The Center for EcoTechnology describes zero-waste as “a movement to reduce the amount one consumes and consequently throws away.” It’s widely believed that adopting a zero-waste lifestyle is one of the most sustainable ways of living. By preventing resource extraction, reducing the amount of materials sent to the landfill or incinerator, and reducing pollution from production, transportation, or disposal of materials, a zero-waste way of life offers significant benefits to the environment. Not to mention that because this type of lifestyle minimizes waste and consumption, it’s often a more affordable way to live.
A zero-waste lifestyle is often depicted as difficult or inaccessible when in reality, it’s very attainable to take simple steps towards a zero-waste lifestyle. It’s important to recognize that when you start on the zero-waste path, you’ll need time to change your lifestyle. You can’t jump into it all at once and it’s best to start with easy steps.
Since it’s likely that many of us have been cooking and experimenting more than usual in the kitchen due to the COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing guidelines, we wanted to focus on how to reduce waste while cooking.
Even if you’re just looking to live a little more sustainably without going completely zero-waste, there are many ways you can practice zero-waste habits in the kitchen. Challenge yourself to adopt some of the tips below.
1. Plan Your Meals
It’s not necessary for you to plan out all of your meals for the entire week, but by doing just a little bit of thinking ahead, you can certainly cut back on waste. First, go through your pantry and refrigerator inventory to see if you already have some of the ingredients your recipes require and make a list of the missing items. Purchase only products that you actually intend on using and avoid purchasing ones that aren’t on your list or that you don’t need. This will not only reduce food waste and associated methane emissions it creates in landfills, but it will also minimize packaging waste
2. Gather Your Tools
Gather all of the zero-waste tools you likely already have at home instead of purchasing new. Some items you’ll want to include in your zero-waste cooking kit include:
- Glass Jars (which you can use for just about anything)
- A water bottle or mug (or both)
- Metal cutlery and chopsticks
- Cloth napkins
- Cloth produce bags (for shopping, snacks, and just about anything)
- Cloth shopping bags
3. Use Everything
Use every possible bit of produce and learn how to cook with scraps. This can make cooking more fun, creative, and less expensive. Here are some great ways to repurpose your kitchen’s discards:
- Create your own vegetable stock using pretty much any vegetable scrap—bits of celery, the ends of onions, tomato cores, bell pepper bits, corn cobs, and so on.
- Use leek greens in stock or chop them finely and add to a stir-fry or veggie sauté.
- Add kale greens to soups, salads, or sauces after dicing them and cooking them in a skillet. This is equally as tasty with chard stems as well.
- Create a pesto sauce using carrot tops and radish tops.
- Chop and simmer broccoli stems alongside onions, carrots, and celery, in order to create a puréed broccoli soup. You can also roast them at a steady temperature and serve with other cooked veggies.
- Make tea out of ginger scraps.
- Sauté vegetable skins in oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Use fruit scraps to make scrap vinegar by filling a jar with the scraps, adding a spoonful of sugar, pouring water to cover, securing a lid or cloth, stirring daily, waiting, and straining.
- Create jams/purees out of fruits that may be past their peak.
4. Preserve Fruits and Vegetables
If you find you have extra food you won’t eat soon, you can try preserving it to make it last. Some methods for doing this include:
- Freezing items you won’t finish, like leftover pasta sauce
- Cooking and freezing vegetables you may not eat this week
- Pickling or fermenting fruits and veggies. This refers to the process of soaking fruit or vegetables in a solution of vinegar or brine with salt and spices. This isn’t just a great way to utilize excess fruits and vegetables, but it’s also a wonderful way to lock in summer flavors to be enjoyed during the colder months. Some delicious fruits and vegetables to preserve are:
- Green cherry tomatoes
- Cucumbers (pickles)
- Red onions
5. Store Food Properly
Make your food last by storing it in the right place. Items like basil, asparagus, and tomatoes keep well on the counter, whereas cauliflower and cabbage should be kept refrigerated. This A to Z list on how to store produce without plastic is a great resource if you’re in doubt about where a particular food item belongs in your kitchen
6. Compost Food Scraps
Food rotting in landfills generates methane gas, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. This is why it’s important to avoid sending any food, from leftovers to unusable scraps, to the trash bin. Instead, give your leftovers to friends or neighbors or donate them to a local shelter. And in order to safely rid yourself of food scraps, you can create your own compost pile or bin. EarthEasy has a great guide on how you can get started. If you can’t compost at home, look for facilities near you.
Small Steps Toward Zero-Waste
Zero-waste certainly can’t happen overnight, but these simple tips for cutting back on waste while cooking can surely guide you in the right direction. Learn more about Kiwi Energy today for more great ideas and information to help you and your family live more sustainably.