Exploring Zero Waste: The Kitchen

If you remember, my resolution for 2016 was to simplify. While a big part of that is to simplify my work process/mind, I also really want to simplify my home in an effort to free up more space and time for better things.

In January, I picked up the book Zero Waste Home after hearing the author on a podcast and seeing a great review from my pal, Genevieve. I was HOOKED and decided to spend this year exploring the zero waste movement.

I still have a long way to go in reducing the amount of trash I’m producing, but I’ve made some huge strides in the kitchen – which is why I’ve decided to share this area of my home with you first. Here’s a few things I’ve learned from my attempt at going zero waste in the last seven months:

Shopping in Bulk

No, this doesn’t mean shop at Costco. You know the section in grocery stores where you see food in clean bins?

Yep, that section. I literally never gave that section a second look before going zero waste except to steal a free nibble of something when I was hangry shopping. Now it’s where I get all of my dry goods without also purchasing packaging. I get everything from cereal, beans, baking goods, and snack foods here. While it took some getting used to, it’s so glorious to be able to get everything from one section of the store instead of wading through all the center aisles. I’ve also noticed we waste so much less food because I’m able to get the exact amount needed and it’s not hidden behind packaging in our pantry.  

Whole Foods is the Holy Grail

Shopping for items without packaging has been truly eye-opening. I literally didn’t even know you could buy things like mushrooms or spinach without a plastic container until I started this process.

However, shopping in bulk can be limiting – especially if you live in Charlotte. Chain grocery stores offer few items without packaging. Farmers markets are ideal for produce, but I’ve found the neighborhood markets are way overpriced, and the regional farmers market only has the best items on Saturday mornings (and the last thing I want to do on a Saturday morning is grocery shop). I live close to an awesome local health food store, but the selection is so limited that I have to go to a second store to get all the items they didn’t carry.

Enter: Whole Foods. Yes, it’s filled with angry soccer moms that try to run you down in the parking lot. Yes, there is A LOT of overly packaged, overpriced crap. See exhibit A:

But, if you can get past all of that, this place is a zero waste haven. The bulk section has so much variety, you can get any produce item unpackaged, meat or fish is packaged in a wax paper (which I compost), they are the only ones to carry a local milk/juice supply in returnable glass bottles, and their hot bar containers are compostable. Plus, since I’m avoiding all those center aisles, I’ve found I’m not spending anymore than I was at Harris Teeter. WF for the win!

Stocking up on Reusables

Fair warning - the start of going zero waste is costly. You have to replace all the disposables in your home with more permanent solutions, which takes time and money upfront. However, this is definitely where I’ve seen the most impact in waste reduction in my house - and I’m saving money over time by not constantly repurchasing these things.  Here’s a list of items I’ve converted over so far in our household:

  • Plastic Grocery Bags > Reusable totes. I always had these, but was so bad at remembering them. Now I don’t even go into a grocery store without these (or I suffer with carrying everything out in my arms!).
  • Plastic produce bags from the grocery store > Mesh bags. **Note: if there is one thing you do to reduce your waste, it should be this. I always left my produce in these bags when I got home, which led to the food getting slimy/rotting quicker, or I’d forget about it since it was hidden in the fridge. I can’t believe how much plastic I was wasting before just going through the produce section at the store.

  • Plastic packaging and cardboard boxes > cloth bags (for picking up bulk items) and glass jars. My pantry looks so hot right now. **The best cloth bags I've found are from Ikea - can't seem to find them online, but they are sold near their food storage section. Unlike the ones on Amazon, they have a super sturdy drawstring, which holds up well in the wash.
  • Paper towels > microfiber cloths and Ikea hand towels
  • Dish soap and hand soap at sink > One soap pump of Castile soap. Not exactly zero waste, but we use this elsewhere in the house so we've reduced our packaging. 
  • Saranwrap > Bees Wrap
  • Parchment Paper/Aluminum Foil > Compostable Parchment Paper
  • Dish sponges > Wooden scrub brush (compostable when it’s ready to be tossed)
  • Trash bags > Bags made of recyclable materials. We unfortunately still have too much trash to move to a liner-less trashcan. Hopefully that’ll change soon!
  • Paper napkins > Cloth napkins

Luckily we didn’t use things like paper plates, and relied heavily on pyrex instead of cheap plastic containers - so neither of those have been a big transition!


I’d started composting when I got the #MorganChicks, but I really wasn’t putting anything in the piles other than the chicken litter and a few veggie scraps once in awhile. Now I compost EVERYTHING. The end slices of a bread loaf, the last crumbs of cereal, the nubs of Miley’s dog bones. All of it.

I have the poor man’s version of a compost bin (aka two plastic trash bins with some holes drilled in them). This means it takes a little longer than a normal compost pile, but all is well since mother nature usually takes care of half the waste I put in there. I will say, it’s been oddly satisfying watching our food waste turn into something new - and it was so awesome when I finally had some compost to use in two new planters a few weeks ago!

Future Goals

While I already know I’ll never be zero waste in the kitchen (can’t give up yogurt, cheese, and alcohol to name a few...), I do want to get as close as possible. Here’s a few goals I have for the next couple months:

  • Better meal planning for busy days so we can avoid ordering from Postmates (which leads to containers, bags, napkins, utensils, and condiments in our trash).
  • Start buying bread from the local bakery so I can purchase it without a plastic bag. Also figure out how to store said bread when you have no plastic.
  • Brave the tortillaria to avoid buying packaged tortillas
  • Quit soda once and for all to avoid DP bottles and La Croix cans (which I’ve been drinking as a soda substitute).
  • Purchase more growlers of beer on weekends instead of six packs
  • Get Eric fully on board. I do the large grocery shopping trips, and Eric tends to do all the last minute trips we need for individual items. All these quick trips lead to a lot of plastic bags and packaging. Time to get this guy some reusable totes!