The two rooms in the house where I probably waste the most are the bathroom and the kitchen. I’ve been making simple swaps in both places in order to cut back on the amount of trash I create in my daily life. Today, I’m going to highlight four kitchen swaps I’m making to reduce waste in my space (and one I’ll be making soon).
1: Swedish Dish Cloth
Before making the shift to reducing my waste, I typically used a wet paper towel when I needed to wipe down my kitchen counters. While I use dishcloths for drying dishes, I don’t like to use the same cloth towel to clean messes and dry clean dishes. I spotted the Swedish Dishcloth at a local paper and home goods store. Swedish Dishcloths were invented in 1949 and are a blend of cellulose and cotton fibers. The texture is unique, stiff and corrugated when dry, but when dampened they expand and become soft – like a sturdy paper towel. I use my dishcloth to wipe my counters and have cleaned some dishes with it. It is not abrasive, so it can’t get at stuck on food, but it has done a great job of wiping away stains on my counter. Most of the time I clean away any stains with water and dish soap, but when it starts to look funky I just throw it in the wash with my clothes. I originally bought two, but I’ve only needed to use two so far. My current dishcloth will last about a year, at which point I can compost it and switch to my backup. The dishcloths also come in fun designs; I really like the political whimsy behind my current cloth. Once we use up the paper towels we have on hand, I’d love to see if my roommate would be willing to ditch paper towels for good, which will save on our expenses and reduce our waste.
2: Lint-free Cleaning Cloths
My roommate can tell you of multiple occasions when she has woken up on a weekend morning to find me deep cleaning the apartment with a bucket of bleach water solution in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other. I was primarily drawn to these cloths because they are white linen and I figured they would make an excellent replacement for paper towels when I really need to disinfect surfaces in my place. I don’t think that was the intended use for the towels, but they stood up to the bleach solution just fine and I was happy with the results of my most recent cleaning frenzy. They also are great for cleaning glass with no streaks and can be used to wipe down stemware before serving drinks. I use my Swedish Dishcloths more regularly, but I’m hoping I can find more uses for them as I research eco-friendly cleaning tricks.
3: Food Storage Jars
It seems a bit ridiculous to write about storing food in mason jars as a trick when that is their intended purpose, but it’s time that they get reclaimed from hipster weddings and put back to their original use. Until recently, my cupboard was a cluttered mess of bags of lentils, polenta, flour, and other dry ingredients. This weekend, I stopped by Tacoma Thrift & Consignment to look for some air-tight jars to keep my cupboard tidy and to cut back on plastic. While all of the food currently in my cupboard was bought in plastic packaging, as I need to replace these staples I can now buy from bulk bins and store them in my jars. By using my produce bags I can buy and store these items waste free. The vertical storage is also great because it makes it easier for me to see what I have in stock. Now I won’t come home with a bag of polenta and find another bag hidden in the back of the cupboard. While you could buy jars online or at places like Target, I recommend looking for them used first. Not only did I get to support a local, small business, I was also able to extend to reuse a good that already existed rather than buying new. I still have some work to do in my cupboard to get it to the package-free state I’d like it to be, and as I do I’ll definitely be back to Tacoma Thrift & Consignment to look for more jars.
4: Compost Bin
I’ve tried (and failed) yard compost before so I am a bit nervous about this attempt, but keeping food scraps out of the landfill is critical to a low-waste lifestyle. I recently purchased a one-gallon compost pail and found simple tips on Google for the right “recipe”, two parts carbon heavy products to one part nitrogen heavy. I’m keeping this under my kitchen sink and trying to put scraps in the bin rather than tossing them. This won’t fully break down my food scraps into nice compost, but I’m going to look for local community gardens or search my neighborhood’s “Free or For Sale Page” to see if anyone has a large garden compost bin that I can contribute to.
Like paper towels, napkins are an unnecessary source of waste that we rely on because they’re convenient. It’s silly to me that cloth napkins have become reserved only for formal occasions when they can be used just as well for takeout pizza. I haven’t bought these yet because I haven’t found the perfect ones I’m looking for. Ideally, I’d like a cotton/linen blend (rather than ones made from synthetic polyester) and I’d rather not have white so they don’t show stains as easily. I intend to get one or two to keep in my bag with my cutlery and a set of 10 or so to keep on hand at home. If you use reusable napkins every day I’d love to hear where you’ve found ones that work well for you!
There are plenty of other swaps to make in the kitchen, and I am by no means perfect. But even incremental changes can make a difference. Going vegetarian has also been a great way to reduce my kitchen waste since I’m no longer buying packaged meats that do not compost. How do you reduce waste in your kitchen and what are some swaps I should try next?