7 Simple Ways to Reduce Kitchen Waste
Apr 20, 2016, Updated Jan 30, 2023
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In honor of Earth Day, we’re dedicating the entire week to sustainable kitchen practices. If you’re participating in the #ProduceChallenge, then you’ve been working at home to reduce your kitchen waste this week. Today, we’re going to share even more helpful ways to eliminate food waste and reduce the trash created in our kitchens.
A recent study found that 25 percent of the food Americans buy ends up in landfills. It may not seem like a big deal to throw out that black banana lying on the counter, but fruits and vegetables take precious resources like water and farmland to grow. Once harvested, those items then ship to markets and grocery stores so that we can purchase them. That takes gasoline and manpower. So when you throw out that banana, it’s also like you’re throwing away all those resources that went into producing it.
Kitchen sustainability isn’t just about helping the environment—although that is an important reason to practice it. It’s also about helping your dollar go further. When you use what you buy and throw out less, you can really stretch your grocery budget. The average American family of four throws out an estimated $1,365 to $2,275 annually. Think what you could do with an extra $2,000 a year!
Engaging in sustainable practices also helps foster an appreciation of the resources and food that we have access to. When we are conscious of the energy that goes into producing our food, we tend to waste less. When we waste less, we tend to appreciate more.
So let’s get started with ideas to help reduce kitchen waste:
Whole Fruit/Veggie Cooking
Whole fruit/vegetable cooking is all about using an ENTIRE produce item — “from root to stalk.” When you use the entire item, there is nothing to throw away! There are lots of produce items that can be used entirely. For example, did you know that watermelon rinds can be turned into pickles?! Or, did you realize that lemons can be placed whole (peel and all) into smoothies?
We’ve gathered together some of our favorite whole veggie recipes here. We’d also suggest checking out lifestyle expert Chadwick Boyd and Produce Mom Partner Josie’s Organics for more. They are both advocates of whole vegetable cooking and have created some phenomenal recipes!
While many fruits and vegetables can be used entirely, there are some food items that cannot. But before you throw food scraps away, ask yourself if they can be composted instead! Composting is a great way to keep food out of landfills and it has the added benefit of being great for your garden! Not sure which items can be composted? We have a helpful guide on composting kitchen waste right here.
Switching from paper napkins to cloth napkins is a small change that makes a huge impact. You’ll be shocked at how much you save by switching to cloth! They are a small one-time investment. For $5-$10 you can get a set for your entire family. Unlike paper napkins that must be disposed of after a single use, cloth napkins can be used several times before they need to be washed and then you can use them over & over again! Don’t worry, they won’t add another load of laundry to your usual routine. Because they are so small, you can throw them into the wash with your other towels.
Pro Tip: It helps to get a pack of multi-colored napkins and have each family member claim a color. This way you can be certain that each family member is reusing their same napkin before they get washed.
Sometimes plastic bags and aluminum foil can really come in handy in the kitchen. But more often than not, food can be packed and stored in reusable containers. There are some really cool bento box options for packed lunches. Step inside just about any store and you’ll find a huge selection of reusable water bottles and coffee mugs. Invest in a couple of reusable containers instead of throwing away one-time use products.
Pro Tip: Coffeeshops are happy to fill up your reusable coffee mug. Many even offer a discount if you bring your own cup!
Reusable Shopping Totes
Almost every grocery retailer sells reusable grocery totes near the front of the store, near the cash registers. Next time you’re shopping, invest a few bucks and make the switch from paper/plastic to reusable cloth! Now, when you get home from the grocery store you won’t have any bags to throw out.
Pro Tip: If you forget your reusable totes and must opt for paper/plastic, get creative and reuse the bags at least once before getting rid of them. Plastic bags are great for storing certain produce items (i.e. cilantro) or for lining small trash cans. And always be sure to recycle them when you can!
Eat What You Buy
This might be the trickiest of all the tips on the list, but it is doable with a little planning. One of the easiest ways to ensure your family will consume everything you purchase at the store is to plan out your meals. Then you’ll know exactly what and how much you need to buy. Try to plan meals that incorporate several of the same items. For example, if you buy a pineapple, plan to have grilled pineapple with dinner and a green smoothie with pineapple for breakfast, all in the same week. This will prevent the item from spoiling before you can eat all of it.
Even with proper planning, there are still occasions that you might overbuy or for some reason, your family just cannot eat everything that was purchased. Perhaps you decide to go out for dinner one night instead of cooking the meal you had planned. If you’ve ever grown a tomato plant, you know that there’s a limited amount of BLTs you can eat before you have tomatoes coming out your ears! Canning and freezing is a wonderful way to preserve produce items that would otherwise go bad and end up in the trash.
Challenge yourself to make these few, simple changes for one month. (It takes a bit of time to turn these changes into habit, so do give yourself an entire month to practice). After the month is up evaluate whether you saved money, felt good about reducing your impact on the environment, and gained an appreciation for our most precious resources. We bet the answer will be yes to each of these!
Happy Earth Day, everyone! We have an amazing place to call home—let’s all do our part to take care of it! Please share your best kitchen sustainability tip in the comments below.