changes to Make Right Now

I’d love to pretend that I’m spending much more time at home during quarantine than I ever had before, but that’s really, sadly, just not the case at all. As a food writer and a recipe writer/tester/developer I’ve always spent a ton of time at home in my kitchen—and I used to produce so much waste that I felt personally responsible for global warming. A few years ago, I knew I needed to make some serious changes in the way that I not only kept my home running but also, and especially, in the way I worked in my kitchen. The following are the first, and I think the most approachable, steps I took to begin significantly reducing my home’s waste.

Photo by Nefeli Kavvada

Liquid Dish Soap

I’m not totally sure why, but this was the most difficult switch for me. It just seemed crazy that I wouldn’t be able to squeeze liquid dish soap from a plastic bottle onto my sponge. Now, of course, I couldn’t imagine going back.

My favorite alternatives:

What I love most about this is that it lasts a super long time. Just wet your sponge or scrubber and rub it on the dish block to create suds—then go about washing dishes as you normally would. I have a little tray next to my kitchen sink that holds some natural sponges and scrubbers, and it’s best to place the dish block on something like their Moso Bamboo Soap Shelf so it can drain and dry with ease.

Photo by CDC

Sponges & Paper Towels

Many everyday sponges—especially popular dish sponges that have a scrubby side—are often made from petroleum-based, landfill-bound plastics and other chemicals. The good news: there are so many alternatives! Look for 100% plant-based cellulose sponges that are free of artificial dyes and chemicals.

As for paper towels, it’s kind of like having cake in the house; if it’s there, I’m going to eat it. When paper towels are sitting in the kitchen, I end up relying on them way too much. Yes, I can get 100% recycled paper towels without plastic packaging and feel a lot better about my choices, but because those tend to be less absorbent I found myself going through too many rolls.

My favorite alternatives:

I like 100% cellulose sponges for simple cleaning, but I also know that I need more scrubbing power with all the cooking I do. These scrub sponges can really tackle all the messes in my kitchen and get funky stuff off all the pots and pans.

If you’re the dish brush type, I love this one. The handle is made of white teakwood and the bristles of stiff agave fibers. The head can also be removed and replaced.

The ideal decision here is to use organic washable dish towels most of the time—I like to have one color for food-only uses and another color for cleaning-only—but the reality is that I need something that falls between reusable and disposable. These reusable paper towels can go on my existing paper towel holder, they absorb up to 16 times its own weight in water, and they can be rinsed and reused for about a week. When they’re done, just toss them into your compost.

Photo by Annie Spratt

Plastic Wrap, Baggies, & Containers

Ditching the plastic wrap was not easy for me, and I honestly still struggle with it a bit. But it’s a no-brainer that this impossible-to-recycle item is never allowed back in my kitchen again.

My favorite alternatives:

Since these are made from breathable fabric, they’re not right for long-term storage solutions but I love to use these for covering a bowl of bread dough, covering a salad that I’ll be serving later or a plate of baked goods to deliver to a friend.

These are stretchy, grippy covers that come in multiple sizes to use on all sorts of items and containers. Plus, they are oven-safe, microwave-safe, and dishwasher-safe. They can also be used as a liner for a baking sheet.

I’ve now tried a few brands of reusable plastic baggie alternatives and found that these Stasher bags held up the best after washing, traveling, and really truly reusing. I love the large stand-up size for storing prepped vegetables and things, and their tiny size for holding things like vitamins.

I love these and have used them for many years, so I can say that they have certainly held up under constant use. The glass containers are safe to use in the oven, freezer, and microwave which are all musts for me. If you freeze soups and stocks in plastic containers, switching to these is a no-brainer.

Photo by Karl Bewick

Trash Bags

This is where I often lose people, and I get it: trash bags are convenient. I think the best way to go is simply not to use trash bags. I’m able to lift my trash container out of its little home, walk it out to the dumpster, and just, well, dump it. If you compost or donate to a friend’s or farmer’s compost, your trash should be mostly clean, dry, and sparse. I understand, however, that some apartment complexes, trash collectors, and/or cities require that all trash be contained in bags. I also understand that sometimes we all need to dispose of some weird, gross stuff and it’s nice to have a bag. If you can reuse anything around the house, like old shopping bags or big pet food bags, that’s ideal. If not, just buy thoughtfully.

My favorite alternatives:

If you’re not required to bag your trash, these reusable handled bags are a great alternative and will last years.

Instead of recycled plastics, these are made from potato starch with no plasticizers added. The reason I like these is because I know they won’t contribute to more plastic pollution and clog our oceans until the end of time. Baby steps.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Kyla Curtis

over 1 year ago

Thanks for ssharing this

Let's stay in touch

Subscribe to the Edible LA e-newsletter for updates on local food issues, events, seasonal recipes, and special issue sneak peeks.

We respect your privacy