“Choiceful Presents” is our newly created, monthly series. Every month, we will present you with articles, interviews, and tips on a chosen aspect of a sustainable lifestyle. Food waste, community gardens, natural cosmetics, vintage shops – the list is infinite, just like the changes you can make to lead a greener and a more fulfilled life!
Practical ways of turning your kitchen zero waste
The day you decide to transform your kitchen into a zero-waste one, you walk inside and you look around. You glance inside your fridge, you realize the amount of plastic surrounding you, and you also spot that yoghurt you opened three weeks ago in the back of the fridge. Suddenly, the crippling realization of the dreadful days you will have to endure, making so much effort to change your habits, crosses your aching head. You slowly retreat into your bedroom with a plastic-wrapped chocolate bar to soothe your shame. “Well, we are doomed anyway”, you decide, “And it is the big corporations that should mainly change. I’m just a single person, what difference can I make?”.
Choiceful says a massive one. We are here to help in a transition that is way less painful than you may imagine it to be. It is time to make your kitchen Choiceful. Remember that change does not happen overnight: “greening” your life is a slow process since the pace corresponds with the nature of the change. In order to live greener, you need to observe your everyday habits to understand and consciously change them. The value of such transition goes beyond contributing to the well-being of the planet, as it ultimately allows you to connect more with your true needs. Moving towards a zero-waste kitchen should not be treated as a duty but rather as a journey towards personal development – this way, you can be gentle with yourself and take one step at a time, which will result in durable lifestyle changes in a long run.
The “zero waste mantra”: reduce, reuse, recycle
Reducing is the most important step toward a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In your kitchen, you reduce by buying only what you need and eating all the food you buy; that is it. There is no secret catch.
A sustainable rule of thumb is: “the most sustainable is what you already have”. Simple as it is, it contains the essence of the second word in the “zero waste mantra”: reuse. You do not even need to get particularly creative – let the objects re-serve their primary purpose. Wash plastic bags, plastic containers, and glass jars and reuse them. Reusing requires deploying some circular thinking: there is no “waste”, leftovers are just another resource. Almost anything can be reused, as Choiceful will show you in the next paragraphs.
“Recycle” occupies the last place on the list since its effectiveness is, sadly, quite a myth. Although recycling metal and glass products can be done well, plastic, the most problematic material, is barely recycled. Only up to 12% of plastics, the thickest ones, are given a second life, but the new products are usually of lower quality. With each “recycling” of plastic, its value drops. Inadequate as it sounds, such “recycling” is still a somewhat positive effort. A terrific number of supposedly “recyclable” materials end up dumped in third world countries, notably in South-East Asia, and either left there or… burned. This environmentally ruinous practice allows big corporations to significantly lower their production costs as they do not have to clean up after themselves, and it clears the consumers’ conscience since recycling is equated with good environmental practice.
The three steps: reduce, reuse, recycle, bring about a fundamental change in the currently commonplace lavish lifestyle. Together, they bring the attention back to what truly matters and they help us re-learn our actual needs, not those imposed by skillful PR specialists. The dilemma of “having vs. being” is solved by “having what you need, being what you are”.
The revolution starts in your kitchen.
Reduce: while shopping
Avoiding food waste comes down to memory and consideration. First, spend some time observing your eating habits to understand how much food you need per week. You can do this in a way that suits you most: for some, keeping a journal will come in handy, while others prefer memorizing. Setting up “grocery days” may save you time and money: designate days of the week when you go shopping, make a shopping list based on the observations of your needs, and spend the rest of the week eating your supplies.
You can significantly reduce the amount of waste you produce by changing the way you buy products. Make bringing your own bags to a supermarket or a market a habit – remember, the most sustainable is what you already have, so plastic bags work just as well as specifically designated shopping bags (we generally advise against buying special “sustainable” products as their production requires extra resources and they can easily be substituted by things you can find in your household). Such a small change makes a big difference – every time you go shopping, you save several plastic bags that would otherwise be used once and would replenish the plastic waste in landfills or oceans.
Buying in bulk is a step further away from single-use plastics but it is not so easy in Rotterdam. Only a few shops, such as EkoPlaza or Gimsel, offer pasta, rice, or nuts in bulk. Pieter Pot provides an alternative solution – the Rotterdam-based online supermarket offers products in glass jars. The customers do not pay for the jars, only they return them once they run out of products. Pieter Pot is revolutionizing the grocery business and enjoys such popularity that the owners are now expanding to the whole of the Netherlands. Choiceful chatted with the founders of Pieter Pot, you can read the interview here.
Reduce: in your kitchen
Reducing in the kitchen starts with understanding the character of foods. Such knowledge comes with practice, Google, or… with your grandma. For example, fresh herbs survive up to two weeks in the fridge if covered in a wet cloth. Onions and garlic should be kept outside a fridge in a dark, cool spot. Bananas should be kept away from other fruits as they cause them to ripen quicker. Keeping dry products in glass containers prevents them from airing out. Products in metal, such as canned vegetables, last longer than food in glass jars, for example, jams, which in turn lasts longer than any product sold in a plastic container.
The difference between “best before” (THT, tenminste houdbaar tot) and “use by” (TGT, te gebruiken tot) is crucial for saving good food from the trash bin. “Use by” is a more rigid tag that can be found on food deemed “vulnerable”, such as fresh meat, fish, and dairy. These products need to be stored at low temperatures, between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius, and they should be approached with caution after the “use by” date. “Best before”, on the contrary, relates to quality, not safety, of the products. After the date, the foodstuff may be less tasty, but still perfectly edible.
While deciding whether a product can still be eaten, you should rely on our senses just as much as on the date on the packaging. Checking the color, smelling, and tasting are reliable ways to examine whether the product is fit for consumption.
Finally, reducing in the kitchen means eating everything that has already been prepared. As tempting as it may be, cooking a new meal while the leftovers from yesterday’s dinner are still in the fridge is not particularly environmentally friendly. Finishing previous meals saves the planet, saves you some money, and potentially saves you from the nuisance of cleaning the fridge from some rotten-forgotten leftovers.
Reuse: in your kitchen
Since I started a waste-free transition in my kitchen, I have not thrown away a single glass or plastic container. As a result, I stopped buying tapewares or jars because I store all my spices, nuts, or dry food in second-hand boxes. These packagings come “for free”, included in the cost of the product, and are perfectly fine for reusing. My freezer, too, is stuffed with second-hand jars – so is my windowsill, as I use bigger containers as pots for my herbal garden. You can find further alternatives towards zero waste packaging in Liz post “Kitchen essentials”.
One of my biggest dilemmas regarding turning my kitchen zero waste was the use of cling film. The available alternative, beeswax wraps, are expensive to buy and I could not trust my ability to make them myself – plus, even then, the products are still quite costly (if you trust your DIY skills, Dora shared how to make the wraps here). I decided to reduce the need for cling film to the minimum, using my second-hand containers instead, and it works just fine.
An unusual way of “reusing” your vegetables is to start your home garden. I must admit I have never been a skilled gardener, but I try really hard to keep my plants alive (except for basil, I kill it every time within a week). I watched my chives, thyme, mint, peppers, and cherry tomatoes grow on my windowsill with an almost-motherly look. There is no better satisfaction than looking at the tiny buds and cherishing the creation of life. Besides, homegrown plants taste better and are free from pesticides. If you are looking for more tips to start a garden, Choiceful has a series of posts for you. We guide you through: getting started; sowing seeds, and repotting both smaller and bigger plants.
Rethink: your waste
BlueCity in Rotterdam, home to approximately 30 sustainable enterprises, are the masters of circularity. Their employer told me a sentence that became another of my zero waste mottos: “Waste is just a misplaced resource”. Us humans have limited recycling capability, and we already stated that “recycling” is not quite as magical as we tend to think. In the light of such
information, waste needs to be treated just like any other product. Here, again, the key is to reduce the amount of produced waste by transforming it into useful commodities.
Take eggs, for example. It is customary to throw away eggshells, yet they are one of the easiest-absorbed sources of edible calcium. All you need to do is collect a few eggshells (you can use a second-hand plastic container: I keep mine in an old washing capsules package), then sterilize by boiling them in hot water, dry in an oven and grind them. The obtained powder can be added to smoothies or soups; it has no taste. You can find the full recipe here. The water in which you boil your eggs is rich in calcium, too, and it can be used to water plants.
What about coffee or tea? Coffee grinds are a great natural peeling, they can also be used to fertilize plants, or even as a ground for growing oyster mushrooms: a Rotterdam-based enterprise RotterZwam can supply you with a growing kit. Although we recommend buying tea without teabags as they may contain microplastics, if you find yourself with leftover tea bags you can use them to hydrate dry skin, reduce under-eye circles or fertilize your plants (make sure you only add tea, not the bag!).
You can turn your kitchen into a laboratory for zero waste experiments and surprise yourself with delicious creations made of what would customarily be deemed as food waste. Avocado seed can be boiled and added to teas. Wonders for the skin and the blood circulation come with no additional taste.
Food scraps can be turned into a vegetable stock: we shared the recipe in this issue of Choiceful Presents. Its tremendous advantage over any bought stock is that it not only tastes exactly how you like it, but it is also preservative-free. Potato peels can also be turned into delicious oven-baked homemade chips.
Finally, vegetable scraps can constitute the healthiest supplement for plants if turned into compost. Composting may be difficult if you live in a block of flats, but Dora found a solution and she shared it here: you can keep your food scraps in a freezer and bring them to a designated location every other week. The drop-off spots are usually community gardens, so if you are willing to spare an hour or two, you can get the freshest fruit and vegetables for free.
To be continued…
Choiceful prepared a list of places that will facilitate your transition towards a greener kitchen. Greengrocers, sustainable supermarkets, and community gardens, you will find answers to all your sustainable questions, even those you did not ask yet. We will be sharing the list shortly.
If you have further questions regarding cooking zero waste, check out the podcast Talking Tastebuds. The host, Venetia, is a passionate advocate for sustainable fashion and plant-based, low-waste living. Each episode, she invites a special guest to chat about topics related to sustainability, but also touching upon mental health, activism, sustainable living, and entrepreneurship.
You may also find it inspiring to read Bea Johnson’s book “My Zero Waste Home”. Heralded “the priestess of zero waste movement” by NY Times, Bea Johnson had a great influence on the zero waste movement joining the mainstream.
If you feel like sharing your experience on turning your kitchen zero waste, drop us a message on Instagram or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your stories!
Sources & additional resources
“The Guardian” outlines the issue of plastic trash worldwide: ‘Plastic recycling is a myth’: what really happens to your rubbish?
“Plastic China” is a documentary showing the work of plastic trash sorters in China through a personal narrative: PLASTIC CHINA Documentary Film Official Site
The pushback of South-Asian countries against receiving outsourced plastic waste is described by “Time”…: Southeast Asia Pushes Back Against Global Garbage Trade
… and by BBC: Why some countries are shipping back plastic waste
How Coca-Cola shifts the responsibility for its plastic waste on consumers can be read at: Plastic giant Coca-Cola says people want its plastic
The history of Edward Bernays and how he coined the term “public relations” can be discovered here: The manipulation of the American mind: Edward Bernays and the birth of public relations
EkoPlaza is a Dutch chain of ecological supermarkets: Ekoplaza, voor jouw biologische boodschappen
Pieter Pot redefines grocery shopping with its glass jar deliveries: https://www.pieter-pot.nl/
The biggest Dutch food bank provided us with information regarding expiry dates: Best before dates
Elisabeth wrote a post on zero waste kitchen essentials: Kitchen Essentials
Dora shares how to make beeswax wrap: How to make beeswax wrap
Dora explains home gardening in these four articles:
BlueCity is an innovation hub for “bioneers” and circular economy: BlueCity: Homepage
The recipe for eggshell powder was created by Wellness Mama: Creative Ways to Use Eggshells in Recipes, Toothpaste & More
You can buy an oyster mushroom growing kit here: https://www.rotterzwam.nl/shop/product/rotterzwam-growkit-64
The dangers of microplastics in tea bags are outlined here: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2019/sep/30/those-fancy-tea-bags-nylon-microplastics-in-them-are-macro-offenders
Issue 1 of “Choiceful Presents” consists also of our recipe for a vegetable stock: https://www.choiceful.nl/2020/04/13/making-vegetable-stock-from-food-scraps/
Dora shares her tips on composting in the city: https://www.choiceful.nl/2019/11/16/composting-at-home/
“Talking tastebuds” is a podcast on sustainability and its surrounding topics: https://open.spotify.com/show/6MbKdoeZjeh1aVliz8jS5o?si=4RX5QN0kToS_kzhU-QN5qA
Bea Johnson is a giant in the zero waste movement: https://zerowastehome.com/