10 Tips for a Zero-Waste Kitchen

Start making changes today to create a zero-waste kitchen!

Your choices for your diet and your kitchen habits have POWER, and you can choose to be on the right side of the climate crisis by making better, smarter, more sustainable choices everyday in the kitchen.

This coming week I’m going to be speaking at the Climathon Honolulu kickoff event at Impact Hub Honolulu, Hawaii’s coolest coworking space. This event features climate activists from local organizations and businesses, I will be sharing my thoughts about kitchen-based climate activism. I love getting behind the microphone, so YES, I am definitely excited to take part and share my tips for zero-waste living and cooking tips, and learn from the other great speakers.

vegan chili with pumpkin
Make meals to share to avoid leftover burnout… and also to share! This is my Pumpkin – Adzuki Bean Chili. Click for recipe!

1. Stop Throwing Away Food

Reducing food waste in the kitchen can help save you money and reduce your overall garbage output. Planning ahead for shopping and eating (and of course, never grocery shopping while hungry) can go a long way to reduce wasteful purchases. Be sure to use all the parts of the vegetable (no need to peel carrots or potatoes), cook things well so that you’ll want to eat them, and then repeat and eat your foods as leftovers.

This is just as important when you’re out: bring your own container for restaurant takeout, and split large portions with a buddy to reduce food waste outside of the home, too. Another tip I find helpful to reduce waste is to make a list to keep on the fridge to always remind me what’s in the fridge that week. Inspires you to think about the foods you already have, AND allows you to think without opening the fridge door.

For anything you do need to really toss out (banana peels, stems, leaves, avocado skins) try to find home-based or city compost options. Home based options include worm bins, Bokashi buckets, and at-home compost piles. Come cities have green waste bins and SOME will accept food waste (check your local regulations).

2. Store Your Food Well

To reduce food waste it’s important to buy well, and to store things correctly. Keep all dry goods (like beans, rice, noodles, flours, herbs, and teas) in airtight jars or containers to keep humidity and bugs out. This will ensure longevity of the items, which means you’ll have less go bad. Keep spice and tea jars in cool places, and buy only small amounts at a time so that it stays fresh. Educate yourself about proper food storage tips for fresh foods: tomatoes, bananas and avocados on counter; greens and herbs and roots in the fridge, properly sealed. If foods get dehydrated in the fridge, they are still good (see below!)

3. Refresh your Greens

As soon as you bring your kale, collards, broccoli, and other greens back from the market or store, put them in a container of water as you would cut flowers. This helps the greens absorb some of the water they lost in transit, and keeps them fresher for longer in the refrigerator. Kale and sturdy greens can withstand a few hours, but for herbs and more delicate greens, don’t soak more than a half hour. You can also rehydrate carrots and some other sturdy vegetables like daikon, radishes, and beets. Soak in water for an hour or so until they firm up.

If you veggies do get wilted, they are still GOOD! Use for soups, stews, smoothies, or save for homemade vegetable broth.

black pepper tofu
Dinner for tonight become two lunches for the workweek; Black Pepper Tofu with Veggies, click for recipe.

4. Meal planning

Ugh, I know, meal planning can seem so. very. tedious. But at the most simple, meal planning is about creating a grocery list based on what you want to eat. If you’re new to meal planning, don’t worry about doing a whole week of perfectly balanced meals in one planning sesh.

Start with baby steps: take just a few minutes before you head into the grocery store to think about what you want to eat that week, accounting for any meals you’ll be eating outside the home, like business lunches or girl’s nights. If you know you’ll have four dinners at home during the week, then you need to loosely plan for four dinners (assuming you’ll eat your leftovers for lunch) and your breakfasts. Even if it’s not super specific,  you can still plan ahead by brainstorming about the TYPES of meals you’ll eat.

For example, I usually build my meals as such:

  • Monday night, home for dinner: Make something like this Black Pepper Tofu and Rice, pictured above
  • Tuesday: out with friends, no cooking
  • Wednesday, home for dinner: Big salad, like Chicken Caesar Salad with roasted sweet potatoes
  • Thursday, home for dinner: Some type of curry, depending on what’s in the fridge
  • Friday: Grab takeout – ’cause we’re going to the beach!

So for this super quick list, I know that I will need to have tofu and veggies for Monday, and for Wednesday I will need romaine, zucchini, and potatoes (vegan chicken is already in the freezer), and on Thursday, I will use any remaining veggies for a one-pot curry like this, whether using noodles or rice. That gives me an idea about the primary items I need to purchase, and if I see, for example, a 2-for-1 sale on kale, I will be able to resist. Maybe.

5. Batch Cooking

Another way to think about batch cooking is to plan meals around things you can FREEZE. I make big batches of beans and lentils, then freeze them in smaller containers. Likewise, if I make hummus, a chickpea curry, a soup, or a sauce, I freeze those too, in small containers for quick meals. This allows you to make the most of your cooking efforts AND helps you have home cooked foods instead of relying on takeout (ie: for when you get back from vacay and need a quick lunch to grab to avoid eating takeout). Check out my guide to vegan batch cooking here.

6. Make your own Staple Foods

This is next level kitchen wizardry. If you find yourself using the same packaged goods all the time, like yogurt, salad dressing, hummus, almond milk, pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, kim chi, etc., it might be time to master some of these staple recipes to have in your freezer or fridge.

Investing the time in finding a recipe you love and batch cooking it means reduced plastic and glass waste, better quality ingredients, and can often save you money.  Plus, everything always tastes better homemade.

Easy, Homemade Vegan Yogurt

7. Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk is awesome! You can buy only the amount you need without any excess going to waste. Just as important, buying in bulk reduces your packaging AND helps save money, as most bulk items are significantly cheaper than the same packaged items on the shelves.

Good things to buy in bulk include rice, beans, grains, quinoa, noodles/pasta, herbs, spices, tea, salt, and honey. Most stores allow you to bring your own bags and containers, but be sure to check with the cashier before filling – weigh it out, mark the tare weight, and get shopping.

Check with your retailer though – locally, our Whole Foods is entirely regressive in not allowing customers to tare weight their jars or containers to refill at the store with nut butter or food bar items.

seed cycling

8. Choose Glass or Unpackaged Items

Buying fresh fruits and vegetables without packaging is ideal, and when buying shelf-stable items, be sure to choose glass, paper, or metal containers to avoid plastic containers. I will admit, this is VERY hard to do as we live in a plastic-focused world.

It’s especially hard when things like strawberries are on Prime special at Whole Foods, or when the only cherry tomatoes are packaged in plastic. Like any change, it’s about making your best effort. And I’ll admit, I buy a box of spinach of loose, baby spinach each week, as it’s one of my favorite greens and helps me add more veggies in to my diet. Your local farmer’s markets are a great place to find unwrapped veggies – usually: at my local market I see many vendors that wrap ALL THE THINGS in plastic, so I just avoid them entirely.

9. Skip the Paper & Plastics

For storage, choose glass jars and reusable glass containers to keep your food fresh. I also have a collection of upcycled plastic containers that I use to carry lunches (as glass gets pretty heavy on my bike commute). Save jars and containers from purchased items to reuse (pro-tip: soak jars in water and soap and scrub to release sticky labels).

For shopping and dining, choose reusable shopping bags, cloth napkins, upcycled or bamboo utensil sets, a glass or steel water bottle, and obviously, get yourself some metal drinking straws. For cleaning, think dish towels and dish rags for cleaning, rather than paper towel, and using sponges make from natural materials like cellulose. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, make your own homemade cleaning products from natural, everyday ingredients.

zero-waste kitchen

10. Eat More Plants to Save your Planet

Choosing to eat more plant-based foods is no longer a niche movement of ‘preachy’ vegans – it’s a vital choice to help save our planet. Dozens of leading organizations agree: choosing a plant-based diet is one of the most important thing you can do to reduce your impact. The Guardian says it’s the single most important thing you can do to reduce your impact.

An article came out on NYT in August; in it, columnist Farhad Manjoo summarizes a key point that is key for a zero-waste future: “We’ll give up plastic straws and tweet passionately that someone should do something about the Amazon, yet few of us make space in our worldview to acknowledge the carcass in the room: the irrefutable evidence that our addiction to meat is killing the planet right before our eyes.” He notes later that even if you are not vegan, you should at least listen to vegans’ pleas for less animal cruelty and better human health, noting that, “vegans are irrefutably on the right side of history.”

Consider just a few of these stats:

  • Lost land: 41% of farmable land is for livestock (Treehugger, 8/18)
  • Lots of 💩! Chemical fertilizer runoff, manure ponds, and methane gases from raising of animals, making land, water and people sick (WSJ, 2019).
  • 80% of antibiotics fed to animals, WHO 2018

I’ve written repeatedly about why plant foods are better for our health (with all that fiber, minerals & vitamins, detoxification, and YES, PROTEIN!), but with the climate emergency before us, it’s more important than ever to take care of the PLANET that supports us.

Quite honestly, I don’t care if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian – a reduction of animal foods is imperative. There are lots of modalities to adapt your diet to this paradigm shift: choose Meatless Mondays to do at least one day a week; try Vegan Before Six (VB6), eating vegan until 6pm each day that famed New York Times columnist Mark Bittman recommends.

One of my favorite quotes about plant-based eating is this, loosely paraphrased from Jonathan Safran Foer, from his book Eating Animals: “My goal is not that 80% of people will be vegetarian, but that 80% of meals will be vegetarian.”

I hope that this notion, and all the other tips here, can be a guidepost to make BETTER decisions going forward. Lifestyle changes like this are not about PERFECTION – it’s about progress. Literally every step we take has the opportunity to move us into a better direction, and I hope that this inspires you to start taking those steps.

Want to learn more? Click here to read more about zero-waste body care tips!

💕 Andrea

kale and whole grain salad


All photos from Unsplash, free to use, except those watermarked as Vibrant Wellness Journal

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About Andrea Bertoli 597 Articles
A vegan chef, cookbook author, wellness educator, writer, surfer, and yogi based in Honolulu. Follow my delicious adventures on Instagram

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