New Year, less waste

Becca Bellamy, Susan Plante, and Nicole Peterson are continuing their efforts to waste less – this time in the kitchen. The goal is not zero waste (which is pretty impossible), but less waste, and we are trying it one small step at a time and encourage you to join us.

In December, we tackled reducing waste outside the home (click here to read the article), and now we are focusing inside the home, using strategies like buying less packaging, buying smartly, and replacing single-use waste with reusables.

We’ll get into details on each tactic shortly, but first, a look at our progress.

A few months in, we’ve learned what we can do, and what has been less successful. We don’t talk about zero waste (even the experts find this near impossible), but try to reduce what we can given our schedules and preferences. We’ve given up some smaller plastic containers, tried making oat milk, and have made bread.

Nicole misses coconut milk yogurt (and cheats occasionally), and went back to buying (rather than making) cartons of oat milk, but is going to keep making bread.

Susan is working to stop buying seltzer, and has switched to glass-bottled seltzer like The Mountain Valley in the meantime. Her biggest change is using rags instead of paper towels and cloth napkins instead of paper; she doesn’t miss the paper! She also plans to fire up her hand-me-down dehydrator to start making dried mango instead of buying it.

Becca continues to make staples such as bread, tortillas, hummus, and cereal, and buys as many of her pantry staples in bulk as she can. She re-purposes glass food jars for storage, and replaced her countertop paper towel dispenser with a container of cut-up T-shirt squares for quick spills. The compost bin is a key part of Becca’s low-waste kitchen, and catches the banana peels, coffee grounds, food scraps, and any paper towels that do show up. Her next hurdle is to overcome her affinity for take-out Vietnamese; she’s considering bringing her own takeout containers to Lang Van.

Feeling inspired yet? Join our efforts with any (or all!) of these ideas.

First step: Buying less packaging can happen in a few ways, like buying loose produce rather than packaged (think lettuce heads versus bagged salads) or choosing paper or glass packaging rather than plastic (glass can be reused or recycled, and paper can be composted).

Easy next step: Buying smartly means buying to reduce the amount of packaging needed. For example, buying larger amounts means less packaging overall, so buy that bigger bag of coffee or rice, since it will keep. Or take better care of produce and herbs to make them last longer – refrigeration and produce-specific care (like wrapping lettuce or herbs in damp cloth towels or keeping herbs, green onions, and asparagus in a glass of water) can keep them fresh longer.

Advanced next step: You can also buy more basic ingredients (things like flour or rolled oats) in bulk to make your most frequently used foods: pasta sauce, bread, tortillas, or oat milk. Or, for broth, collect your veggie or meat scraps in the freezer until you have enough for a few hours of cooking. Luckily, you can google how to DIY most things in the kitchen – or talk with your grandparents about how they did it.

A new habit for the new year: Replacing single-use items with reusables takes more effort than choosing different packaging. To get started, you can replace paper towels with old reusable washcloths for most spills and cleaning (though grease and some other messes require paper), find beautiful cloth napkins, and buy or make beeswax “cling wrap.” When old brushes, sponges, or utensils wear out, you can replace them with wood or other non-plastic materials (loofah sponges can grow in the garden – they’re actually squashes). Liquid soaps can become bar soaps, and vinegar and water is an effective cleaning solution.

Interested in learning more? Next month, we’ll cover other household challenges, like clothing, bathroom stuff, and electronics. You can also check out others who have inspired us: new-to-NoDa’s Rooted Rethinkery (1101 E. 36th St., Suite 7), and Kathryn Kellogg’s