About a year ago I started getting into recycling, finally. I was making a lot of progress, cutting down on a lot of plastic use, and even saving money by using refillable water jugs. Since social distancing and staying home more often, I have been slacking on recycling, but I still want to cut down on waste as much as possible, so I decided to look into other areas of my life that I could make slight changes or easy swaps. I don’t love the term “zero waste” because I think it is nearly impossible to be literally no waste, however, I do think it is very realistic and beneficial to try to create less waste, so that is what I focus on. Here are some things I have started doing or plan to implement.
Just like water bottles, I also tend to go through a lot of paper towels. I’ve also noticed how expensive they are lately, which is something that can cut into my grocery budget. I bought 2 packs of washcloths from Target, which helped a lot at first, but I found myself going through those pretty quickly as well, and when all the towels needed to be washed, I would go right back to using paper towels. I think getting a couple more sets, in a larger size, will help with that. I also really like using this towel to dry my fruit and vegetables after I wash them because it absorbs water faster and doesn’t make as much of a mess. There are definitely still messy jobs that only paper towels can handle, so I will always keep some around, but I do think this is an easy swap to make.
Since I’ve been doing most of my grocery shopping by pickup, filling up my reusable water jug hasn’t been my top priority, and my water bottle usage has gone up. I thought about the best alternative to drinking water would be paying a monthly subscription to a local delivery service, but I decided to invest in an at home water filter instead. I must not be the only person thinking this way because it took several weeks to be able to buy one because of their products selling out so quickly (I decided to go with Berkey). If you are interested in getting one, be sure to sign up for restock emails, that is how I managed to get mine. I haven’t had time to set it up yet, plus I still have jugs of water from the grocery store, but I plan on getting it done in the next couple of weeks. I think this is a smart, long term way, to cut down on waste.
Reusing jars and paper bags:
I recently bought a few packs of (different size) mason jars, which has been great! I use them for food storage, drinking glasses, vases for plants, and storing spices. I also repurpose glass apple sauce jars, pickle jars, glass maple syrup jars, and empty spice containers. Although it is nice being able to save and reuse jars, I’m careful about not saving every single jar or empty container because I can actually end up with too many, which takes up cabinet space and creates clutter.
I think one of the biggest reasons for wasting fresh produce is by not washing it when I get home from the grocery store. Instead I just put everything in the fridge to be used as needed, which is great in theory, but I’m a lot less likely to use fresh produce that isn’t already prepped. To combat this, I have been making it a habit to wash and chop all of my produce when I get home from the store. It can be time consuming, depending on how much I have, but it has pretty significantly cut down my food waste, so it is well worth the extra 45 minutes or so.
Save fresh herbs:
In the past, I had a bad habit of buying a bunch of fresh herbs, thinking I would use them before going bad, only to use a small amount and have to throw out the rest. I decided not to buy fresh herbs anymore, until recently. I did some research on how to wash and preserve different herbs for as long as possible, and I feel much more comfortable and excited to buy it again, and even grow my own. I recently got a huge bunch of basil from a local farm and I decided to try 3 methods of storing it (after gently washing and drying it). The first method was simply washing and drying the basil, then putting it in a zip lock bag in the fridge (I ended up using most of it to marinate chicken, but some of it did go bad). The second method was drying and storing it in an empty spice container. I put the basil leaves on a parchment lined baking sheet and dehydrated in the oven until it was crispy, then I let cool, crumbled it, and put it in the container. The last method I tried was freezing the basil leaves. I thawed some today and used it in homemade tomato sauce, and it worked well. I think my favorite method was making my own dried basil, but I love having the option of fresh as well by freezing.
Using food scraps:
Fruit peels: I’ve been eating a lot of apples lately because they have a long shelf life, and I prefer to peel them when using them in baking recipes. One way I’ve been using the leftover peels is by making apple cinnamon granola.
Citrus peels: My mom taught me to use citrus peels to freshen up the garbage disposal, and it works great!
Coffee grounds: This is another common kitchen scrap. I recently read that used coffee grounds contain some useful nutrients for plants, as well as the acidity being good to amend overly alkaline soil (although, I read that the PH of coffee can vary quite a bit). I was weary of trying this at first, but I sprinkled a small amount of coffee grounds in a couple of my plants and they seem to be doing absolutely fine. I can’t say I’ve seen a huge difference thus far, but it is something I will keep track of over time.
Compost: There are certain food items that can’t really be reused, but that is where composting comes in handy. I have unsuccessfully attempted to compost before, but it is something I want to research and try again.
Reusable zip lock bags:
Since I’ve been prepping and freezing a lot more food lately, I have noticed I’ve been going through a lot of zip lock bags. I have seen some reusable options in store and online, so I plan on purchasing some soon and testing them out. I’m curious to see how they hold up over time, and if they are easy to clean after each use.
SInce I’ve been doing more online shopping and grocery pickup, it’s easy to scroll through and add things to my cart without thinking too much about it. I find that I’ve gotten some random food items that I don’t normally buy, which is great because I get to try something new, but can also turn out equally as bad if I don’t like it or can’t find a use for it. Now when I go grocery shopping, I try to only pick one or two new food items to try, that way I don’t get overwhelmed with learning how to cook/use everything before it goes bad, plus I get to appreciate that new thing more and really learn how to best pair it with other food I like.
Another way to get more out of a shopping trip is making a grocery list. Instead of putting random stuff in my cart that doesn’t really go together, I want to be more intentional about what I buy, to make sure I am getting enough for well balanced meals and snacks throughout the week or two until I shop again.
Keep food where you can see it:
By keeping everything where I can see it, it helps me feel more inclined to use it.