8 Reusable Kitchen Essentials
Paper and plastic are recycled, food scraps are composted – but what about the rest of the waste created in the kitchen? Plastic wrap, coffee filters, and paper towels are often the spoils of our culinary pursuits. Keeping produce fresh and countertops clean are important kitchen considerations, but often result in a lot of extra trash – much of which is plastic that ends up in landfills or waterways.
Here are a few reusable alternatives to kitchen essentials for zero-waste cooking, storage, and cleaning.
1. Linen Coffee Filters
Nothing beats starting the day with a cup of joe, but this daily ritual can generate a lot of landfill-bound trash. Single-cup coffee machines – like the popular pod-based Nespresso and Keurig systems – are a huge source of plastic waste: 39,000 coffee capsules are produced every minute, 29,000 of which end up in landfills.
French presses and stovetop percolators require neither plastic pods nor paper filters, but maybe drip machines or pour-over coffee are more your style. Replace hundreds of disposable filters for your daily cup with a single reusable coffee filter made from cotton, linen, or hemp. This reusable alternative can be washed after each use (some can even go in the washing machine) and reused hundreds of times. Coffee Sock creates reusable filters for all machines and brewing methods, including glass Chemex urns and both basket- and cone-shaped drip coffee pots.
2. Produce Bags
Toss in a few produce bags with your reusable totes before a grocery run. Instead of choosing pre-packaged fresh foods or reaching for the roll of single-use plastic bags, put fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other produce in these lightweight sacks. Most are so thin, they won’t add ounces when weighing bulk goods, so they can also be used for dry goods like coffee and oats. Fabric bags also keep vegetables fresher than plastic; mesh sacks – like these from Public Goods – don’t suffocate produce and allow for better airflow, and cotton bags can be dampened before storage, keeping kale and other leafy greens fresh for longer.
3. Spray Bottles and Kitchen Cleaner
A good surface cleaner is essential for dirty counters and oily stovetops, but you don’t need to buy a new bottle at the store every time you run out.
Pick up a reusable spray bottle from a kitchen retailer (or the dollar store) to fill with your own low-waste cleaning solution. Try dissolving tablets, like these from Blueland, and mix with water right in the bottle – or, make your own cleaner with vinegar and lemons for a truly zero-waste and budget-friendly option. As you use lemons for juice or zest, collect the spent rinds in a large jar in the refrigerator, adding enough vinegar to cover the fruit. Allow the mixture to infuse for at least a week after filling completely, then remove the rinds and strain the liquid through a towel or cheesecloth, catching any remaining seeds or residue. In your spray bottle, combine equal parts water and the lemon mixture, and use it to clean counters, kitchen appliances, and stovetops – however, refrain from using on marble surfaces, as the acidity might cause damage to the stone.
4. Dishcloths, Towels, and Napkins
A few paper towels a day may seem like no biggie, but for every roll, forested land is razed for paper pulp, resulting in habitat destruction, erosion, and the loss of crucial carbon sinks, ultimately contributing to global climate change.
They may seem irreplaceable, but paper towels can easily be supplanted with reusables. For cleaning surfaces, try reusable rags instead; have them in an easily-accessible drawer so they’re on hand whenever a mess needs to be cleaned up. Swedish Dishcloths are a popular replacement for paper towels too – made from cellulose or wood pulp and cotton, the cloths feel like pliable cardboard when dry, but become soft and absorbent when wet.
However, the convenience of tearing a paper towel off the roll might be too hard to give up. Instead, make or buy your own reusable towel roll. Using an old paper roll, wrap your favorite towels of similar size (and made with fabric that has a slight cling to it) around the roll one at a time. Alternatively, purchase a pre-made roll for this very purpose; UNpaper towels are made of a soft, flannel material and come in a variety of colors, and many online zero-waste shops will sell their own version of roll-able towels.
Keep a small bin in the kitchen for dirty rags, towels, and napkins to be washed and reused.
5. Sponges and Brushes
Try a sponge that doesn’t get tossed after a few weeks. Reusable sponges can be washed, like the E-cloth Washing Up Pads and non-scratch scrubbers, which can be used for a full year and washed in the laundry machine. Or, try dish-washing brushes instead, many of which have detachable heads that can be replaced when needed, like these dish and vegetable scrubbers from the Package Free Shop.
6. Storage Bags
Ditch the multi-hundred packs of plastic snack bags for storage and on-the-go eating with reusable silicon pouches. Stasher Bags are a popular option, and are safe in the freezer, microwave, dishwasher, a pot of boiling water, and even the oven or stovetop. Their secure snap tops prevent leakage, and they keep leftovers fresh. Store food in the freezer easily, or take a sandwich to work or school without wasting a single-use bag. Rezip bags are also leak-proof and have an upright design, so they’re great for refrigerator and freezer storage.
7. Wax Wrappers and Food / Bowl Covers
Replace those rolls of plastic wrap and aluminum foil with wax wrappers. Bees Wrap clings to itself for easy storage, and can be wiped off to reuse. These fabric-and-wax sheets are also simple to make at home – all you’ll need is cotton fabric (maybe some fabric scraps from a recent project) and cosmetic-grade beeswax pellets. Cut the fabric into the desired shape, then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle some wax pellets on top, then place in a 200ºF oven for 4-8 minutes until it melts. Spread the wax over the fabric with a paintbrush until it’s evenly distributed, then clip the fabric to a wire clothes hanger to dry.
For bowls and produce – like halved lemons, avocados, and onions – try silicone, stretchable covers to keep food fresh, like these from The Earthling Co., which come in all shapes and sizes.
8. Storage Jars
Having a Tupperware collection is key to storing food waste-free, but you don’t have to shell out for an expensive set of glass containers – reach into the recycling bin instead! Save glass jars from peanut butter, pasta sauce, olives, and other prepared groceries to store food, or take snacks on-the-go.