9 Ways to Reduce Kitchen Waste

Our kitchens are the most wasteful rooms in our homes. It’s probably the room with the largest trash bin and the one we change most frequently. A lot of this waste is food and food packaging. Of course it would be awesome for the Earth if we all tried to reduce kitchen waste, but it would also be awesome for our wallets!

When it comes to kitchen supplies, we tend to buy products just to throw them away. Think about it – aluminum foil, plastic wrap, paper towels, Ziploc bags – we spend money on these things only to use them once (maybe twice) and then toss them. Poor Earth. Poor wallet.

Adam and I are far from being “zero waste”, but there are a few things we try to do to reduce kitchen waste. I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

Here are my top 9 tips to reduce kitchen waste:

1. Invest in quality reusable food containers

reduce kitchen waste with glass food containers

Okay, so I know I said lowering your kitchen waste will save you money BUT investing in a nice glass food storage set will payoff in the long run! A good set of food storage containers – with different sizes and secure lids – will replace many disposable kitchen supplies such as Ziploc bags and plastic wrap.

I recommend glass over plastic food storage for many reasons.  A good set of glass food storage will be dishwasher, oven, microwave and freezer safe. It won’t stain or hold onto smells like plastic can.  Glass has a much longer shelf life than plastic and when you’re finally done with it, it can be recycled infinite times. Glass food storage is also ideal for storing leftovers in the fridge or freezer because you can see through it. I find if you can see what’s in your leftover containers, you’re more likely to eat it before it goes bad!

Adam and I got this OXO Good Grips set as a gift for our wedding and we love it! It has the perfect number of containers for the two of us and the smallest sizes are so cute (very important, I know). The downside of glass is that if it chips or cracks it becomes unusable.  I’ve seen similar and cheaper sets at Costco but I vouch for ours because the glass is so thick. I’m definitely a klutz in the kitchen and am constantly (accidentally) smashing things around when cooking and cleaning up. These guys have yet to show the tiniest of nicks. 10/10 would recommend.

If you’re looking for a more affordable way to take advantage of glass food storage, you can save and wash the glass jars that pickles, salsa, relish, etc. come in. These are especially great for dry goods and baking supplies!

2. Opt for reusable resealable bags

There are definitely times when glass food storage isn’t ideal, such as kids’ lunches or when dividing up a bulk pack of chicken breasts for the freezer. For times like these, I suggest trying out a reusable set of releasable bags. Yes, they will cost a bit more upfront but they will last you much longer. We use the rezip brand which are sturdy and have a really strong seal. There are lots of more affordable options on Amazon as well.

3. Replace plastic wrap with beeswax wrap

This is a great alternative to plastic wrap. You can reuse them and they smell great! My cousin’s daughter gave me some homemade ones (pictured above) at my bridal shower that I love very much.  For that reason, I can’t recommend any specific brands, but I’ve seen sets at Canadian Tire, grocery stores, eco-friendly stores, and of course, Amazon. If you’re feeling adventurous you could even try making your own!

4. Try silicone baking mats & liners

silicone baking mats and liners can replace aluminum foil and parchment paper

This is probably the tip that lets us reduce kitchen waste the most. We don’t use aluminum foil, parchment paper, paper muffin liners, or cooking sprays. Instead we use these silicone baking sheets all the time. They are foodsafe, nonstick, reusable, and keep our bakeware looking nearly new. I even cut one of them to fit in our toaster oven. They do have a sticky texture to them, so it’s important to store them somewhere away from dust and dirt. We also have some Master Chef silicone muffin liners from Canadian Tire that I like even more because they’re not sticky. I just might try their baking sheet as well…

There are definitely some cooking and baking techniques that require the use of aluminum foil or parchment paper (like barbecuing). My advice would be to use the silicone mats and liners as much as you can and keep a roll of foil and/or parchment paper for those times when the silicone guys won’t do.

Switching to silicone baking sheets will definitely reduce kitchen waste but will also save you money. You’re not paying for something that you will just end up throwing away and it will extend the life of your bakeware which will save you money too!

5. Ditch the disposable napkins

reduce kitchen waste by using cloth napkins instead of paper

It seems like a lot of kitchen waste is created simply for convenience-sake.  It’s much easier to throw something out than it is to clean it. (Not to get too meta, but I think our society has extended this concept beyond just material things…) Anyways, I can hear your future objections to the idea of using cloth napkins: too old-fashioned, too expensive, too bougey, too gross, too much laundry. But it doesn’t have to be any of these things! Here’s how: go to Winners or HomeSense (you now have an excuse, you’re welcome) and pick up a pack of cloth napkins. Store them somewhere handy. After use, soak them in OxiClean and throw in the washer with your towels. That’s it. No ironing, no tedious stain-removal.

I even suggest getting ones you don’t like too much. I once read a blog post where a woman registered for expensive, white linen napkins for her wedding. She would carefully launder them and then iron them one by one after each use. No thanks. I mean having white linen napkins sounds lovely and I admire her for taking such good care of them that they lasted for many years. All I’m saying is that if you are hesitant to the idea of cloth napkins, then find some you aren’t in love with. It will save you the stress of monitoring your guests as they wipe off pasta sauce from their face that they should’ve gotten in their mouth in the first place. And it will save you time and money. Yay!

6. Say no to paper towels

use cleaning spray and microfiber cloths instead of paper towel

I can’t think of many messes that call for paper towels and not cleaning cloths or rags. Maybe pet messes. Once again, I think these guys are mostly a convenience thing. You can reduce kitchen waste (and your budget) by keeping some cleaning cloths handy as well as some all-purpose cleaner like the one from my DIY cleaning post.

But what about bacon, Sarah? Very good question. I’m glad you asked. As a bacon-lover and former bacon salesperson (I used to work at a local meat shop that sold life-changing bacon), I do not suggest skipping this delicious treat. When I cook bacon, I let each piece drip into the pan for a couple seconds when it’s done cooking. Any leftover grease on the dishes I let solidify and then scrape into the compost. If you’re worried about eating too much fat this way then try to get meatier packs of bacon (more red than white).

7. BYOB (bring your own bags)

get some reusable produce bags instead of those awful plastic ones

This has been a common-knowledge tip for a while now, so I don’t have much to say on this one. However, when I worked at a farmer’s market, many people would say week after week that they forgot their bags. Understandably frustrating as a shopper, especially when they were left on the kitchen table. I think the best way around this is to keep them in the car. When you’ve brought your groceries in the house and put them away, leave the bags by the door or somewhere you’ll see them on your next trip out to the car. This way, you’ll always have your bags with you even on impromptu errand runs and shopping trips.

Many people will still use the plastic produce bags most grocery stores offer. These guys are even worse than normal plastic bags (in my opinion) because you’re less likely to reuse them. You can get really cute reusable produce bags for things like apples and for larger or single items, you don’t really need a bag at all. Chances are, your produce was grown in poop so you probably don’t need to protect it from your shopping cart. (One again, this is advice for normal times and not pandemic times.)

8. Shop week-to-week

Okay, so this is pretty bad advice during a global pandemic, but for normal times, I suggest grocery shopping once a week and only buying what you need for that week.

There’s a lot of great advice out there on budget-friendly living and decluttering. Many experts in these disciplines will suggest changing your shopping habits by buying less and foregoing “just in case” items. Yet, we don’t seem to apply these rules when it comes to grocery shopping. Yes, we need food to survive, but we probably don’t need it in excess unless we live in the middle of nowhere.

By having a stiff grocery budget and shopping week-to-week, Adam and I end up wasting very little food. To most people, our cupboard and fridge look pretty bare, but we have yet to starve. Of course, there are things like coffee beans, condiments, and baking supplies that last longer than a week. For these items, we buy them as we need them and store until they run out. We actually follow similar rules as the ones I’ve shared in my post on reducing personal care items. For example, we try not to stock up on anything and will only replace something when we’re nearly run out of the old one.

This kind of grocery shopping also encourages us to be more creative and to rely on more affordable, longer lasting foods like rice, oats, and flour. I’ve learned from The Financial Diet that one of the most expensive ways to grocery shop is by shopping specifically for certain recipes. Depending on the ingredient, you’re better off to substitute or forego something than to buy everything you need for every recipe you want to make.

Any food that we do waste, I ask myself why it got wasted as I guiltily scrape it into the compost. Maybe I made a big pot of something and didn’t freeze it before going away for the weekend. Perhaps that massive loaf of “baked in store” bread was too big for 2 people. Maybe I don’t actually drink as much milk as I think I do. Then I try not to repeat whatever led to the food not getting eaten before it went bad.

It’s important to note, that so far, it’s just Adam and I in our apartment.  When we have children our grocery shopping habits will most definitely change and it will become harder and maybe even impractical to keep our same strict grocery shopping habits.

9. Compost when possible

compost any food you do waste

If and when food gets thrown away it’s best if it gets composted. I know not all cities have composting services, but if you have a big enough yard maybe consider getting your own composter. If this is also out of the question, then get creative with your food scraps! Maybe your kids can make jewelry and crafts with your super old pasta noodles. Your neighbourhood squirrels and birds will appreciate stale bread and old nuts (I know the ones at my parents’ place do!). Apparently, you can even regrow some vegetables like carrots by planting the end bits. The world is your oyster.

Next steps

The next step for Adam and I to further reduce our kitchen waste is buying food with less packaging or at least mostly recyclable packaging. I know Bulk Barn (maybe not right now) lets you bring your own containers. I would love to start doing this as well as any other tips and suggestions you may have!

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