Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials
Simple swaps that cut down on kitchen trash.
By Kayla Robbins
Along with the bathroom, the kitchen is one of the most daunting areas to try and make zero waste.
It can seem like an impossible task at first, but once you set up a simple compost system and get serious about recycling everything you can, you'll cut your waste dramatically.
Once those systems are in place, you'll probably still have some trash to deal with. And remember, while recycling is better than sending something to a landfill, it's not perfect, and it's always better to refuse unnecessary items, packaging, etc in the first place.
Here are a few reusable replacements for some common kitchen items:
If you're someone who loves to sip sweet tea through a straw or slurp a breakfast smoothie during your commute, reusable straws are a great alternative for the disposal plastic variety that have been catching so much flack lately.
With more and more restaurants phasing out their plastic straws in response to customer backlash, having your own set to carry around is a good move if you don't want to give up that satisfying slurrrrp.
Reusable straws are becoming more and more mainstream and available in a variety of styles, colors, and materials. I love my stainless steel set, but there are also softer silicone versions for kids, glass straws that are like functional works of art in your cup, and even bamboo straws from bambu!
Most sets come with a cute little brush to make it easy to clean the inside thoroughly. For use on the go, a quick rinse in the bathroom sink usually works just fine.
Have you guys heard of these?
They're basically squares of cotton covered in a mixture of beeswax and resin. These simple ingredients combine to make a really awesome replacement for plastic wrap in your kitchen. You can use these wraps for covering bowls, wrapping up cheese, fruit, or that other half of your avocado. They can really do it all.
You can keep using and reusing them, rinsing with cool water in between uses. If they start to get a bit bare in places, you can even pop them in a low-temperature oven for a few minutes to redistribute the wax. Good as new!
They're way cuter than plastic wrap since they come in a variety of colors and prints. And once they come to the end of their useful life, they're fully biodegradable, and you can just pop them in your compost bin.
Earth Love has some cute ones to get you started!
Put aside the paper napkins and paper towels. Cloth napkins are softer, prettier, and more eco-friendly than their paper counterparts. And they really require no more care than simply throwing them in with your next load of laundry.
Buying a quality set of cloth napkins is an investment up front, but will save you money in the long run. Plus, you'll never have to scramble to make your table look presentable when you find out you'll be hosting some unexpected dinner guests!
Now, you may be thinking, "aren't tea bags biodegradable?" and for the most part, they are. However, some tea bags can have little pieces of plastic holding them together that are obviously not great additions to your compost pile.
Also, if you buy loose leaf tea in bulk, you can avoid a lot of the excess packaging that comes with tea bags. I've seen some before that were individually wrapped and sealed in a plastic bag that of course went inside a cardboard box that was itself wrapped in a thin layer of plastic. It's ridiculous.
Loose leaf tea typically comes in ONE bag, or even better, a reusable tin.
It really doesn't take any longer to brew, and once you get the hang of it, it can become quite a pleasant morning ritual.
You will need a little bit of equipment, though, and that's where the tea strainer comes in.
If you're making more than one cup, it usually makes sense to brew it in a teapot by putting the tea and the water right in together. To prevent leaves getting into your cup, just top your mug with a tea strainer before you pour the brewed tea. Mountain Mel's stocks a cute stainless steel strainer with a cutout moon and star pattern.
If you prefer to make it by the cup, the mug infuser from Mountain Mel's might be a better choice. Whichever method you choose, don't forget to compost your leftover leaves!
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By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull
Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.
Start With Prevention<p>Just as preventive steps like maintaining a balanced diet help keep humans healthy, home growers can take many actions to help their gardens thrive.</p><p>One key step is assessing soil fertility – the ability of soil to sustain plant growth – which can vary widely depending on your location and soil type. Low soil fertility limits food production and predisposes plants to disease and pests. University extension <a href="https://soiltesting.wvu.edu/" target="_blank">soil testing labs</a> can help evaluate the quality of garden soil and identify nutrient deficiencies and acidic soils, often at no charge.</p>
Using weed barrier landscape cloth for planting rows and mulching between rows is an effective way to suppress weeds. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
Diagnosing Problems<p>Common plant pathogens include <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/viral/introduction/Pages/PlantViruses.aspx" target="_blank">viruses</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/prokaryote/intro/Pages/Bacteria.aspx" target="_blank">bacteria</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/nematode/intro/Pages/IntroNematodes.aspx" target="_blank">nematodes</a>, <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/oomycete/introduction/Pages/IntroOomycetes.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20oomycetes%2C%20also%20known%20as,foliar%20blights%20and%20downy%20mildews." target="_blank">oomycetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/disandpath/fungalasco/intro/Pages/IntroFungi.aspx" target="_blank">fungi</a>. All of these microorganisms, especially at an early stage of infection, are too small to see. But when they proliferate, they cause changes in plants that we can recognize.</p><p>Unlike insects, which move around on six legs or on wings through the air, pathogens can move unseen and unchecked from leaf to leaf on the wind, through the soil or in droplets of water. Some microbes have even formed intimate relationships with insects and use them as vehicles to move from plant to plant, which makes these pathogens even more challenging to manage. Unfortunately, by the time some pathogens make their presence known, the damage is already done.</p><p>We recently conducted a <a href="https://twitter.com/kasson_wvu/status/1265989041725624323" target="_blank">Twitter poll</a> of gardeners nationwide to find out which culprits plagued their gardens. People named <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/aphids" target="_blank">aphids</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-vine-borer" target="_blank">squash vine borers</a>, <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/squash-bug" target="_blank">squash bugs</a> and <a href="https://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/flea-beetle" target="_blank">flea beetles</a> as the most problematic insect pests. Their most troublesome pathogens included <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/powdery-mildew" target="_blank">powdery mildew</a>, <a href="https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/rsol/Trainingmodules/BWTomato_Module.html" target="_blank">tomato bacterial wilt</a> and <a href="https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/plant-disease/fruit-vegetable-diseases/downy-mildew" target="_blank">cucurbit downy mildew</a>.</p><p>To manage such perennial challenges, the first step is to spend time closely looking at your plants. Do you notice any insects consistently hanging around, or molds colonizing leaves or other plant parts? How about symptoms such as blight, stunting, or leaves that are yellowing, browning or wilting?</p>
This white fungal growth is an early sign of powdery mildew on a leaf of susceptible summer squash. Matt Kasson, CC BY-ND
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