January 06, 2010

Zero Waste Kitchen

Friends have asked me to blog about what they can do to reduce their household waste. I think its time that I wrote about what we did and are doing in our house. Let's start with the kitchen (I'll use the 1st person, because that's really my territory):

- I do not buy single-use products: They are not worth it (paper towels, garbage liners, wax paper, aluminum sheets, disposable plates, cups, etc...). I swapped paper towels for reusable rags, I chose microfiber because they do an amazing job and have eliminated many cleaning products (see Zero Waste Cleaning). I swapped sandwich baggies for kitchen towels (I made a bunch from an old french linen sheet). We dropped garbage liners all together, the wet items in waste are mostly compostable anyways (tomatoes for example). If you don't buy these disposable products, you will realize that you can very easily live without them. Try it for a while.

- I buy in bulk or at the counter (see Zero Waste Grocery Shopping), I bring reusable bags and jars for oils, vinegar, dry goods, spices, nuts, meat, fish, cheese, olives, etc.: no disposable or recyclable (because so little of what goes into the recycling can actually gets recycled) food packaging and containers allowed in the kitchen. I shop at my local Whole Foods, Mill Valley Market, Good Earth, Berkeley Bowl, New Leaf, Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco (the mecca) and seldomly Safeway (they have never questioned a jar at the cheese counter).

- "Exception makes the rule" above: butter (see below) and special occasion wines (we reuse some of the bottles for refills and recycle the corks). Our everyday wine we do get refilled at a local winery (Guglielmo Winery). 1-10-11 update: we get out wine refilled in French or Italian lemonade bottles that have flip tops (.75l) to reduce our cork usage.- If an item is not available in bulk, I make it (yogurt, mustard, soy milk, salad dressing, pickles, hot sauce, jams, OJ, hummus, sometimes cookies). I will post recipes for these later. 1-10-11 update: For simplifying reasons, I do not make yogurt or soy milk anymore. I purchase St Bemoit yogurt instead, which reuses their containers (deposit at the store).- If I can't make an item or am too lazy to go that route, I find a supplier and show up with my jar (ice cream shop, candy store)... I filled my travel tea mug with ketchup from a fast food joint once. 1-10-11 update: We get our beer refilled at the local brewery (you buy a growler and get it refilled at the bar when needed), but that only really works when you are ready to drink down 2 liters of beer at once (it will get flat overnight).
- I buy eggs and produce (I bring reusable produce bags) at the farmer's market (Mill Valley Friday Farmer's Market), the egg carton is reusable there and you won't likely find your cauliflower or cucumber shrink wrapped, your potatoes in a plastic bag, your fruit with stickers on them, or your carrots bundled with a plastic/metal tie.

- If a veggie is going to be out of season and I have learned through the past year that I cannot live without it, I'll can it (instead of getting a store-bought can later). Example: Tomatoes! (that's the only veggie that I really can't live without).

- Whole Foods bakery will bake 15 baguettes at a time for me and put it into my large bread bag (to bypass the pesky baguette sleeve), I throw them in the freezer as soon as I get home. 1-10-11 update: I freeze enough baguettes to last us a week (these days, it's 10), cut them in half and freeze them in a pillowcase.

- We use yummy tap water in stainless steel bottles: not only great to travel with but also to avoid chasing and washing the tons of empty dirty glasses that I used to find on my counter.

- I choose a compostable cleaning brush (a wooden one with natural hair), and a compostable scrubby (I have used loofah or have knitted a scrubby from sisal twine). 1-10-11 update: I substituted the latter for a stainless scrubby, it gets the job done easier.
- I buy in bulk both castile soap as a dish/hand cleaner (Dr Bronner's) and baking soda as a scrubber (in a stainless Parmesan dispenser). I do still buy my dishwasher detergent (Seventh Generation) in a box, because the one that I have found in bulk is liquid and comes out of a gallon size plastic container. I believe that powder in a recyclable cardboard box is greener (plastic only gets recycled once, cardboard many times). 1-10-11 update: I now buy my detergent in bulk at Good Earth (see Bulk Shopping in and around Mill Valley).- I have turned what used to be our trash can into a big compost keeper (it makes composting easy and at the reach of the kids, before we take it outside on a weekly basis), I use another one for recycling and a tiny bucket for trash (items to put on my to do list of improvements- the less I have in there, the more free time I get!). 1-10-11 update: The tiny bucket took up too much room, I now store our trash items in the under-counter paper towel holder.

- I store all our food in Le Parfait french glass canning jars (not just because I am french, I promise). No more plastic leaching Tupperware. I now have about 150 of those in different sizes (I am addicted). I use them for canning, storing, freezing, transporting, they are so versatile and interchangeable, just love them.

- All leftovers get eaten as-is, reinvented in new dishes, or frozen (the dog sometimes gets some too!) and I make stock from meat bones and veggie scraps.

- I keep my kitchen drawers and cabinets very minimal, with strong metal accessories (no plastic), the stronger and less you have, the less will break, the less will end up, well... you know where. I also have allowed only 2 I-cannot-live-without small electrical appliances: a toaster, and an immersion blender (with chopper and mixer attachments). I agree, simplifying could be the subject of a whole new blog for me... (but I just started this one!)

- I reuse single-side printed paper for grocery shopping and errands lists, and write on them with refillable stainless mechanical pencils.

-My biggest pet peeve??? Non recyclable wax paper butter wrappers. I have made some from scratch but at the price of Straus cream and the amount of butter we use (my boys need their daily cookie), it became way too expensive. I have called a bunch of places and got a recent lead but nothing for sure yet. Straus can actually sell a large container of butter, but only to businesses... Rainbow Grocery or any bulk vendor is yet to offer it (I picture blocks of butter, pre-cut tofu size, that could be picked up with tongues and put in my reusable jar). While I wait to find butter in bulk or, at default, compost its wrappers in our upcoming city compost, I am collecting our wax papers for a future art piece; it helps being a recycling artist :) . 1-10-11 update: I now compost the butter wrappers.All of this might seems like a lot of work, but if you start small, one step at a time, you'll be hooked to Zero Waste. One small resolution to yourself such as: "I will not bring another plastic bag into this house"... will bring on another and before you know it, you'll ready to move on to another room.

"One small step for man, but a giant step for mankind" Neil Armstrong.