Whether you’re an occasional cook or whip up MasterChef worthy meals most days, a great deal of the household trash that we produce comes from the food we make. Going zero-waste in the kitchen might feel like a mountain to climb. From all those bottled goods to a plethora of supermarket-bought food items wrapped in single-use plastic. Below we’ve compiled a range of eco-friendly and zero waste kitchen ideas and products to inspire reducing waste in the kitchen.
It probably comes as no surprise that our kitchens typically contain the most amount of plastic. Think of all the detergent bottles under the sink, squeezy jars, bags of dry goods and fresh foods in the fridge - all wrapped in plastic.
Plastic is an incredible material - lightweight, cheap to produce and versatile. And it serves us well in the kitchen. The thing is that when you wrap most food in plastic, it lasts longer. The plastic keeps stored food air and watertight making it a convenient and practical choice. And it’s food-friendly.
And all of this would be all very well if we didn’t have a massive problem with plastic waste. Three hundred forty-eight million tonnes of the stuff was produced globally in 2017. And the problem is not that its convenient in the kitchen.
Instead, we have to consider that every item of single-use plastic produced and used for our food supplies and kitchen essentials draws on our finite energy and oil resources. Incredibly of all the plastic made only 9 per cent gets recycled. And even if it is, it still uses more energy in the recycling process.
Further, we incinerate the rest, or it ends up in landfill, or worse our Oceans.
Estimates vary and suggest up to 13million tonnes of plastic end up in our Oceans every year. And the problem doesn’t stop there. It takes 100’s of years to degrade and never leaves our Ocean entirely. Fish and marine life consume plastic and can die.
A recent report even found that Humans could be ingesting up to five grams of plastic every week due to microplastics leaking into our water sources5.
Thus, one of the best things we can all do to help alleviate the problem is to aim for a zero-waste kitchen. Or at least progress in that direction by choosing to use products that can be reused and we don’t discard straight away after use. To help you on your quest, we do hope you’ll find below some home and kitchen zero waste kitchen product inspiration for yourself or to gift to the special person in your life.
We hope you enjoy our selections!
A stovetop coffee maker is a great long-lasting zero waste kitchen swap. If you buy instant coffee in jars with plastic lids or in pots, then switching to a stovetop coffee maker will not only result in better-tasting coffee, but it’ll also help cut down on waste.
The other big problem with coffee is the rise (and rise) of use once and throw away coffee pods. Popularised by Nespresso and with a plethora of like contenders, these things are bad for the environment. In 2019 research found that 42% of Americans owned a single coffee brew machine of some sort1. The majority of these will require a constant supply of plastic pods.
As with any single-use items, we don’t need coffee pods. Further, we struggle to recycle plastic pods because of their small size construction.
Stovetop coffee machines make for a zero-waste kitchen essential for coffee drinkers. They’re dead easy to use, make brews to your taste and last forever with care. Each cup of coffee brewed on stovetop results in one less coffee pod produced and subsequently dealt with as waste.
Our author's Grandmother used to spend several days over each summer, bottling enough seasonal fruit to last the winter. Peaches and pears bottled away for the colder days.
Today, mason jars, bottling and preserving is back in fashion. Glass jars have become the ultimate zero waste pantry product. And for a good reason. Buy them once, look after them, and there is no reason why they won’t last forever and they can replace the use of many plastic bottles or jars.
Glass jars make for brilliant zero waste food storage. They can store just about anything; cereal preserves through to dry goods. You can even use them to take soup to work in the winter to warm up at lunch or to share around a healthy smoothy in the summer.
Towards reducing our environmental impact, the best answer to acquiring jars is simply to reuse the ones that you already have. Look around most kitchens, and you’ll find jam, pickle, or other jars ready for reuse. Rather than recycling them, wash them and use them to store leftovers or your new kitchen concoctions that might otherwise have gone into a plastic bag or container. They work in the freezer too.
If you have a zero-waste supermarket nearby, these jars become even more useful. Take them along to the bulk food shop and refill for a truly zero-waste purchase of everything from nuts to herbs and oils.
Of course, your loved one might not fall over backwards with joy were you to give them a bunch of empty jam jars. Try making something yummy to put in them and problem solved.
When buying new for a zero waste gift, it’s worth spending a touch more for quality jars that will last. Also, look out for sets that provide versatility. Many now come with interchangeable lids that mean you can use them with metal or reusable straws for drinking, or even to sprinkle flour or sugar.
In the UK each of us used to get through 140 single-use plastic bags a year on average3. And then along came the 5p charge on single-use bags in the supermarket. Since we’ve slashed that number by a staggering 86%.
However, as with most things that require manufacture, the story is not always as straightforward as you might think. We’ve, for the most part, replaced our flimsy bags with heavier alternatives. These take more resources to produce, and whereas they do last longer, their useful life remains limited.
And because they are heavier, they do cause more harm 1-1 when thrown away. It is still good news, because if you use your bag for life at least four times, then they cause less overall harm to the environment. And we expect most people do.
Meanwhile, a paper bag can take up to 4 times more energy to produce4. They too tend only to get used once. However, they do biodegrade, causing fewer problems in the landfill. And, cotton is typically the most carbon-intensive to produce; however, reusable cotton bags can last for a lot longer.
Thus the humble reusable bag makes for an excellent zero-waste home and kitchen addition so whenever you shop you can bring your own. To be fair, it can be a bit of a minefield working out which choice of bag is the most environmentally friendly. The trick? Use whatever choice of bag you have made as many times as possible.
Our pick, therefore, are these reusable canvas bags. On the left below the shopping box bag folds down for carrying, stays open by themselves and crucially are built to last. Cloth handles, rivets and a 14kg capacity all mean that with one purchase you likely really do have a bag that could last for life. On the right organic cotton bags are another great choice.
Whereas their sturdy construction and cotton will have inevitably taken more resources than a flimsy plastic counterpart to produce, if you use this one bag, again and again, you’ll no doubt be using fewer resources, and also helping the environment.
These geometric bamboo coasters are perfect for items for natural tableware. In a range of geometric patterns, this set of 4 is hand-cut and made to order from the sellers home workshop. With designs inspired by nature, they look good too.
They’d also make excellent bases for vases or small lamps. They come in a wooden box which you can reuse around the home and kitchen.
Clingfilm (or plastic wrap) makes for one of the most commonly used items in our kitchens. According to the Telegraph, we use 1.2 bn metres of the stuff every year in the UK. Sure it scrunches up pretty small when we throw it away. However, because we can’t easily recycle used plastic wrap, we typically throw it into the trash.
Given that there’s a roll of plastic wrap in most kitchen draws, despite its size, there’s a bunch of waste to be saved by finding alternatives. The best zero waste move we can make is to use reusable glass or metal containers with lids to store our food.
However, that may not work for everything. Cue the eco-friendly beeswax alternative.
Before plastic wrap came along as a cheaper and more convenient alternative, we used beeswax to conserve all manner of foods. The ancient Egyptians used beeswax from their honey hives, wrapping food in wax cloths to preserve it in the hot Egyptian sun. Sometimes in our movement to sustainable living, the best ideas are already out there and just need an update for our modern times.
Beeswax wrappers make a fantastic gift for cooks and today there’s an extensive range out there, in all shapes and sizes.
Beeswax wraps all share a handful of qualities. They easily mould with warm hands to cover fruit, bowls or plates of leftovers. And then you simply wash the wraps after use to reuse them.
They’ll last a long time if you look after them, with each reuse saving you having to reach for the plastic wrap. When Beeswax wraps do finally reach the end of their useful life, you can compost them easily due to their construction from natural, organic materials.
Further, they’re printable! Which means you can choose one to suit your loved one's style.
Plus buying bee products helps to support the industries that are working to increase their numbers. Have a read here about why bees matter6 for biodiversity and if you’re lucky enough to have a garden consider planting bee-friendly plants.
None of us wants to risk our best delicate china outdoors. If you have any that is. Regardless organic coconut bowls make great natural and zero waste alternatives. They make these bowls from all-natural materials. Formed from the shells of coconuts which are typically a waste product in themselves, when polished up each one makes for a unique zero-waste kitchen gift.
Further, coconut bowls are great for picnics and the outdoors as they won’t shatter. Sure you still have to wash them up, but then that’s a lot better than throwing away disposable plates and cutlery.
Even better, their natural feel helps remind us of nature. And being produced individually from an organic product, each one is unique in size shape and colour. And they’re not just about the outdoors either. Perfect for buddha bowls or anything other laden with healthy freshness they’re bound to hit the spot.
We couldn’t pass up, including this nifty zero waste kitchen product. A mason glass variant, these tinted mason jar glass containers are turned into mini hydroponic planters to grow your herbs. Fill them with tap water and place them on the windowsill or somewhere with a little natural light.
They come complete with seeds included making it easy to start growing herbs on a window sill, as a result saving you from ever having to buy pre-packaged herbs again. What’s more, they look great and will help green up any kitchen.
Of course, when working towards a zero-waste kitchen, the less we waste means, the less we have to buy.
With a little preparation and effort, we can do so much to preserve food for later use. You can also benefit from preserving by buying fruit and vegetables in season when they are abundant, nicer and cheaper. Pickled veg can last for months. Jams, soups and even whole meals like Vegetable Curries preserve well in glass jars for a waste-free kitchen.
Whereas many preserves don’t need a pressure cooker, they are essential for anyone wanting to up their food preservation game. The difference here is that the pressure cooker (or canner) not only cooks the food in boiling tap water, it also seals the canning jars at the same time allowing food to last longer.
With each preserved jar of goodness, you’ll not only be saving money and trips to the supermarket, but you’ll also be saving the packaging and air miles of buying offseason.
There’s plenty of inspiration online talking to what the lucky recipient of a pressure cooker gift might make. Think pretty much anything and everything you might buy from the supermarket in a jar or can. You might like to accompany their gift with Kerry Michael’s book: Modern Pressure Canning.
Alongside our fight to help reduce the amount we waste, we care about climate change. Less plastic requires less energy, which requires burning fewer fossil fuels. Further, our broader lifestyles are contributors to climate change, from driving and flying to fast fashion and unnecessary consumption.
Science has shown a link between eating animal-derived foods such as meat and dairy and climate change. Studies suggest livestock contributes as much as 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions2.
Therefore there’s a movement towards meat-free diets. And books make excellent (mostly) zero waste kitchen inspiration.
Our pick to not only tick the eco-friendly box but also to inspire a more climate-friendly diet is “Planted” by Chantelle Nicholson. Chantelle knows a thing or two about this stuff. She’s presently chef patron at Tredwell, which won the AA’s London restaurant of the year.
In Planted, she shares mouth-watering recipes for seasonal, animal-free eating. You can also gift the kindle version for less packaging and trees used in production.
For a more functional every-day zero waste kitchen product choose stainless steel food storage containers to replace their plastic alternatives. They’ll last pretty much forever if you look after them saving money in the long term.
Food waste is a massive global issue. Research shows we waste a staggering 4.5 million tonnes of food in the UK every year. WRAP, who conducted the study, put a monetary value on the problem of around £12.5 billion. And that’s just the UK.
So we should encourage our environmentally concerned and zero waste ambitious loved ones to prevent wasted food in the first place. To help we’ve compiled 9 tips to waste less food. Or take a look at our 30 days zero food waste challenge.
All the same, there’ll always be some unavoidable wasted food in the kitchen. No one fancies eating used coffee grounds or eggshells. And there’s only so much marmalade you can make with orange peels. Composting makes good use of those vegetable scraps.
Thankfully many councils now collect our discarded food scraps. In the UK the number stands at around 48%. Meanwhile, in the US, the EPA notes that only 5% is diverted from landfills or incineration. This page provides a helpful check of what your local region is doing in the US to prevent food waste.
As a result, we’re also witnessing growth in composting. According to Defra, albeit an old number from 2009, 1 in 5 UK households with access to a garden are “committed composters”.
Therefore, if your loved one has a garden, a lawn, plants in tubs or even an open-minded neighbour a compost bin is a highly functional zero waste product.
Our versatile pick for inside comes from Utopia. It's smart enough for placing on a benchtop without causing an eyesore, or in a cupboard or larder. The best thing about this stainless steel compost is that it comes with a washable charcoal filter to prevent odours.
Once filled with scraps, they can easily port the contents outside to a larger compost. And its ability to be easily washed afterwards all help keep things clean and smelling as they should. If your council does collect unused food scraps, you can also use it to move it to outside bins in time for collection.
The big win, however, is to use compost to keep your garden nurtured and growing at its best. Food scraps, composted, can make for richer soil to grow vegetable and fruit at home furthering your loved one's zero waste mission.
The GEOBIN (right) outdoor composter is made from 50% recycled sources and made to last. And we reckon if it saves a bunch of waste elsewhere. The alternative is to make your composts from natural wood.
Home Composts on Amazon:
The below we think all make for worthy zero waste considerations. They might not sparkle and may remind people of chores around the house. You can, however, mix and match a few to fill out your own zero waste gift box.
Soap nuts are nature's amazing clothes washing miracles. You won’t be alone if you have an under-sink cupboard stacked full of detergent bottles. Soap nuts can help in the pursuit of going zero waste and cut out the trash from clothes washing liquid bottles.
They harvest soap nuts as berries. They’re a sustainable, natural and 100% organic alternative to using chemical-based washing detergent that almost always comes in plastic bottles. They’re also 100% biodegradable, and you can compost them once you’ve finished with them.
Simple to use, soap nuts just get thrown in the wash in a little bag and off you go. They do an excellent job of achieving a clean in hot water only, so be mindful of that if you’re inclined to cold wash.
You can also explore the use of baking soda as a natural cleaning product - it works a charm.
They make these organic mesh reusable produce bags from 100% natural cotton. They can be reused and are easily washable, meaning they’ll last for ages. These produce bags are great for everything from storing vegetables at home through to taking along to the bulk food market for everything from nuts through to beans and larger grains.
They can also use them in the laundry or out and about for sports and so on.
Reusable dishcloths mean you no longer need to keep buying sponges or disposable kitchen cloths. You can also use them to replace paper towels for cleaning up those spills. They come with a scrim backing for those harder to shift scrubs.
They make these cloths from natural organic cotton bamboo fibre which researchers find more environmentally friendly than cotton. Bamboo has a higher yield and uses less water than cotton.
Even better bamboo is said to have a natural antimicrobial. As such the manufacturers claim they keep smelling nice and repel other nasties, all naturally. Paired with one of the other ideas in this eco-guide or assembled into a collection of zero waste essentials, it might just work as a gift too.
Similarly, wash up the plastic free way with these organic scourers. Made from the loofah plant, they’re all-natural and compost too.
|Statista: Share of U.S. consumers who own a single-cup coffee brewing system from 2005 to 2019.|
|Giampiero Grossi, Pietro Goglio, Andrea Vitali, Adrian G Williams, Livestock and climate change: impact of livestock on climate and mitigation strategies, Animal Frontiers, Volume 9, Issue 1, January 2019, Pages 69–76, https://doi.org/10.1093/af/vfy034|
|Single-use plastic carrier bags charge: data in England for 2017 to 2018. Updated 31 July 2019. UK Government. Department for Environment and Rural Affairs.|
|Comparison of Environmental Impact of Plastic, Paper and Cloth Bags. Kirsty Bell and Suzie Cave. Northern Ireland Assembly.|
|Assessing Plastic Ingestion From Nature to People. WWF, Dalberg and The University of Newcastle, Australia|
|Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): Why Bees Matter.|