How to Move Towards a Zero-Waste Kitchen

Simple tips for going zero-waste in the kitchen – with a goal of progress, not perfection.

Happy Earth Day!

Is anyone else watching Our Planet on Netflix? Each episode is equally inspiring and sobering. It is so important to be informed about the impact that our daily habits have on the environment.

As the snow melts in our yards and new life sprouts forth, let’s motivate each other to make more eco-friendly choices in the kitchen. I know you’re already doing a fantastic job, but there’s always room for improvement, right?

From energy-saving ideas to zero waste tips, here’s what I’m specifically doing in the Simple Bites kitchen. There are a hundred other directions we could take this topic, but I’m choosing to only list what I put into practice every single day.

So if you’re wondering how to move towards a zero-waste kitchen, begin with the small steps listed below and work up to the big ones.

How to Move Towards a Zero-Waste Kitchen

For starters, our goal here is progress, not perfection. Going completely zero-waste in the kitchen is a daunting thought, but with mindfulness it is not such a stretch from what we’re already doing. In this post I’m choosing to focus on zero waste efforts around food, however for the rest of the home, I recommend Bea’s book, Zero Waste Home.

Each day we eat three meals and that’s three opportunities to make food choices that are better for the planet. I hope the lists below inspire you to take a few steps toward decreasing your environmental impact. I’ve included links wherever I think is helpful. Please feel free to share your tips in the comments.

Zero-Waste Shopping:

For me, this is where mindfulness starts. It’s about ditching the single serving packages and buying in bulk. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Make a menu plan. This way you’re shopping only for what you need and can avoid unnecessary food waste.

Make a list, stick to it. See above regarding avoiding food waste.

Buy in Bulk. This only applies for pantry staples that you know you use in large quantities (for us: oatmeal, rice, flour, pulses, etc). You’ll save money and avoid packaging. How to Shop in Bulk via The Faux Martha.

Photo by Tim Chin
Shop the Farmer’s Market. As much as possible, avoid plastic-wrapped and bagged produce.

Use reusable bags. Canvas/cloth/collapsable bags for groceries and cloth or nylon bags for produce. I keep mine in my car.

Bring containers and go package-free. Zero-waste grocery shops and co-ops are becoming more popular as consumers are increasingly conscious of the toll plastic has on the environment. Here in Halifax, I frequent The Tare Shop and Bulk Barn, as well as many markets around the city.

Shop in season/eat local. I feel like I’ve been banging the drum for seasonal eating for a decade around here. It’s simple: the the shorter the distance that your food has to travel, the less of an impact it has on the environment.

Food for thought via SDG2 Advocacy Hub: What we eat and how we produce it is damaging our planet. Eating lesser-known, highly nutritious foods such as purple yams or adzuki beans helps to protect biodiversity and climate resistance in our food systems.

Zero-Waste Cooking:

Store foods in the fridge properly. Use regular rotation, clean frequently, use up the old foods first. Don’t overstock!

Use glass jars for pantry staples. It doesn’t just look pretty, but this keeps food airtight and preserves it longer.

Photo by Tim Chin

Save food scraps. Save them for smoothies, soups, or stock like vegetable broth or chicken broth. Bake up a batch of Coffee Grounds Biscotti. If you’re getting really serious, I recommend the cookbook Scraps, Wilt & Weeds.

Buy whole meats, instead of pre-portioned. Cook the whole chicken, using every part and making stock with the bones.

Buy whole vegetables instead of pre-cut and use every bit. I use a Redecker Hard and Soft Side Vegetable Brush to scrub veggies without bruising them, and I cook them skin and all.

Home Preservation: As much as possible, preserve the harvest and can your own foods in jars. If you’ve never canned your own food, here are 12 ways to preserve the harvest (without canning).

Zero-Waste Kitchen

Repurpose when possible. My new kitchen needed a bit more cupboard and counter space. Instead of building new, I found an old hoosier kitchen piece and added it to a corner of my kitchen (it’s featured in a few of these photos!).

Compost. For those food scraps that you are unable to repurpose.

Reuse Glass Jars: My collection of jars is varied and mismatched, but it holds everything from dried pantry staples to homemade stock in the freezer.

Go gadget-less, or at least think good and hard before you buy another small appliance that you may not use. If you’re convinced you need an Instant Pot (I don’t), borrow one from a friend for a week and see how you like it before you buy.

Use cleaning rags instead of paper towel. Paper towel is too expensive for restaurant kitchens – we always used rags and washed them.

Ditch plastic scrubbers, steel wool and sponges. I use a combination of soft cotton dishrags, a loofah pot scrubber and this Redecker Soft Horsehair Bristle Dish Brush with interchangable heads.

Regrow vegetable scraps: Sprout a windowsill mini-garden and use the greens for salads  – I wrote a whole post about how to regrow vegetable scraps.

Grow your own herbs. Start with a few planters on the front or back stoop or Grow Your Own Indoor Culinary Herb Garden.

Repurpose cans: You can recycle tin cans into little herb planters and they look quite cute. Here’s the tutorial.

Replace plastic wrap with bees wax wrap. I have a collection of bees wax wraps in various sizes and I use these for covering bowls of food and wrapping sandwiches, etc.

Zero-Waste Table

Ditch the disposables: Invest in enamelware or melamine dishes for picnics and outdoor eating. Try thrift stores or junk shops and reuse.

Cloth napkins. We have a few sets that we cycle through during a week.

Become a thrifter – use thrifted second-hand dishes and stemware instead of buying new when you can.

Embrace Oven-to-Table cooking – When you cook with fewer dishes, there’s less washing up and you use less water. Here are my favourite oven-to-table cookware and Jan’s Oven to Table cookbook is fantastic.

Choose live flowers over cut. When you can, use living, potted plants for table decoration. I love small pots of herbs or a grouping of bulbs.

Give your coffee routine a greenover: Be it a Chemex with reusable filter, French Press or Aeropress with the metal disk – there are many options for great coffee that don’t include single serve pods.

Ditch Single Use Tea Bags: Choose a reusable tea globe infuser and go looseleaf.

Zero-Waste Lunches:

I wrote a post on this topic! Tried ‘n True Gear for the Zero Waste Lunchbox is a guide for packing a zero-waste lunch, with tips for reliable gear.

Happy Earth Day 2019! Remember, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” ~ Anne-Marie Bonneau

Have you got a zero-waste kitchen tip? Share it with us in the comments!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Cristina Drego says

    Great post! You mentioned using glass jars for freezing homemade stalk. Do you have recommendations as to how to prevent breakage? Besides letting liquid come to room temp, and leaving head space for expansion, I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong with my glass jars in the freezer.

    • Hi Christina, thanks for reading! So obviously widemouth jars work best. I will also chill them in the fridge first, then transfer them to the freezer with the lids off. I add the lids once the liquid has frozen. I am also super careful not to knock them about. I hope that helps!

  2. I was *just* talking about this idea with my husband’s cousins yesterday at our Easter dinner. I’m passing it along to them…

    Out here in Vancouver, there is a new zero-waste shop called Nada, though I have yet to check it out. I like the idea, though!

    • Hey Sarah – oh Nada looks really cool! Very similar concept to the Tare Shop here in Halifax. Thanks for passing along this post.

  3. yes, this has happened to me, too, and I don’t know why!

  4. Melissa L. says

    Amy, you linked to some veggie brushes – would you do a post on cleaning produce? I feel like rinsing my produce only makes everything wet. Ideally, if the items are organic I’m not trying to remove pesticides (which seems ridiculous to think just water would make them clean anyway) but as I don’t have a yard my food has traveled and touched by several hands before I eat it. Are the “veggie wash” sprays useless? Is it appropriate to use vinegar + water on most fruit & veggies for cleaning? I think washing everything when I bring it into the house is great so that the fresh food is more of a grab-and-go food; yet, I’ve read that fresh produce keeps better if it’s not washed until I’m ready to use it.

    • Hi Melissa, I use a fruit and veggie soak called Nature Clean – it’s pretty widely available. I also use a soft bristle vegetable brush for scrubbing skins as I often cook with the peel on.
      My mum always used vinegar and water.
      Yes, if you want veggies to last…wash them as needed. I hope you find a solution that works for you and your lifestyle!

  5. Frederique says

    Love this Aimee! Zero waste has been on my mind lately as i have attended some environmental and climate change conferences for work and for myself these past few weeks! I am waiting for my compost bin from the city (I do not have access to a yard) , i am supposed to get it this week and am really excited! I just got a plot in a community garden and have been preparing my seedlings all weekend! Our grocery store (Metro!) has announced this week that we can now bring our own containers for the butcher, fish, deli and bread/pastry counters and that’s just incredible news ! My borough will create a 250 000$ citizen project for the environment where citizens can present an idea and the winner will be voted by the citizens as well! A Quebec media figure has created a zero waste “pacte” to sign and has been signed by 250 000 quebecers up to now…. things are changing! thank you for the precious tips!

  6. Bees wrap wraps can be made at home by impregnating cotton cloth with melted beeswax. But I like this product: It is sent in a cardboard mailer—no plastic packaging. It also doesn’t seem to impart a beeswax odor to food, as some bees wrap does. Loved your ideas! Thanks! Haven’t used a paper towel since 1975. I just cut apart old dish towels and use them. Rags are wonderful!

  7. We try to rely on the solar energy we produce and I’ve noticed that my Instant Pot uses significantly less energy than my range. If I’m cooking dried beans and pulses, it’s therefore much more efficient to use the IP for 30 minutes than my range for an hour. Just something to consider when evaluating how best to conserve resources….

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