How to Take your Kitchen from Wasteful to Sustainable

I hail from the recycling capital of the United States: Portland, Oregon. Now you would think growing up in a city where it’s weird if you don’t bring your own bags to the grocery store means I’ve had the sustainability thing down since birth. But, not so much.

While I did grow up with wonderful hippy neighbors who composted food scraps and sent their kids to school with the same ziplock bag they’d wash after each use, my parents were more of the Costco fun size, variety pack type of people. And it wasn’t just my parents, in high school I got too cool for a lunch pale (but not too cool for my mom to make my lunch) and switched to brown paper bags which I threw away every. single. day. This nonchalance continued until a few years ago when I realized that not worrying about the environment was no longer a luxury I could afford.

Once I decided to take saving the planet (one reusable container at a time) seriously, I found the task daunting with a dash of hopelessness, especially when it came to my kitchen. All I saw was a mountain of single use plastic and two and a half decades of ingrained habits that were far from environmentally friendly.

If you’ve considered living more sustainably you may have had similar thoughts, like “Where do I even start!?” and “How can I possibly make a difference just by getting rid of saran wrap!?” You are not alone!

Any small change you make has an impact.

Just think, if every person in the world decided they would throw away one less piece of trash tomorrow that would stop BILLIONS of pieces of trash from ending up in the landfill. In just one day!

Now I’m going to level with you. Taking your kitchen from wasteful to sustainable takes time and you’re going to have to invest some money.

When I started switching things over, I was working retail, living paycheck to paycheck and the last thing I wanted was to spend any extra cash on was reusable ziplock bags. So I took it one thing at a time, and reminded myself of my future unborn child who may grow up in a world where you can’t go outside because the sun is too strong from ozone depletion (whatever works!). And I’m still finding more ways to live sustainably.

When you’re going through the following list of tips and tricks, pick one thing to start with and nail that one thing.

We are going for progress not perfection.

Once you’ve nailed that one thing move on to another and another and another. Before you know it, you’ll have a kitchen that rivals a third generation Portland hippy. Cue triumphant music.

Let’s start with something simple…

Cleaning

cleaning sustainably - green cleaning tips

What do you currently use to clean your kitchen? Chemicals stored in single use plastic? Paper towels that you throw away after each use? That was totally me.

Now you probably don’t deep clean your kitchen every day (if you do, props) which makes switching your cleaning products and cleaning accessories a bit easier than switching something you use every day.

First things first, let’s take all those nasty cleaning chemicals and change them out for a sustainable alternative. I personally use and love Branch Basics. They sell a cleaning concentrate that can be used for five different cleaning solutions (all-purpose, streak free, bathroom, hand soap and laundry detergent).

Hello convenience! In their starter kit you get spray bottles for each solution that you can then refill each time you run out. Reducing single use plastic…check.

If you have a ton of cleaning products left and you’re not ready to switch to a natural, environmentally friendly brand stock up on rags to use for cleaning instead of paper towels.

PRO TIP: Don’t have any rags at home? Email local businesses that use a lot of towels. I worked at a spin studio and we always had boxes of old towels that were stained, ripped etc. and we would eventually just donate them. Spas and gyms are also great places to ask.

Food storage

how to store your food sustainably

Do you bring your lunch to work? Do you have leftovers in your fridge? Do you drink coffee or tea? The answer to all of these questions is usually yes which means there is a huge opportunity to help the planet here.

First, glass is better than plastic. If you don’t have any tupperware currently or have all plastic tupperware consider slowly buying and collecting glass. Costco and Ikea have variety sets at good prices and if you’re down for some hunting Goodwill and garage sales are a gold mine (and there’s the added sustainability bonus that you’re buying used).

Another great glass container option are jars and they come with the food you normally buy at the grocery store! You can use jars for your smoothies, your golden milk lattes, your yogurt parfaits and your mom’s homemade meat sauce.

Ziploc bags are the bane of my (now sustainable) existence, luckily I found Stashers. They are reusable, silicon bags that look a lot like fancy Ziplocs. These babies can go in the freezer, boiling water (steam those veggies) and the dishwasher.

A few other food storage alternatives that I swear by are Food Huggers and beeswax cloth wraps. These two items eliminate the need for saran wrap in your kitchen.

Now for the big leagues…

Food 

cooking sustainably - buying local, fresh and in bulk

This category has been my biggest challenge, because not thinking about where your food comes from and how it’s packaged is less time consuming and we all lead busy lives. But remember future generations! And these tips to make it easier…

Buy local and seasonal whenever possible.

Local products travel a shorter distance, meaning they have a smaller carbon footprint. Seasonal produce is sustainable for similar reasons. If you’re enjoying strawberries in the dead of winter (totally guilty) those babies are getting flown in from a land far, far away. Farmers markets are perfect for shopping local.

Buy bulk.

Bring your own containers to the grocery store and stock up on things like nuts, dried fruit, spices and even peanut butter. NEVER buy the variety snack packs, always go for the bigger bag that you have to portion out.

Bring your own produce bags and grocery bags when you go shopping.

For all my fellow tea drinkers out there, switch from bagged tea to loose leaf tea. This is a small change but think of all the waste you’ll eliminate over your lifetime!

Because there’s always a miscellaneous category…

Miscellaneous

Maybe you’ve cleaned up your cleaners, said “No!” to Ziplocs and only shop the local section at the grocery store. Here are the finishing touches for your sustainability swap…

Invest in cloth napkins. They’re not just for special occasions.

Say goodbye to plastic utensils, for good. Use silverware when you eat lunch or host parties.

Check out this sweet, collapsible straw that goes on your keychain! Use it instead of plastic straws.

If you’re a coffee drinker, bring your own travel mug with you (or make your coffee at home). Coffee shops are always happy to make your favorite drink in your reusable container.

If you’ve read this far, you are committed to living sustainably! Write down one thing from this post that you’re going to implement this week. And whenever those defeated thoughts enter your head, remember to tell yourself your personal “whatever works” i.e. your future unborn child who may grow up in a world without animals since they all went extinct from rising atmospheric temperatures and shrinking habitats.

taking kitchen from wasteful to sustainable