The idea of zero-waste, recycling, reusing, sustainability, eco-friendly living and basically being good to nature isn’t new. It’s also not always easy to think about switching to a totally plastic-free, natural and organic lifestyle, but the important thing is to do what you can.
There are some simple ways to switch up your habits so that you don’t waste as much or pollute as much, and most of them will even save you some money in the long run.
As I was looking at some of the shops in the Artisan Shopping Directory, I realized that a lot of members make small-batch products that are aimed at helping people produce less garbage and reduce the number of chemicals that they use.
By choosing these products over disposable everything, you can start reducing the amount of waste that you produce.
I decided to round up some tips for eco-friendly living that would actually be doable on a daily basis for the average person, even if you’re not a hard-core plastic-hater!
Table of Contents
- What does zero waste mean?
- Zero-Waste Kitchen Ideas
- Reusable cloth towels instead of paper
- Reusable tote bags
- Cloth coffee filters
- Counter composting
- Ditch the coffee pods
- Buy loose produce and plan your meals
- Beeswax food wraps
- Use Glass Containers
- Don’t throw out food
- Get a tea infuser
- Buy dry goods in bulk
- Buy cleaner refills and reuse spray bottles
- Use less but also recycle
- Use a crockpot or a panini grill
- Buy vintage
- Random zero-waste tips from Artisan Shopper Members
What does zero waste mean?
Zero waste is a movement to eliminate trash that goes to landfills by avoiding unnecessary packaging, plastics, and any other waste from the beginning of the consumer cycle through the end. It also aims to reduce pollution by avoiding the use of chemicals that can pollute waterways and soil.
Different cities in the US and around the world are adopting zero waste goals to try to cut down on pollution, as described by the EPA in this article: How Communities Have Defined Zero Waste. The problem for most people is that the idea of changing to a zero-waste lifestyle can seem overwhelming, and they also don’t know where to start.
The good news is that even if you don’t go 100% zero-waste, there are things that you can do around your house to reduce the amount of trash that you produce on a daily basis. I want to start with the kitchen, because that’s where a lot of garbage is generated.
Zero-Waste Kitchen Ideas
The kitchen is probably the one place in the house that produces the most waste overall.
Whether it’s food that isn’t eaten, paper towels that are used to wipe up a tiny drip then thrown out, or the plastic grocery bags that you get at the store, there are a lot of easy switches that you can make that will reduce your output of garbage.
The main goal is to try to produce nothing that needs to be thrown out.
I was looking around my own kitchen to find things that I could change that would move me toward the zero-waste lifestyle without too much effort. (Because it’s the “too much effort” part that prevents most people from making these changes.) I found some easy baby step switches that would be a good start.
Please note: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which will give me a small commission at no cost to you if you buy something when you use them.
Reusable cloth towels instead of paper
First, switch out paper towels (or supplement them) with cloth towels that can be washed and reused. I bought a set of cloth kitchen towels from EcoLocal on Etsy a year ago, and they’re still being used.
I easily reduced the number of paper towels that were used and thrown out, and it saves money over time by not having to buy as many disposable towels.
You can also reuse old towels and washcloths for especially nasty spills that you don’t want to use your nicer kitchen cloths for! Just cut the towels up into smaller rags instead of throwing them away.
You can use these smaller rags for cleaning since they’ll probably be thicker than hand towels and you can scrub things harder with them if need be.
Also, if they’re just old towels, you won’t feel guilty for being rough with them.
Another substitute for paper towels is the traditional cloth hand towel, and these can be used as kitchen decor as well.
These decorative embroidered towels from Admirable Embroidery act as both a hand towel and a decorative element. Sew Fancy also has embroidered kitchen towels, so you should be able to get any of these cloth towels and start cutting back on paper towels right away.
Here’s my little secret…I still have paper towels in my kitchen for the family members who can’t break the habit, (or if the cat throws up…so gross) but remember, baby steps.
As I said earlier, even if you can’t 100% break every wasteful habit you have, changing one or two will still make a difference.
Reusable tote bags
Another change that’s pretty easy to make is to use reusable tote bags to shop instead of getting plastic or paper bags every time you go to the store.
Grocery bags waiting to be recycled take up a lot of space in the kitchen (or the garbage) and not bringing them home to begin with is another baby step toward a zero-waste lifestyle.
These canvas tote bags from Kailey’s Monogram would be perfect for grocery shopping, and you can get them personalized, too.
Another style of reusable bag is the knitted market bag, like this one by Kathy Zola Fiber.
These can be used for produce instead of putting everything in plastic bags, and since they’re knitted you can bunch them up and they don’t take up much space until you need them.
You can store a bunch of these inside a canvas tote and be ready for your shopping trip.
In my shop, I have some strong tote bags that are printed with large floral designs.
The hardest thing about bringing your own bags to grocery shop is remembering to take them with you.
If you get in the habit of unpacking the groceries and IMMEDIATELY putting the bags back in the front seat of your car, you’ll find it a lot easier to remember. Not the back seat, the front seat. Just try it.
Cloth coffee filters
Now let’s move on to your morning caffeine…That’s right, we’re going to zero waste your coffee.
Well, not completely, unless you want to compost the coffee grounds, which isn’t difficult to do.
But we’ll zero-waste the coffee filters by using a reusable fabric version, anyway. So what is a cloth coffee filter, and how does it work?
Cloth coffee filters are made from organic cotton, and are sewn into shape to fit into a coffee pot or a pour-over style coffee cone. The cloth filter allows the oils from the coffee beans to pass through into the brewed coffee, and also catches any micro-grounds that can give the coffee a heavier mouthfeel and leave sediment in the coffee cup.
To use a cloth coffee filter, you’ll need to wet it first to get it ready for the hot water going through it. Put the filter into the cone or the coffeemaker, and add the ground coffee, then pour the water into the filter.
After the coffee is made, you can leave the filter until it cools down, then put the used grounds in your kitchen compost or throw it away.
Remember, baby steps, and if you’re not into composting (yet) it’s okay!
Another cheapskate tip that I’ve heard is to leave the coffee grounds in the cone and add about half as much to the used grounds the next time you want a cup.
You won’t use as much coffee, so that will save you some money, too. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this works for you, or if the flavor is too different between the first and second cup.
Cloth coffee filters are a simple way to replace paper filters, and because they catch the micro-grounds, many coffee drinkers prefer them over stainless steel filters when they look for less-wasteful filter options.
Now, I will admit that this is one that MIGHT be a little more effort than other tips here, because you do have to clean the filter out instead of just throwing it away.
But think about how fancy you’ll feel making your cloth coffee filter morning caffeine infusion! Totally worth a little effort.
Counter composting is a way to collect biodegradable food waste that can be added to an outdoor compost bin in order to prevent the food scraps from being thrown out. Special containers to collect the food scraps are available, but any lidded container will work as long as the scraps are added to the compost on a regular basis.
My mother-in-law used to have a can of food scraps that she would keep so that they could be added to the compost, and I did the same thing back when I had a compost pile.
Now I just throw things “into the woods,” which is how we refer to the back corner of our yard. The soil back there is probably the most fertile soil in the entire yard.
If you’re not into composting, you can do a science experiment and start vermicomposting, or using worms to do the decomposition of the food scraps.
Yes, worms. Here’s the explanation by Wikipedia: Vermicomposting
I know that this isn’t for everyone, and you could be asking why I would add this to a guide for easy tips that anyone can do to be more zero waste.
I added it because it IS easy, and it does reduce the amount of trash that we produce. I’m going to go buy some worms now.
Remember that you shouldn’t put meat or greasy items in compost, but you can check out the basics of composting here if you want to start your own compost bin: How to Compost
Ditch the coffee pods
This is another easy one, and it will save you a ton of money in the long run. Stop using the pods coffee makers, they’re terrible for plastic waste. Just stop, seriously.
Not only do the pods end up in landfills at an enormous rate, think about when the last time that you cleaned out the coffeemaker that uses the pods was.
Most standalone appliances like that aren’t cleaned out nearly enough, or they’re not cleaned out correctly when they ARE cleaned, and the inside of them is just disgusting.
So do your wallet, the landfills, and your health a favor and go compare the price of pods to the price of buying regular ground coffee.
If that doesn’t convince you, then that’s fine, but try to cut back on pod use, at least. Baby steps, yes, but this is a big one.
Buy loose produce and plan your meals
Buying loose produce reduces the amount of plastic shrink wrap and styrofoam trays that are used in produce shopping, so remember to take your market bags to the store with you and fill those with the produce you’re purchasing.
If you take separate bags for each type of vegetable and fruit you’re buying, the people at the checkout will be able to figure out how much you have a lot easier, though, so remember the reusable bags.
Another thing to try is planning your meals, and not just buying anything you see because it’s pretty.
This takes a little time each week, but most people eat about ten things over and over when they cook for themselves anyway, so it doesn’t have to be too difficult.
Do a little advance planning and restrict yourself to buying the things that you need to cook the meals that you have planned for the week.
This will also save you money because you won’t spend anything on impulse purchases that go into the fridge and come out rotten two weeks later because you forgot about them.
Beeswax food wraps
Decreasing the amount of plastic wrap that you use is another way to inch toward a zero-waste lifestyle.
Using a beeswax food wrap can cut down on the plastics, and you can also have some fun by making your own with kits that you can get on Etsy here: Beeswax Food Wrap Kits. So…What exactly is a beeswax food wrap?
Beeswax food wraps are cloth wraps that are infused with melted wax and oils to make them waxy and water-resistant. They can be wrapped around cut vegetables and other types of food in place of plastic wraps and can be reused for up to a year with gentle washing. They’re not recommended for use with raw meats in order to avoid cross-contamination.
Because most beeswax food wraps are made from 100% cotton, they’re totally biodegradable. Beeswax has natural antibacterial properties, so it resists microbial growth.
To use them, just press the wrap around the bowl or food that you’re wrapping, and the warmth of your hands will make the cloth conform to the shape of the container.
When it cools, the wax maintains its shape. After unwrapping the item, rinse the wrap in cold water and use some gentle dish soap if needed to clean it off.
Beeswax is available in blocks that can be melted and brushed onto 100% organic cotton to make the wraps, or to make beeswax candles.
If you want to make your own wraps, use cotton that’s organic to avoid fabrics that have been infused with formaldehyde and other chemicals, and get beeswax that’s totally organic as well.
Allie Bee Candle Company supplies 1 ounce blocks of natural beeswax that is appropriate for food use.
These wraps are really easy to use and you can eliminate a lot of plastic film wrap waste. That stuff lasts forever, so the less of it we use, the better.
Use Glass Containers
Using glass containers reduces the demand for plastic, and also eliminates the time-wasting experience of digging through a cabinet full of mismatched lids trying to find one that fits the container you’re using. (See the beeswax food wraps above for a solution for that.)
Glass containers are widely available both in new and vintage forms (see that section below) and they can be used in the fridge and freezer as well as the oven if you get tempered glass.
There’s also the benefit of glass being safe to use in the microwave, as opposed to some types of plastics, which aren’t.
And it’s also safe to put in the dishwasher, which actually uses less water to wash the dishes than washing by hand does.
Don’t throw out food
This goes along with planning your meals, and will be a lot easier to do if you do plan your meals for the week. If you have leftover vegetables or meat, put it in a designated container that you keep in the freezer.
Use it to make soup once or twice a week, and you’ll save on waste as well as money.
Make sure that there aren’t any super highly-seasoned meats in the mix, though, unless you know that everything is going to go well together.
You can also eat leftovers for lunch the next day to use up food. Get used to taking your lunch to work or eating leftovers if you work from home, and you can save money and prevent waste pretty easily.
It’s a very simple thing that you can do (baby steps) and it will go a long way to move you toward a waste-free lifestyle.
Get a tea infuser
Tea infusers are small metal rounds that have holes in them so that you can fill them with loose leaf tea and brew a cup by placing the infuser in a cup of hot water. They can be made of mesh or perforated stainless steel and they’re reusable.
Teabags are another item that gets thrown out all the time with no thought from people, but using an infuser and loose tea will allow you to compost the tea leaves and minimize your trash output.
Loose tea leaves are available from many specialty shops and in the supermarket, so you can get your favorite and use those in the infuser.
Buy dry goods in bulk
A lot of supermarkets have bulk dry goods sections, and it can be a lot less expensive to buy your rice, beans, nuts, and flour there. Try to remember to bring your own bags (either reuse plastic bread bags or ziplocks, or bring paper bags) to minimize the amount of new plastic that you walk out of the store with.
Buying in bulk can save money, but it also avoids adding packaging to the waste stream.
Buy cleaner refills and reuse spray bottles
Reusing spray bottles is a great way to reduce the amount of plastic waste that we produce. HOWEVER, make sure that the type of cleaner that you put in a bottle won’t cause a chemical reaction with what was in the bottle beforehand. It’s best to stick to the same type of cleaner when you refill a bottle to be on the safe side.
This is a baby step for people who don’t want to go 100% natural with their cleaning supplies, but it will reduce the number of plastic bottles in the landfill.
Instead of buying a bunch of small bottles of cleaner, see if you can buy one larger bottle to refill the smaller containers. This can be done with softsoap, glass cleaner, and many other types of cleaners.
No, it won’t eliminate all the plastic, but it will minimize it.
If you want to eliminate plastic faster, get some glass spray bottles and use those to make your own cleaning supplies.
The availability of glass spray bottles is getting better as people decide they want to switch away from plastic, so you should be able to find some locally.
For natural cleaning supplies, here are a few tips: Naturally antibacterial cleaners
Use less but also recycle
Even if you don’t 100% get rid of all of your trash, you can still eliminate a lot of it, and then make an effort to recycle the rest. I mentioned that only about 9% of plastic is recycled, so it’s obvious that a lot of people don’t make an effort.
Check to see if your area has a curbside recycling program, and get a bin that you can load up if that’s available to you.
Most locations now will have recycling drop-off areas, or you can make sure to put recyclables in the bins at grocery stores if those are available to you.
Using less is best, but try to recycle what you can.
Use a crockpot or a panini grill
A crockpot is a cooking appliance that generally consists of a ceramic interior bowl with a metal bowl that conducts heat around it. Food in a crockpot cooks at a low temperature for a long period of time, usually between 4-6 hours. Crockpots use less electricity than an oven to cook food, and they don’t need to be monitored due to the low cooking temperature.
Crockpots can save you money on electricity, and they also eliminate that moment of terror when you think “what am I making for dinner” at about 3pm.
You can turn the crockpot on around noon and your dinner will be ready at 6pm without you having to make any effort.
Panini grills are also very simple to use to cook anything from grilled cheese sandwiches to pieces of meat.
I got a panini grill last year and I use it to cook a lot of different foods, including salmon and hamburgers.
It cooks things quickly because the heat source is on either side of the food, and it cooks more evenly than a pan for the same reason.
They also use a lot less electricity than ovens, so it will help reduce your power consumption.
Reducing plastic wrap and paper isn’t the only thing you can do to go zero waste. One of the principles of a zero-waste lifestyle is to avoid producing new things as well as reducing waste. A good way to do that is to shop vintage when you need something for your home. So why is vintage eco-friendly?
Shopping for vintage is eco-friendly because it reduces waste by reusing items and preventing them from being discarded. This minimizes the volume of trash that enters the landfills, and it also reduces the demand for new products. By reducing demand, fewer natural resources and energy are used to produce merchandise that enters the retail stream, and this fulfills one of the goals of a zero-waste lifestyle.
A bonus is that by shopping for vintage items, you can find all kinds of fun things that nobody else will have. A good example for the kitchen is vintage silverware and tableware.
Our Passion Is Fashion is a member of the Artisan Shopping Guide who sells an assortment of vintage home goods including cute silverware like the forks in the photo above.
Viva Terra Vintage is another vintage shop whose mission statement involves eco-friendly living and reusing as a way to reduce waste. Tracey has a wide variety of kitchen accessories that are both sustainable and interesting because they have character and aren’t in every store.
Random zero-waste tips from Artisan Shopper Members
I’ll take my cotton material scraps from sewing (not ever synthetic) and pop them in a container. Then I use them as fat soaker uppers and paper towel alternatives. I also upcycle glass jars as food storage containers. I’ve used salsa jars to freeze meal-size portions in. They are handy to have as lunch portions at work (when I worked in a school) because once the meal (soup, curry or casserole) defrosted I could heat them in the microwave and eat straight out of them.
I cut baby flannel blankets to the size of swifter sheets to dust my kitchen floor. Freeze fruits for smoothies before they go bad, blend and freeze onions to add to recipes. –Misty Martin
Fry peelings. Potatoes in particular are delicious. Freeze chopped herbs, as I never use full bunches. –Anne Londez
I freeze leftover broth, stock or tomato paste so I don’t lose it. Some people use ice cube trays. But you can also flatten it in a zip bag and just break off pieces to season sauces, etc., as it thaws quickly. –Molly Lambert
I clean with soot. The best ever cleaning detergent for a dirty oven. Start with your oven glass to make sure it works for you before smearing the whole thing. I take a damp towel and add the soot so it doesn’t fly around the kitchen. Smear it on and spray with a little water. Ash works as well. I think it’s the chemistry “rule”, same dissolves same kind of a thing. Rinse with water. –Sandra Tornroth
Put broccoli in a cup with water upright. Lasts up to 2 weeks that way. –Andrea Haglund Ross
I soak my banana peels in water then water my plants with the tea and chuck the peel in the compost bin! –Elizabeth Liberty
Add eggshells to your garden bed. Re-use yogurt containers, bottles, and any other container that is reusable. This might only apply to Canadians, but if you drink milk and purchase them in bags, they are very strong and reusable as well. –Marianne Manic
I design flower frogs that I use to propagate the extra cut herbs I buy from the grocery store. Just stick them in water and when they grow roots again put them in your herb garden. –Anni Christie
Wrap your celery in aluminum foil and it will stay fresh 3 times as long. –Cathy Ivers
Click here to visit the Artisan Shopping Guide Home Goods and Vintage Sections
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