Your sustainable kitchen: must-have no waste, non-toxic utensils

Family in  kitchen. Sustainable kitchen
August de Richelieu via Pexels

No one decides to start an eco-friendly lifestyle and changes overnight. It takes a lifetime of learning and taking small steps. In fact, considering lifestyle is too broad for one post. Looking to plan a more sustainable kitchen is ambitious enough! 

A totally no waste kitchen is probably unattainable, but little by little, we can choose sustainable kitchen products that will move in that direction. 

But first, an important reminder:

Don’t buy a version of anything you already have that’s still useful just because the new product seems more sustainable. What will you do with the old one? Throw it out? That only puts added pressure on the landfill. 

You can donate some things to a thrift shop if they’re still in good condition, but if you have half a box of plastic storage bags, you might as well finish them up (and wash and reuse them!). No sense in putting them in the trash.

Buying food for a sustainable kitchen

When you get to the checkout line, the clerk is apt to ask if you want paper or plastic. Either way, those bags will get your purchases from the store to your home. You can probably find ways to reuse at least some of them, but ultimately, you have to discard them. 

Reusable shopping bags have their own environmental impact. It takes a lot more energy and resources to make each one. A cotton bag might require the energy and other resources equivalent to making 200 single-use plastic bags. So use it over and over. By the 201st time you use it, it no longer carries an environmental cost.

Even before you get to the checkout line, the store offers rolls of plastic bags for you to put produce in. To move toward a no waste kitchen, take your own reusable produce bags instead. 

And those wide-mesh bags stores sell onions and potatoes in? They’re a good way to store the produce once you get it home. You can get your own, made of cotton. They’re especially useful if you grow onions and potatoes in your own garden.

Grocery Bags Reusable Foldable 6 Pack Shopping Bags Large 50LBS

Ecowaare Set of 15 Reusable Mesh Produce Bags,3 Sizes Washable and See-Through Grocery Bags, with Colorful Tare Weight Tags,5 Small 5 Medium & 5 Large

Produce Bags – Cotton Mesh Produce Bags – Reusable Produce Bags Grocery washable – Eco-Friendly Produce Bags – Reusable Grocery Bag for Storage – Onion Bags- Cloth Produce Bag Set of 6 (XL, L, M)

Cooking food in a sustainable kitchen

Cooks have loved non-stick pots and pans for generations now. They have a coating that makes them easier to wash.  Alas, they’re not healthy. If you get them too hot, the coating can break down and emit toxic gases into the room. 

And you can’t use metal utensils on them. They can scratch the coating off. First, the coating flakes into your food. Eventually, if a scratch exposes the underlying metal, cooked food sticks.

So here’s a big exception to the general warning against buying more sustainable versions of something you already have. If your non-stick pans are showing any wear and tear, replace them with ceramic cookware for a more sustainable kitchen.

Ceramic cookware is even more non-stick than Teflon or Silverstone. When I make pancakes or scrambled eggs, I no longer have to put oil in the skillet first. 

I haven’t seen any warnings not to use metal utensils on ceramic cookware, but it seems prudent. You might have plastic utensils for your non-stick cookware that you can continue to use on ceramic cookware. If you need new utensils, I recommend silicone, wood, or bamboo. 

Bamboo is also the most eco-friendly material for cutting boards.

Do you use cooking spray? It’s handy and convenient. It also comes in an aerosol can that you’ll have to discard. You may or may not be able to recycle it, depending on your local recycling program’s rules. And the stuff that comes out isn’t exactly food. It’s not at all an eco-friendly kitchen product.

Did you know you can buy a washable, reusable sprayer and put real olive oil in it? Make your current can of cooking spray your last!

GreenLife Soft Grip Healthy Ceramic Nonstick, Cookware Pots and Pans Set, 16 Piece, Turquoise

Riveira Wooden Spoons for Cooking 6-Piece Bamboo Utensil Set Apartment Essentials Wood Spatula Spoon Nonstick Kitchen Utensil Set Premium Quality Housewarming Gifts Wooden Utensils for Everyday Use

Oil Sprayer for Cooking, Olive Oil Sprayer Mister, Olive Oil Spray Bottle, Olive Oil Spray for Salad, BBQ, Kitchen Baking, Roasting—Made of Glass and Stainless Steel

I consider coffee a deadly poison to be avoided at all costs, but most people I know depend on it. And most of them prefer ground coffee to instant. Some people have coffee makers that make a whole pot of coffee, but single-cup brewers with pods of different flavored coffees have become very popular.

Standard coffee filters are made of paper and therefore compostable. But they’re still single-use products. If you aspire to a no waste kitchen, you can get reusable, washable cloth coffee filters instead. As with shopping bags, each one has a larger environmental footprint than a single paper filter, but you’ll use it enough to offset the difference soon enough.  And I have selected hemp filters, which have a lower footprint than cotton.

But those single use pods? They’re an environmental disaster! Fortunately, manufacturers have noticed the outcry and now offer reusable pods. Get a some now so you’ll have them when your current supply of single-use pods runs out.

The Green Polly Organic Hemp Cloth Coffee Filter Cone No. 4, 3-Pack, Reusable | Zero-Waste and Eco-Friendly | All-natural Hemp Cotton Cloth Coffee Filters

Reusable K Cups, 6 Pack Universal Fit Reusable Coffee Filters with Food Grade Stainless Steel Mesh Eco-Friendly Coffee Pods, for Keurig 1.0 and 2.0 Brewers

Waste Not: How To Get The Most From Your Food / James Beard Foundation

No waste storage and takeout food

Here’s where the real waste comes for most of us. We have a variety of plastic bags and plastic wraps that we use once and toss.  They’re no longer necessary and have no role in a sustainable kitchen. 

It’s possible, of course, to wash and reuse plastic bags, and I recommend it if you still have any. But silicone storage bags are a better alternative. They’re strong enough to put in the dishwasher.

We probably also have some kind of cling wrap to cover, say, half a cantaloupe. Beeswax is one of the more sustainable choices.

In principle, you can save leftovers in glass jars that you’ve emptied and washed. But I, at least, never seem to find products in the size jars I most need for storage. It’s easy enough to find a wide variety of glass containers in various sizes that work very well. 

I have used plastic containers for years, especially the single serving size that I used to pop in the microwave. Of course, by now we know that some of the plastic leaches into the food. So I nuke my leftovers on the plate or in a non-plastic bowl. 

Silicone containers are microwave safe. They can stand higher heat than most plastics. And at worst, if some silicone leaches into your food, it won’t do as much harm as plastic. 

21 Pack Reusable Storage Bags BPA Free, Leak-proof Freezer Bags (7 Reusable Gallon Bags + 7 Reusable Sandwich Bags + 7 Reusable Snack Bags) Lunch Bags Washable Eco-Friendly for food

Collapsible Food Storage Containers with Airtight Lid and Vent Valve, Stacking Silicone Collapsible Storage Containers for Food, Microwave & Freezer & Dishwasher Safe, Blue, Small, Set of 4

Glass Food Storage Containers with Lids (Bamboo) – 4 Piece Value Set – The Most Ecofriendly Glass Containers for Food Storage with Lids – Airtight, Glass Meal Prep Containers or Glass Food Containers

When it comes to bringing home take-home food, don’t forget to ask the clerk not to give you any straws, spoons, or napkins. Use what you have at home and wash it. And, of course, buy cloth napkins for home use instead of paper napkins. As a sustainable kitchen product, linen has a smaller footprint for napkins than either polyester or cotton.

Most of us don’t really need straws at all. If you want to use them, you can get reusable straws. I’ve seen glass, but I would be afraid of breaking them. Stainless steel seems to be the healthiest and most eco-friendly option. 

Hiware 12-Pack Reusable Stainless Steel
Metal Straws with Case – Long Drinking
Straws for 30 oz and 20 oz Tumblers Yeti Dishwasher Safe – 2 Cleaning
Brushes Included

Ruvanti Multi Color Cloth Napkins 12 Pack 18X18 Inch Durable Linen Napkins – Soft and Comfortable Reusable Fabric Napkins -Perfect Table Napkins / Cotton Dinner Napkins / Cocktail Napkins for Home Use

Simply Living Well: A Guide to Creating a Natural, Low-Waste Home / Julia Watkins

No waste cleaning in a sustainable kitchen

Sponges are among the germiest, most disgusting products in anyone’s kitchen. It’s much better to get a supply of dish cloths and toss them in the laundry when you’ve used them.

I have elsewhere written of various alternatives to paper towels

Once you’ve finished your meal, however, food scraps probably make your largest contribution to the waste stream. If you put them in the garbage, they’ll wind up in an airless landfill, where they will generate methane for decades. If you run them down the garbage disposal, you’ll use a lot of water and electricity in the process.

So learn what you can compost at home. It’s a big part of running a sustainable, no waste kitchen. You’ll need a container to keep scraps in until you have enough to take them out to your compost pile. 

Or, with a countertop composter, you can grind up even meat products and dehydrate everything in just a few hours. The residue isn’t compost yet, so it still needs to be buried. But it handles more kinds of food waste more quickly than anything else that’s suitable for household use. 

Bamboozle Food Composter, Indoor Food Compost Bin for Kitchen

SCD Probiotics All Seasons Indoor
Composter, Easy Start Countertop Kitchen Compost Bin with Bokashi – Easily Compost Indoors, Low Odor, Beginner Friendly – K100 Tan, 5 gal

4PCS OstWony Silicone Dish Sponges, Super Durable Food-Grade Silicone Sponges Kitchen Sponge, Multi-Purpose and Efficient Sponge Kitchen Gadgets, Especial Delicate Kitchen Sponge Brush
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