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Low waste kitchens

I'm always looking for ingenious way's to avoid disposable goods in the kitchen. I reuse bulk bags and have many uses for canning jars. However, some times I still find myself going for freezer bags and foil. I would love to hear how my fellow Chowhounds reduce their amount of waste in the kitchen.
Thanks in advance for great new ideas!

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  1. I found cheap tupperware at the 99 cent store and bought about a dozen in three different sizes for my house. I think it's important to have a lot of one kind so that you don't have to search for lids that match, or throw something away if you lose the lid - like buying lots of pairs of identical socks. Also, it's easier to store empty ones and stack full ones if they're all the same. I have always used the same system at restaurants I've worked at, just on a bigger scale. I haven't used a ziploc bag in ages.

    1. I have to use freezer bags a lot because it helps with saving space, and I find that the more durable ones from name brands are better if I want to rinse and reuse.

      1. If aluminum foil was doesn't have a lot of baked-on food and is not torn, I wipe it clean and reuse. It helps if your foil is heavy-duty to begin with. I cover dishes with glass plates to microwave. I also wash and reuse ziplock bags.

        1. i'm sorry if this is a "duh" and not along the lines of what you are asking for-- but i think one of the most important things you can do to get rid of kitchen and other household waste is figure out a good composting system. you can also compost newspaper, coffee grounds and filters, paper towel type things, paper to-go boxes, and if it's pest-proof, meat scrap & bones (after exhausted thru making stock, of course).

          rather than tupperware or ziploks or other storage, i like to use plain ol' glass ball jars. you can find them by the case, on sale a few times a year and stock up. fresh foods like berries and salad greens last longer in glass, there is no issue with plastic leaching, you can put in the microwave ( i hear-- i don't have a microwave), your lunch is screwed tight & securely sealed inside your laptop bag while you bike to work, the lids are 1 size-interchangeable, you can send leftovers home with a friend w/o bumming about getting your precious container back, when you need an extra, you can grab another from the case, you can recycle when you are done with it, they never warp, they are retro-fashionable, they can be multi-use (dry storage, canning, flower vase), they are a uniform size and can line up like soldiers in the dishwasher w/o flying around the interior when you turn it on, they are see-thru and you can check the contents of your fridge with a quick glance. . . ball jars are freaking fantastic.

          2 Replies
          1. re: soupkitten

            I agree with you 100% and it's great to store things in something you can nuke it in if you want to heat or thaw it, which is a nasty thing to do in plastic, but..... 1. How much storage space do your empty jars take up because they can't be packed 100 in a tiny box you can hold in your hand like zip oocks, and 2. What do you do with all of your empty peanut butter jars, jelly jars, mayonnaise jars, gallon dill pickle jars and stuff like that? When I was a little kid, my mother (who was a world class empty jar hoarder -- a jar had to break to get thrown out!) kept most of the clean empty food jars in the basement and would bring a few up when she needed them or put more down there when she had emptied them. In today's home, storage space is the thing that chokes us on full-practice recycling. Or it is in my house...

            I want a cellar! '-)

            1. re: Caroline1

              lol Caroline!

              good points! the jars don't seem to take up too much space. i leave them in the case and stack pantry items on top, or they can go underneath the ss prep table we have in the kitchen. i keep a few smaller glass jars on hand for storage but i recycle most of them right away, esp if the size is not useful-- these days so much stuff seems to come in plastic rather than glass, and i don't buy prepared spaghetti sauce, salad dressing, or most other condiments etc. reusing prepared-food jars is very thrifty, but i agree it can get out of hand with trying to keep everything organized and the lids straight. i do get fresh-ground peanut butter-- so i'm already using my own jar for that. i do confess to keeping one or two orphaned & odd-size jars around for the express purpose of sending food home w others or taking food to the neighbors. gotta watch that hoarding impulse, though-- way too easy ;-P

          2. I reuse Parchment Paper several times, until it's very crusty or burnt-on.

            1. Thanks for the responses. I never thought to re-use foil or parchment. I'm moving from plastic to canning jars, as the plastic ones disappear I'm replacing with jars and some pyrex dishes for the larger hunks of leftovers. What does everyone do for freezer goods? I have a huge jumble of stuff in plastic, stuff in layers of reused bulk bags, stuff in freezer bags, stuff in jars... its ridiculous. Cleaning out the freezers and them I going to start over!

              1 Reply
              1. re: corneygirl

                I do use plastic bags, because they STORE FLAT in the freezer. I think that's the key when it comes to organization -- flattening the bags so they stack. I still don't use many, and I re-use most of them.

                I got rid of my plastic containers slowly over the course of the last year or so, and slowly replaced them with Glasslock containers. I also bought a big set of Denmark brand glass containers which I don't like as well, but it came with a BUNCH of different sizes, which means that I have containers to store half a lime or half a chicken.

                I definitely re-use aluminum foil. I store some of my dry goods in deli containers. I buy in bulk or with minimal packaging whenever possible. OH, and I basically never get produce bags at the store. Everything has to be washed anyway, so I don't bother.

                A major thing for me is just to use what I've got. The least green thing you can do in the kitchen, IMO, is throwing food away!

              2. Great idea for a thread :) I also posted my dismay at the heaps of plastic I had laying around over in the "going less plastic at the grocery store" thread.

                Out of curiosity, what do you most use foil and freezer bags for? I'll toss smaller items like part of an avocado into a huge reusable container as opposed to using a bag, if I can.

                2 Replies
                  1. re: im_nomad

                    Foil for reheating things in the toaster oven. Freezer bags for things like half a package of sausage or half a log of ground turkey. There are only two of us so I end up breaking down packages of stuff like that a lot. I reuse produce bags for things like half a red pepper and the like. Thanks for the link to the other thread! that looks great.

                  2. I don't have a great answer for your freezer bags and foil issues except for reusing when you can (and never using a bigger baggie or more foil than you actually need), but here are some things that work for us. I hope these are along the lines of what might be helpful to you. Many I'm sure you're doing already.

                    ~cloth napkins
                    ~We do have paper towels in the kitchen, but I keep a basket of cloth towels directly under the paper towel dispenser to remind us to use cloth whenever possible
                    ~We have an Energy Star-rated beer kegerator. We buy our beer by the pony keg. Fewer trips to the store to buy beer; the only thing you "recycle" is the keg itself. The beer tastes better, too.
                    ~We make our own sparkling soda http://www.sodastream.com/
                    ~For table wine, we drink boxed wine. (I'm not that discerning when it comes to wine for every day use...most of you will find it revolting, I'm sure).
                    ~If you subscribe to a CSA or shop farmers markets, you can control about 95% of the way your produce is packaged. And, of course, bring your own reusable shopping bag (to conventional grocery stores, too).
                    ~Shop at co-ops and bring your own containers to shop out of the bulk bins--not just for spices and grains and nuts, but also soy sauce, oils, honey, peanut butter, and cleaning products. Even if you forget to bring your own, they'll sell you one. It can never hurt to have another mason jar.
                    ~In our area, we have a milk producer who sells milk in returnable glass bottles.
                    ~In our area, we can often bring our own egg cartons to the food co-ops and package our own eggs.
                    ~ Making your own yogurt and cottage cheese is pretty easy.
                    ~Buy colorful tea towels and actual ribbon to wrap gifts. We use these, too. http://wrapsacks.com/
                    ~We use these reusable sandwich wraps in our lunches for things we don't want to use Tupperware for http://www.wrap-n-mat.com/
                    ~We do our composting (vegetable matter--except citrus--plus shredded paper, egg shells, coffee grounds) via a worm bin. In fact, the worm condo comes in for the winter tomorrow. (They over-winter in our basement).
                    ~When it makes sense to do so, buy in large quantities instead of individual serving sizes, then repackage at home.
                    ~And, of course, the more "scratch" cooking you do and the less processed food you buy, the less packaging you seem to end up with.
                    ~We often buy our meat in bulk directly from the producer: it comes wrapped in old-fashioned butcher paper. And, they will cut and package it to order. Do you have a family of 5 and want all your pork chops wrapped in increments of 5? Do you want thick cut vs. thin cut chops? Etc.
                    ~ Use your library to test run cookbooks, or even instead of subscribing to food magazines. If you buy cookbooks, consider buying them used if you can. If you buy one you no longer need, consider swapping it through paperbackswap.com or other similar site.
                    ~ If you subscribe to a lot of magazines or purchase a lot of things mail-order through Sur La Table, Williams Sonoma, etc. you'll get a lot of junk mail. I'm obsessed lately with reducing junk mail https://www.dmachoice.org/

                    Hmmmm...I think I'm out of comments for now! I hope these ideas help.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Yeah, I forgot about the no-paper-towel thing! I bought a stack of bar mops at Sam's Club over a year ago, and since then have used exactly ONE roll of paper towels, mostly for draining bacon or wiping out one of my cast iron skillets. I've been meaning to do cloth napkins for ages. Time to break out the sewing machine! :)

                      And I make my own yogurt too!

                    2. Lots of great ideas... we use mason jars for most of our food storage both dry and refrigerated (I really like the way pasta and beans look in the large jars). I do have some larger plastic ware that I pull out occasionally. As for storing them, they are kept on a shelf in the garage. We also use cloth napkins and towels almost exclusively, I have to admit we do have paper towels but use only for specific messes. I am jealous of those who have access to a csa's and coops, in our small town we have a Publix and a farm stand. I do buy fresh eggs so no egg cartons wasted there. I have always been a big supporter of buying used books on ebay; at first it was because we could save money that way, but now I can appreciate the idea of reusing books. I don't use ziplocs , but dh is still addicted to them... I am trying to wean him from them. Always have reused foil when I could. I usually buy used my most of my kitchen items at estate sales, auctions, or thrift stores so there is less waste there. The reusable shopping bags are a great idea as long as you are not like the majority of my friends who buy boatloads of them either because they forget them or the new ones are cooler looking.

                      1. I'm using ziplocks for most freezer food; the less airspace around the food, the better, for preventing freezer burn. Also, in order to defrost "only what we need", I use plastic wrap to isolate single portions of proteins. And, I double wrap bread products. Mind you, purchasing bulk packages of heavy duty (and possibly reusable) zipper bags, and the large role of plastic wrap *does* cut down on the amount of packaging.
                        For fridge storage, I have glasslock containers. But DH STILL uses saran over a plate. Among my ongoing frustrations: the amount of space taken up by containers in the fridge, the weight of glass containers, storage space required for reusable containers of any sort.