I love to be in my kitchen. Legit. Whenever I have some extra money for the house, the first thing that I think about is the laundry list of things that I’d love to add to our kitchen (pressure canner, dehydrator, etc.) This is the room at fully sold me on the house when Mr. Grizzly and I bought our house back in 2017. It has granite countertops, a ton of space, and cabinets for daaaaays.
With the amount of time that most people spend in the kitchen, it’s no surprise that it’s a hotspot for the zero waste journey. Not only will implementing a few swaps drastically cut down on the waste you produce, but it will also save you tons of money in the long term. It’s also a great place to DIY some alternatives to conventional products (from cleaners to beauty). The kitchen is the hub of the home.
These are the most significant things that I do in my kitchen to slash my waste production.
- Cast Iron
- DIY Cleaners
- Swedish Dishcloths/Reusable Sponges
I’ve got cast iron for daaaaaays. I’ll admit, I do need to get in the habit of taking care of them better, but one of the great things about them is that they can take a beating and still come out strong. I have a dream of having a wall devoted to storing all of my lovely cast iron cookware like this one over here.
Cast iron has been around since the third century CE in mainland China, but became popular in Europe due to refining casting techniques in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cast iron, simply put, is molten high-carbon iron that is cast in a mold. When it is properly seasoned (essentially, when fat molecules bind to the iron), it forms a non-stick coating that rivals any new teflon coated pan.
Cast iron is one of the best things to buy secondhand (and you know I’m all about that thrifting life). I haven’t purchased a single cast iron for myself new. The reason? The seasoning. This non-stick coating that comes from hundreds of uses just isn’t replicated in new cast iron.
When my parents came back from their trip out to see my maternal grandfather, she came back bearing gifts of cast iron. My grandpa sent three cast iron skillets home with them, and my mom passed them on to me. These cast iron are as smooth as can be, and they are well over a century old.
Now who can say they have a super smooth Teflon pan after even twenty years?
BONUS: Cooking with cast iron has some health benefits that can come with it. When you cook with cast iron, a small amount of iron gets transferred to the food you’re cooking. This helps with anemia and replacing iron lost during your period.
Mr. Grizzly did not grow up with rags, and so when we moved in together after college, he brought his paper towel habit with him. They are suuuper convenient, so for a while, I used them, too. But within a year, I noticed that a decent portion of our budget was being eaten up by the paper towels, and that rankled me. When I was growing up, we had an old Girl Scout Thin Mint box filled with rags underneath the kitchen sink. It was what we used, and, like so many other things, I just assumed that it was what everyone else did too. We had paper towels in the house, but we only ever used them for things like cleaning up hairballs or our dog’s business when he was inside for too long.
I grew up in a frugal household, and I didn’t want to have to spend a ton of money on things we were literally just throwing in the trash (same reason I hate having to buy bags for the kitchen garbage can full price). I also grew up athletic, and I was a three-sport athlete in high school. That meant that I had a lot of camps and a lot of t-shirts (seriously. My drawer was completely overflowing with the amount of random t-shirts I’d accumulated over the years. Fifteen of them.) But, that provided me with the perfect fodder for creating our rags.
One day, I decided that enough was enough, and I took scissors to almost all of my t-shirts. I kept the ones that I liked the most, and the rest went in the bin. I put them in a reused metal tin that came from one of those Christmas gift baskets.
We slowly trained ourselves to reach for the rags instead of the towels, and it cut our bills dramatically. I bought a six-pack of paper towels when we first moved in, and I still have two rolls remaining.
If you find yourself struggling with changing your habits, paperless towels are an option to consider. They roll onto any center roll and can be put anywhere that conventional paper towels fit.
Pinterest to the rescue! Seriously, Pinterest has been an absolute lifesaver when it comes to how to reduce my waste. It did not let me down. This was my first real foray into zero waste DIYs. When we first moved into our house, we were faced with the fact that we now had real stone countertops (which was absolutely mind-blowing for me. I never dreamed that I’d have that.) But real stone could not be cleaned up the same way that laminate counters would. 409 would simply not cut it.
After some cursory searches, I came up with an incredibly easy recipe for a DIY granite cleaner. This is still how I clean my counters to this day. (Find more about cleaning with 5 eco-friendly ingredients over here.)
As I’ve finished off cleaning products I bought before I started my zero waste journey, I’ve replaced them with more eco-friendly versions. I don’t use super harsh chemicals in five million different products, and I save money. It’s a win-win.
Swedish Dishcloths/Reusable Sponges
When I first wanted to stop buying the sponges that without fail smelled disgusting within two weeks of you opening it, I crocheted my own. I used cotton yarn and cut up tulle in order to achieve a scrubby side. Once it started smelling funky, I tossed it in the wash, and everything was dandy. I made three of them for my rotation. Now I use Swedish Dishcloths, which are super easy to use and are compostable at the end of their usefulness.
Ohmygod, these. These are lifesavers. Until August 2019, we didn’t have a dishwasher, which meant that every single dish was washed by hand. We bought those green and yellow sponges, and it seemed like they would get smelly after just a few rounds of dishwashing.
I didn’t want to spend the money for more and more plastic that I would just have to throw away. I had made some crocheted sponges with cotton yarn and a tulle scrubby side, but they were slow to dry, and I wasn’t thrilled with the microplastics that would shed when I washed it.
One day, I signed up for MightyNest, and one of the fixes that they sent me was a set of Swedish dishcloths. Game. Changer. (DISCLAIMER: This is not a sponsored post. I am simply sharing about a product/service that I love.)
Swedish dishcloths are made of cellulose and cotton, which means that they are made of completely natural material. They are washable and reusable between 9-12 months (longer if you have more in rotation). This was the perfect replacement for those nasty yellow sponges. It absorbs water well, just like a sponge, but it dries quickly. Best of all, it’s compostable at the end of its life.
If you’re interested in finding out more about this, check out this link. If you decide to purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. MightyNest is a phenomenal service to make sustainable swaps without being overwhelming.
One way to help reduce that is by composting. It is something that I’ve always wanted to do, so I immediately made a compost pile in the backyard once we moved to our house. (Read on for apartment-friendly options.) Since composting was not something I grew up with, it took some trial and error before we figured out a system that works. Food waste doesn’t break down when it’s sent to the landfill. The bacteria and air that are required for proper decomposition aren’t present, so other bacteria take over and create methane, a greenhouse gas that is roughly 30x more potent than carbon dioxide. This escapes from the landfill and contributes to the global climate crisis.
It’s super simple: we have a container on our countertop that we toss scraps into as we’re making food during the day, and when that gets full, we transfer it to a bucket that we keep under the kitchen sink. I then take the bucket out every weekend to our compost bin and transfer the food. I make sure there’s enough browns (dry material-like leaves, cardboard, and egg cartons-that are high in carbon) to balance the food scraps.
Pop over here for a more in-depth look at composting.
When it comes to apartment composting, there’s a few options. One is you can start a worm farm. This sounds weirder than it actually is, but worms are the best when it comes to breaking food down. You can make a DIY worm bin or buy a pre-made one.
The basic idea is the same: you put in the food scraps and brown material (shredded newspaper is great!). The red wigglers (shorter worms) will break the material down and you get incredibly rich compost because it’s not only got the nutrients from the broken down food, but the compost also has worm castings in it (fancy word for poop), which is a potent fertilizer.
Another method is the bokashi method. This is a great alternative if your landlord or roommates are less than enthusiastic about having worms in the apartment. Now this, strictly speaking, is not composting. What this does is it takes the food scraps and ferments them. After several weeks, this can be added to other compost or a spot in the garden where you have no plans to use it for at least a month.
If none of these appeal to you, do a quick search online to see if there are any composting services in your area. More are starting up, so that may be an option for you.
(BONUS) Buy Bulk
Buying in bulk is another thing that I just assumed that everyone did when I was a kid. I’m not talking about the zero waste bulk store where everything is package free. I’m talking about bulk warehouses like Costco, BJs, and Sam’s Club.
Frugality and zero waste often intertwine, and this is no exception. When you buy in bulk, you’re often able to get better prices (though not always) than when you buy them at the grocery store. Buying bulk also means that you’re buying a larger quantity of a food, which gives you less overall packaging.
The important thing to remember about bulk shopping is to only buy the amount of food that you know that you’ll be able to consume/preserve in a timely manner. It’s not zero waste/frugal if you let half of it spoil.
There you have it! Itching for more ways to green your life? Snag this free list of easy ways to go zero waste at bit.ly/zerowastechecklist.