One of the best places to start a zero-waste journey is in the kitchen. The kitchen is the room that is used every day, sometimes heavily. Many of the swaps that can be made here are also very simple, easy, and cheap (sometimes even free). There’s no better zero-waste swap than one that not only saves you money and takes little effort but makes a huge impact as well. Ready to start? Let’s dive right in:
note: this article does contain a few affiliate links – read my affiliate FAQs for more info
zero-waste kitchen swap #1 – replace your paper towels with cloth rags
I grew up in a household where we used rags often to clean up messes and threw them in the washing machine with our clothes to wash them when they were dirty. As I navigated through college and early adulthood, I started relying on paper towels more because it was “easier”. When I started doing research into a zero-waste lifestyle, however, I found that my parents were right in having rags for the kitchen. Not only are they friendlier for the earth, but it’s more affordable than constantly buying paper towels. What a waste!
Since I am staying economical and saving money, I decided to cut my own rags from an old towel. This was a towel I was needing to get rid of anyway, and my husband and I had way too many towels. This is one of the best things to do with an old towel! Now I have enough rags to rotate and wash every week with the rest of my laundry. Not into re-using an old towel? Consider rags made for this purpose – such as these Organic Unpaper Towels or Reusable Swedish Dishcloths from Package Free.
Of course, I still use paper towels occasionally for some of the other messy (read: gross) stuff. We have two cats and two dogs so things do get messy sometimes and I’m not sure if I’m okay with rags in those instances. I’m a huge fan of Who Gives a Crap products. They offer forest-friendly paper towels made from bamboo and sugarcane. They are extremely absorbant and strong, which means you don’t need to use as many. The company itself is great and has a fantastic mission.
note – I am not an affiliate with Package Free or Who Gives a Crap, I just really like their products
zero-waste kitchen swap #2 – replace plastic or aluminum wrap with beeswax wrap
I’m going to be honest with you. I have a giant roll of Costco-sized plastic wrap in my kitchen. It’s from the “before times”, before I decided to start reducing my waste. I’m unsure if we’ll ever get all the way through it – I haven’t used it in a long time.
You probably know how bad plastic wrap is by now, but in case you don’t, here’s the scoop. First of all, it’s terrible for the environment and almost impossible to recycle. Americans buy enough of the stuff every year to shrink-wrap the state of Texas. If we can’t recycle it, where does it go? Straight to our landfills. That’s a lot of plastic wrap in our landfills. There are also concerns about having that plastic near our food. There are many studies being conducted on PVC and PVDC leeching into our food. Yuck! You can read more about the issues here.
The best replacement for plastic food wrap is reusable beeswax wrap. This stuff is safe, natural, and, best of all, economical. If taken care of, you can pretty much keep it forever. No more buying plastic wrap every week! It works really well and you can rest easy knowing your food isn’t potentially being filled with unknown chemicals. There are so many options for it, too. You can usually find it at health food stores and can even find it on Amazon. Many people sell it on Etsy. You can even make it yourself! With so many options available for this swap, it’s pretty much a no-brainer.
zero-waste kitchen swap #3 – reusable scrubbers & sponges
Did you know that most sponges are derived from polyurethane, essentially an oil-based plastic? I didn’t either until I start digging around doing more research on products that can be composted at their end-life stage. Turns out sponges and scrubbers (which are all plastic) are not super great when it’s time for them to go. “What now?” you might think when looking for an alternative to the traditional sponge. Good thing we’re living here in the future where there are lots of great compostable sponge and scrubber swaps.
I’m a fan of No Tox Life products, which I purchased from my local store. They are one of the many companies providing kitchen and other products that can be composted when they are done with. There are a lot of similar products on the market, all with the same goal and similar features. Their dish brush, for example, comes with a replaceable head. When the scrubbing head is used up, it can be composted or buried in the garden. If for some reason, you get rid of the handle, the metal can be recycled.
Their coolest product, however, is their Biodegradable Eco-Sponges. These pack flat and expand once dipped in water, which is super cool and reminds me of those expandable washcloths from the 90s. Now, though, it’s for adults and is better for the environment. These sponges are awesome for scrubbing and feel like traditional sponges. The recommendation is to replace these every month, which is about the same as a traditional sponge. Best of all, these sponges can be composted and are 100% biodegradable so you don’t have to feel bad for using them!
zero-waste swap #4 – refillable or zero waste dish soap
When I started looking at how much single-use plastic was in my house, I noticed a great deal of it was holding soaps and cleaners. One of my biggest sources was dish soap, which I used to buy in a large bundle of plastic containers. I finally used up the last of my old plastic bottles about a month ago and was in search of a replacement.
With perfect timing, my local store Freehand Market started carrying No Tox Life’s Dish Washing Block. I already talked about the company a bit in the previous zero-waste kitchen swap, and I really like them. They list all the ingredients of their soap right there on the website and it comes in paper packaging, easy to recycle. I’m not going to lie, I was very hesitant about switching to a washing block instead of traditional liquid dish soap. I was all my dishes by hand and I didn’t want them to be icky or feel un-washed. I’ve been loving the results, however, and highly recommend this product. Best of all? It lasts quite a while so you end up saving money.
There are options for those of you who aren’t ready to try a block and want liquid instead. Refill shops are popping up all over the country that offers a way for you to bring your own containers and fill them with products, including dish soaps. A company local to NC, Fillaree, carries a liquid dish soap that can be refilled in over 25 locations throughout the country. The company cleancult also offers a refillable dish soap. You can learn more about their refill program here.
zero-waste swap #5 – reusable bags
I saved the best for last! A reusable bag is where most people start when on a zero-waste or minimalist journey. Many cities are starting to ban plastic shopping bags, encouraging people to bring their own. By now, it seems like most people have reusable bags for grocery shopping. Do you forget yours often? My tip is to put the bags back in your car after unloading the groceries so you don’t forget them the next time.
Outside of grocery shopping bag swaps, you can also replace those plastic produce bags as well. I thought it was funny that I was bringing my own bag to the store, only to fill that bag with smaller plastic bags for produce. There are a lot of options out there for replacing these bags, like almost too many. I’ve used these and really like them. They have the tare weight right on them for easy checkout, and they can hold all sorts of products, from veggies to nuts. You can also make your own.
The third type of plastic bag zero-waste (or in this case, reduced waste) kitchen swap is replacing single-use plastic bags with reusable silicone bags. For similar reasons as ridding your kitchen of plastic wrap, plastic bags are a menace on our environment and are filling our landfills. The zero-waste community is split on the use of reusable silicone bags, as the end-of-life cycle is also to the landfill. If taken care of, however, the reusable silicone bags should last a long time. I also really like them for storing foods in the freezer.
Silicone bag alternatives
Not liking the idea of silicone? There are always options! The classic replacement for anything stored in plastic is to store it in glass jars or metal containers. In the future, I’d personally like to invest in Weck jars, which come in a ton of shapes and are easy-to-use and long-lasting. Any ol’ jar will do, though. I reuse the glass jars from my grocery products and use them to store other things as well.
oh, the infinite zero-waste kitchen swap options
In our modern world, there are infinite amounts of options for almost everything. The nice thing about zero-waste swaps, particularly in the kitchen, is that a lot of them can easily be done on a budget and without disrupting your lifestyle. They are simple and can make a huge impact on the amount of waste you create in your everyday life. Remember, we’re not looking for perfection in everything immediately. Swap one thing at a time and soon you’ll be living a cleaner, healthier, plastic-free life.