A functional zero waste kitchen

I learned to split my bins, write ‘landfill’ on my kitchen bin, save my scraps, make my own cleaners, use what we have before replacing it, favour long-lasting re-useable items and natural materials, and understand how to store food to maximise its lifespan.


Split my bins & keep the landfill small

The kitchen should have a teeny tiny landfill bin as well as compost, recycling, and potentially a separate soft-plastics recycling bin if this option is available to you. The mindset is that all of these bins should be the last resort for items that come into your home (ie consider using food scraps for stock before composting them).

Our compost bin is bigger than our landfill bin.

Our compost bin is bigger than our landfill bin. We keep it on the kitchen bench so it’s front of mind and easy to access. I made it out of a metal tub I found and the lid of an old pot. Essentially, it just needs to be leak proof and have a hole on top to breathe.

Our tiny landfill bin is hidden in the laundry cupboard next to the kitchen (out of sight, out of mind). We also have a soft plastics bag hiding in this cupboard to keep us all sane while we transition as a household.

At our current rate of waste creation, I’ve estimated that we would fill one landfill bin every 8 months, and one recycling bin every 5 weeks. Previously, it would take 2 weeks to fill both bins, mostly from kitchen waste. Shrinking the size of our kitchen bin encouraged us to think twice about throwing things away.

Next: Let’s talk Trash


Save my scraps

Food scraps have a multitude of uses. They can be turned into stock, iced tea, cleaning products and beauty products. The freezer is a great way to keep food until you’re ready to turn it into something new.

Ziplock bag of veggie scraps in the freezer. When full, we made vegetable stock.

At our place, vegetable scraps are put into a bag in the freezer and then periodically turned into a delicious veggie stock for risotto, paella, soup and stews. On top of veggie scraps for stock, I’ve been saving fruit scraps for iced tea. The core and peelings of stone fruit are perfect to infuse overnight with mint leaves and some red or black tea. It makes a really refreshing cold drink. Meat off-cuts and bones make amazing stock, too. Even coffee grinds can serve a purpose before they go to compost, my favourite is a deep-cleansing body scrub combined with coconut oil.

Fruit scraps are saved for iced tea

Make my own cleaners

I hope I never need to buy cleaning products again. Vinegar rules!

Essential cleaning products for kitchen, bathroom and floors
  • Dishes & Hands: Castile liquid soap. We have the same soap pump for both dishes and hands.
  • Multipurpose spray: Vinegar + Castile soap + water. This spray is used for benchtops, floor, cupboards, oven, fridge, etc. It can even be used on carpet, leather and upholstery.
  • Orange vinegar: Orange scraps + White vinegar + 2 weeks. The cleaner smells amazing and is highly effective. I also love seeing the bottle/s of orange slices on display in the kitchen. I find it decorative and beautiful. It’s become my own version of cut flowers. I also throw lemon rind in there if I don’t have a use for it.
  • Baking soda: No recipe needed. Just put it in an old spice shaker and use for scouring the oven, cooktop, kitchen sink, drains, and stubborn grease. Shake on a surface and use the multipurpose spray to see it froth and bubble.

Use what we have before replacing it

Zero waste thrives with a ‘make do’ attitude. Use up what you have before replacing it with a zero waste alternative. Either that, or give it to someone who doesn’t have the same flexibility as you. Hide single-use items out of sight (out of mind) to help reduce any dependency.

Turns out, we didn’t need any of these items

We hid items in the garage to see if we could live without them. It worked. As a household, we can live without bags, plastic wrap, baking paper and snap lock bags: so, I was happy to give these away.

I have learned that zero waste thrives with a ‘make do’ attitude. Did I need to buy a metal lunchbox? No. I did not. I could have put leftovers in any jar or plastic container that has been floating around in my cupboards for years. Or I could have bought a plastic lunchbox from a thrift store for $1. Thanks to this very pretty, over-priced lunchbox, I’ve become conscious of why I am buying something. I don’t regret this purchase. It’s encouraged me to form a habit of bringing my own lunch to work. But, I don’t want anyone to think they need to prepare themselves for going zero waste by buying anything. Trust me, you can make do. The goal isn’t perfection, it’s improvement.

Despite what others say, this metal lunchbox is not an essential item

Favour long-lasting re-useable items

If anything needs to be purchased, favour long-lasting reusable items made from wood, metal, glass, marble, and natural fabric. Better quality products can be bought second-hand.

When the time comes to replace something in the kitchen, consider natural materials like wood and metal. These are often easier to find at thrift stores (I am looking forward to replacing our old kettle with an antique stove top one).

  • Beeswax wraps: Substitute for plastic cling wrap
  • Metal utensils and cookware: With wooden handles.
  • Glass & Stainless steel containers: For food storage
  • Wooden chopping board: For fruit, veggies and bread.
  • Marble chopping board: For chopping meat and cheese.

Store food to maximise its lifetime

Research how to store fruit and veggies to maximise their lifetime. Utilise the freezer. If food starts to go bad, there’s often a recipe that compliments this part of the food’s lifespan (ie old milk makes excellent greek yoghurt, old veggies make great soup and old bananas make sweet smoothies).

Yellow banana = Snacks. Brown bananas = Smoothies and cakes.

Storing food takes a level of observation. I try not to over-stock so I can easily see if something is getting old. I have found a few simple tricks like storing carrots in a jar with a splash of water, or keeping fruit in the fridge to help it stay fresh a little longer in warm weather. I researched the main foods that we eat, and found tips for each one.

If we’re over-stocked, we’ll chop up food for the freezer such as carrots, corn, peas, spinach leaves, minced garlic, ginger, berries and sliced sourdough.

When the pantry gives us sad looking food, I turn to Pinterest for inspiration and see what comes up. Most fruit and vegetables have a recipe that compliments each stage of it’s life.

When we have too many oranges, we make marmalade, orange juice and orange cleaner.
When we have too many beetroots, we make falafels for the freezer and beetroot mud cake

 


How to transition to a zero waste kitchen

Write ‘landfill’ on your smallest bin, and split the rest into compost, recycling and soft plastics. Utilise your food scraps by saving them in your freezer. Store food to maximise its lifespan. Consider DIY cleaners. Favour long-lasting re-useable items and natural materials. Use what you have before replacing it.

Next: Reduce packaging waste when grocery shopping


New shopping habits for zero waste groceries

For zero waste groceries, I have learned to shop local, seasonal produce. Forming simple – but sometimes easily forgotten – habits of bringing shopping bags and jars so I could buy package-free where possible. I look out for glass and paper packaging to avoid wasteful plastics. I took my time and now embrace the idea of an empty fridge.


Shop local, seasonal produce

Local, seasonal produce can be bought from farmers markets, through delivery services, or from independent grocers. If none of these options are available, then seasonal produce can be bought from large supermarket chains – you just need to keep track of what’s in season.

Zero Waste Grocery Haul from Ceres
$30 Grocery delivery from Ceres Fair Food

Every fortnight, we order a $30 box of fruit and veggies from Ceres Fair Food. At first, it was too much of a good thing – what does one do with four broccolis between three people? After giving some produce to neighbours, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. Pinterest made it quick to look up options. I made broccoli soup, broccoli pesto, broccoli stir fry, broccoli gratin, broccoli pasta… we were not short of ideas. It became a satisfying challenge to cook all of the food delivered to us. If we can’t get through it all, I chop it up and put it in the freezer.

Zero Waste grocery shopping
I love that this is what carrots look like

Shopping bags & glass jars

A large shopping bag can hold multiple bags and jars. This helps reduce plastic bags and containers. These items can be kept in the car or near the front door to help kickstart the habit. We keep our jars in a little carrier to avoid spills.

Zero waste grocery shopping
This is what I take to the shops for a top up. I don’t mind using paper bags now and then.

For weekly top ups, I take a small and large shopping bag, 2 jars and a handkerchief. The jars carry wet bulk like liquid soap, peanut butter and vinegar. The handkerchief holds baked goods and the bags hold everything else. For a bigger shop, we have four large canvas bags that we take to the supermarket. Fewer bags make it easier for the cashier to fill them. These require a trolley and a car to take home.


Buying package-free

Finding a store requires a bit of research, but there’s plenty of online directories to get started. Most have only dry bulk (flour, nuts, grains, chocolates, etc) and some have expanded into wet bulk (oil, liquid soap, honey, peanut butter, kombucha, etc). To perpetuate a new zero waste habit, we favour places that are friendly, inclusive, and enjoyable to shop at.

Zero waste grocery shopping
Zero Waste stores are popping up in small towns and big cities.
Zero Waste grocery shopping
Make it easier at checkout by taking note of the product number

The Source was my entry point into package-free shopping, back when I didn’t know what zero waste was. I used to walk there on my lunch break and get myself a little treat, like vegetable crisps or chocolate covered blueberries. Their beautifully merchandised store makes it easy to understand a totally new way of shopping.

Let’s face it: Getting started is daunting! I’ve had my fair share of patronising, pious staff and overwhelming, poorly merchandised stores. Most of these stores felt like “organised chaos” with a high barrier of entry. It made me feel lost and unmotivated. Fortunately, package-free stores are an expanding part of the retail sector which means improved customer service and merchandising.

Package free shopping at The Source
Shopping at The Source Bulk Foods can result in some impulse purchases

Be patient

Some stores are hesitant to sell items package free. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage to ask questions and suggest change.

I find that the main reasons for stores to hesitate with BYO packaging are:

  1. OHS – If they’ve been burned before, they’re not going to budge. Leave it be. They have a business to protect.
  2. Efficiency – If the store is busy, any to change their workflow tends to add stress and delays. Be nice. Maybe come back later.
  3. Lack of understanding – Most people understand if I say “I’m trying to go plastic free” but they won’t understand if I say “I’m zero waste”. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage. We’re all learning together.
  4. Production lines – A large scale company (like a supermarket chain) has loads of moving parts. They can’t change overnight. Inquire politely via social media and customer service streams. Suggest change. Follow up. Be patient.

 


How to balance zero waste & grocery shopping

Bring your shopping bags & jars. Favour seasonal produce. Buy package-free at bulk stores and avoid plastic at big supermarkets. Ask questions. Be patient while retailers adjust too.

Next: How to manage a Zero Waste Kitchen


Zero waste has a high barrier of entry

Even in the big city, I believe that zero waste has a high barrier of entry but this story has a happy ending.

Set up

To begin my journey, I spent some sweet dollaridoos on a moon cup, a safety razor, beeswax wraps and a new lunchbox. These items made a significant dent in my weekly budget. A year later, it’s worked out to be financially viable and I don’t need to buy these items again. I tried to not buy anything I wasn’t 100% sure I needed (here’s lookin at you: tongue scraper!). I had to be in it for the long haul with this kit.

Regular shopping

Today, I’m fortunate to be able to eat local, organic, plastic-free wholefoods because the soil here is rich and a portion of my income is expendable. I buy organic nuts and grains entirely package free. It’s easier for me because there are bulk stores within walking distance. Compared to the packaged “dollar dazzlers” at major supermarket chains, I started spending a lot more on food… but then something else happened:

  • I no longer needed to buy beauty or cleaning products.
  • We didn’t need to buy bin liners, cling wrap, aluminium foil and zip lock bags.
  • We learnt how to buy and cook exactly what we need, how to store it and how to make use of scraps.
  • The bathroom cupboard needed little restocking because I was making my own or favouring multipurpose products.
  • I stopped buying goods brand new and learnt to repair instead of replace.
  • We sold items because we no longer had a use for them.
  • We started making more items from scratch like bread and tortillas, which worked out cheaper and more enjoyable.
  • I realised that major supermarket chains charge more for organic produce (beauty standards?) so we saved by going direct to farmer.
  • I have a feeling that organic food is why I’m not getting sick as often, so I’m not buying cold & flu medicine all the friggin time… that’s just a theory… I’ll probably get sick now that I’ve suggested that… *cough*

The steep curve eventually balances out. It gets better. It pays off. It’s worth it. But I ain’t gonna tell you it’s easy.


Quality flour + Clean water = Freedom

I want to fill my life with as much creative play as possible. Making, experimenting and trying new things is good for our souls. Doing this together strengthens bonds and has the potential to build ritual and knowledge from tasks.

Together is better. We’ve been practising making tortillas, mountain bread, sour dough and naan bread. By shifting dinner from a task to a shared ritual, we’ve change our mindset from “I can’t be bothered cooking” to “let’s cook together”. Being surrounded by modern conveniences, I had lost touch with this way of living.

Quality flour + clean water = freedom. If my partner and I can make these things well, then we‘ll no longer value convenience. Instead, we’ll value quality, core ingredients. It will be more affordable. It will be nutritionally better for us. It will help us tap into traditional cultures and connect with our collective history. It will enrich our lives. It’s a win win win.


Package free dishwashing powder

I got really into DIY when I started going zero waste. It’s cheaper to make it yourself but it’s not essential. I’m happy to discover that more and more items are available package free. This is dishwashing powder from @ceresbrunswick. I first bought it packaged from @thankyouaus so that I could refill into an appropriate container. I haven’t attempted DIY dishwashing powder simply because it’s convenient and easy to buy ready made and package free.

Side note: For package free living, containers become a careful long term consideration. The right container makes dispensing easier and means I won’t get my white powders mixed up


Instagram-worthy mumbo jumbo

I may have a matchy matchy feed but “Instagram-worthy matching mason jars” and investing in “zero waste essentials” is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve here. Zero waste is not about buying more stuff. Zero waste is about reducing our waste. Full stop. Times infinity. No take backsies.


Eating kangaroo for environmental reasons.

I haven’t eaten cow, pig or lamb in almost 10 years. Plus, I’ve hardly eaten any meat in the last couple of months. I’m practically vegetarian. I listen to my body and it rewards me when I feed it an occasional piece of quality meat. I’ll aim to eat anything that has a neutral-positive effect on the Australian environment but I still have much to learn. My approach comes with naive hope that Australia will:

  • Favour consumption of over-populated pests;
  • Build up the population of native wildlife through consumer demand; and
  • Reduce meat consumption overall.

No more binge eating 3-4 types of meat from animals that can’t withstand drought. No more “throw another shrimp on the barbie” or highly televised lamb advertisements in the lead up to Australia day. No more “you don’t make friends with salad”. Respect, diversity and control.

Introduced species such as rabbit, camel and water buffalo are over-populated and problematic for our native wildlife. If they were a popular meat, maybe our native flora and fauna would be slightly better off?

Australia has a lush selection of edible plants and tasty native meats such as emu, wallaby, kangaroo and crocodile. Cruelty aside, if we were farming more natives, surely that’s a better use of agricultural land compared to cattle, pig and sheep farming? It could reduce soil salinity, irrigation and land clearing. Maybe the cattle farmers would maintain employment. Maybe more of our land can be focused on re-wilding initiatives and greater biodiversity.

Supporting any form of monoculture (cow, cotton, soy, etc) can have detrimental effects on the environment. I’m not saying this approach is perfect. It’s just another way to look at conscious consumerism. 🙃

For Aussies: Kangaroo steak can be found at @colessupermarkets and @woolworths_au in the ‘Game meat’ section. Occasionally, we can find rabbit, duck and camel too. These are NOT sold package free. Markets and boutique butchers sometimes have alternative meats where you could try to byo container (still working up the courage to do this myself).

I believe that purchasing alternative food is a vote in favour of diversity. 🐄🐖🐑🐓


The professional smirk.

I love that this is what sweet potatoes look like. The look on the cashier’s face was priceless when she held the 8 inch penis potato. We dubbed her expression a “professional smirk”. This #uglyproduce is currently not accepted by big supermarket chains. I like to think that the clause states that produce “must not be too penisy”. Jokes aside, I can’t understand why it’s such an issue. They’re missing out on all the fun. 😂🍆


3 years of confidential banking information

This is 3 years of confidential banking information that we cleared out of a drawer. Worms and microbes will eat this and keep our printed information secure. Now, to double-triple check that I’ve successfully unsubscribed from these mail outs. If only the bank’s website UX was as easy as composting.

Speaking of mail, still got a bunch more subscriptions needed before I send out my 1st of only 4 emails.

Sign up here


Did you get plastic for Christmas? I did!

Did you get plastic for Christmas? I did! It’s ok. Some of us are early adopters, others need more time. We’re all in this together.

I now know that I can recycle this type of plastic. I am also super grateful as we will enjoy these yummy spice mixes in our cooking. It’s the thought that counts and this was a very kind gesture from lovely people who don’t know much about us. I particularly like that it’s perishable rather than giving us more ‘stuff’ in our home.

We successfully had two Christmas celebrations with minimal gift giving. One family had secret Santa, the other had gifts for kids only. In the past, we’ve driven home with a car full of stuff we don’t need.

Not this time 🙂 .