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5 Steps to a Zero Waste Kitchen

I remember the first time I met someone who was vegan. The conversation started around toothpaste of all things! He was telling me how he was struggling to find a toothpaste that didn’t use animal products or test on animals (this is circa 2007). The thought that stuck with me for a long time after that was that it was just impossible and unreasonable to be vegan. Who has the time to devote to searching for a specialised toothpaste when there are 50 different options right there on the supermarket shelf? If you’ve been following me for a bit then you’ll know that I eventually came round to the idea of part-time veganism. I know I don’t have to be 100% vegan all the time, but if I make an effort and continue to make small changes when I can, that’s good enough.

Intimidated by Zero Waste?

That same feeling of overwhelming challenges hit me when I came across the idea of zero waste living. ZERO? Really? As in no waste at all? Is that even achievable?

For most people – no. It isn’t achievable. But the same way that we can be vegan-ish: making small changes in a move towards a more vegan lifestyle, we can also be aiming for a zero waste kitchen: small changes with big impacts.

What is a Zero Waste Kitchen?

So the first thing to realise is that we’re talking about zero landfill. So it doesn’t mean we aren’t going to put anything in the recycling or the compost. We’re just aiming not to send anything to the landfill. 

And that’s the next key thing to note: aiming. There are very few homes in the world that truly achieve zero landfill waste. But we can all try. We can all get a little closer to that goal all the time. And just because we don’t do it perfectly, doesn’t mean our efforts are wasted.

So I’ve got 5 steps to follow to dramatically reduce the amount of landfill waste you’re producing and get that little bit closer to a zero-waste home.

Step 1: Sort your bins out. 

Get really specialised with your bins. This can be quite a big project, so take your time on it. It will make managing your waste in the long run so much easier, and it will move the needle a whole lot on your journey to a zero waste kitchen.

You’ll want to go to your council’s website and find all the info you can about waste collection. Some councils do mixed recycling, some want you to separate your recyclables. Some councils collect food and garden waste, some don’t. Find out what is available in your area, and set up a different bin inside your kitchen for each different type of waste your council collects. In my case, that is General Waste, Food Waste, Paper and Cardboard, and other Recyclables. 

But that’s not the end. There are plenty of recyclables that your council will not collect. Every large supermarket these days has a recycling point for plastic carrier bags. Things like bags from your bread, crisp packets and other soft plastics can all be recycled there. Old toothbrushes, used batteries, and empty make-up packaging can all be recycled through specialist projects in drugstore or supermarkets. So set up a bin for these items too.

You may end up with 6 or 7 different categories. Starting to feel like you don’t have space for all this? You don’t need a 300 litre bin for each category. Think smaller bins so you can fit them all in. Like I said, it’s a big project and may require a little rejig in your kitchen. But it will make the next steps far easier in the long run. 

Get yourself a bin for every category of recycling.

Step 2: Identify your waste issues.

Once you have those bins sorted and you are using them day in and day out, you’ll start to notice your biggest waste culprits. What is getting in the way of your zero waste kitchen? What is filling up that general waste bin? What are the things you can’t find any way to recycle? It may be cling film, or paper towels. Maybe it’s the plastic film from food packaging or those funky little stickers that seal up bread bags. Every home will be different and it will take time to identify your biggest waste issues. So keep notes for a week or so, and then review them to see what needs your attention.

Step 3: Brainstorm solutions

This is the fun part! Get your household together and talk about your waste issues. It’s not a blame game or a doom and gloom session. It’s a creative session to come up with all the ideas for getting close to a zero waste kitchen.

To deal with your biggest waste problems your solution should be one of the Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose or Refuse. If you can’t do any of the first four: refuse it. Cut it out altogether.

No ideas are off limits. See who can come up with the most creative craft. Who can find the closest recycling solution? Who has the weirdest idea for replacing that item all together? 

Use the internet! I guarantee you are not the first person to be pondering what to do with this waste so go out to the wider world and ask what other people are doing. Remember, it’s a fun exercise. So don’t beat yourself up.

Step 4: Trial your new solution

Not every solution will work the first time. Set a time limit to try a new option. I think a month is a good timeline but pick something that works for your life. Maybe you’ve decided to drive to a recycling centre. This may fit perfectly into your schedule, but it may be too much of a hassle. If it doesn’t work out, don’t panic. Just go back to step 3. Try something else. You can always change, so don’t let yourself feel stuck into any pattern. Remember that even small changes will get you closer to the ideal zero waste kitchen.

Step 5: Accept that perfection is not real.

If you’ve even read this far, it means you are interested in making changes. I’m so proud of you. You should be proud of yourself. None of us is perfect. And spiralling into a despair because of the one or two things we can’t recycle – well it’s counterproductive. But it happens. 

Celebrate the wins. Cut yourself some slack on the failures. Zero Waste perfection is simply not a reality for most of us living in the modern world. You are doing your best, and you should be SO proud. 

You’ve got this.

Once you start the journey to a zero waste kitchen I know that you’ll see loads of opportunities popping up that you never noticed before. Getting more sustainable can be fun! Always come back to that. If you aren’t enjoying it, the habits won’t stick. 

To help you on the way, go read my blog on 9 Reusable Items to have in Your Eco Friendly Kitchen.

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