Erratic engineeress

A personal blog fuelled by caffeine and curiosity.

7 steps towards a less waste kitchen

These less waste kitchen tips will save you some money too, if you need the extra incentive.

Today I want to share some less waste kitchen tips with you. Since I’ve started posting recipes, it feels only appropriate, and I’ve already shared tips on how to reduce your food waste and use up the food you might usually scrap. These are things I’ve personally tried and have been doing for more than a year, so I hope you’ll find them useful. I’ve already waxed poetic about how reducing our waste is super important for the environment and how individual action still counts, despite the whole “corporations are responsible for most of the global waste”, so I’ll spare you the sermon and just show you how I do it. Most of these less waste kitchen tips will save you a little bit of money too, as a bonus. 🙂

#1: Use cloth napkins and rags

Ever since I’ve moved back to Slovenia, I’ve been trying to make our household as waste efficient as possible. One of the first steps towards that goal was to start using cloth napkins, kitchen towels, tissues and rags instead of paper napkins, paper kitchen towels, paper tissues etc. (yes, we’re still using toilet paper though, because there are lines I’m not willing to cross). Making the switch to washable, cloth everything is super simple, although there is one principal rule: whatever you choose to use, make it accessible. If your napkins and towels are in a convenient, easy to reach spot, you’ll use them. If they’re kept neatly tucked away in a drawer however, you won’t.

I inherited some fancy cloth napkins from my grandmother, but I felt they we’re too nice and delicate for everyday use, so we also bought some sturdy, regular linen napkins (these are the ones we got on Etsy). They were inexpensive, look nice, feel nice to wipe your mouth with and the stains wash off well at high temperature with a bit of help from a stain remover. Both of us were already used to using the sponge cloth thing for cleaning up spills etc., so we didn’t actually miss the paper kitchen towels at all, although my boyfriend kept saying he’d buy them, but never did. You can also buy or make simple cotton tissues to wipe your nose with and make cleaning rags from old clothes or bed linens.

These days we’ve been using cloth napkins for a year now and I’m even making our guests use them, which has worked well so far. We usually do a 3 weeks to monthly zero waste load in the washing machine at high temperature, which includes napkins, tissues, table cloths, kitchen towels, my reusable cotton pads for make up, washable panty liners, fabric shopping bags etc. And, before you ask, I think we can all agree that running 1 extra washing cycle per month is reasonable compared to tossing out several bits of paper per day. Producing paper uses up water too, not to mention the impact on trees.

#2: Extend the lifetime of your sponges

This one is something I learned from my first flatmate. Although I’ve been trying to find a good biodegradable or washable sponge, I still haven’t found a good replacement for a synthetic dishwashing sponge that wouldn’t be too thin or too soft and that my boyfriend would approve of. I’ve tried coconut fibre scrubbers, which kept leaving behind bits of fibre, and thin cloth scrubbing thingies that weren’t very good at removing bits of food and felt gross to use. I did have a bit more luck with sponge cloths, as you can get decent biodegradable ones with great absorbency that are essentially the same as the good old Vileda sponge cloth.

Anyways, if you are using synthetic sponges, you can extend their lifetime and clean them by boiling them in water with some detergent for about 10 minutes. Boiling them removes the bacteria and you’re using the detergent to wash the dishes anyway, so there’s no toxic cleaners involved. But more remarkably, the sponge bounces back and expands again. You’ll get a fresh-looking, puffy sponge from a defeated, deflated sponge and I was surprised by how well that works the first time I saw it. From a materials’ perspective it makes sense though, but that’s an engineering story for another time. 🙂 It works with sponge cloths as well, although they come out a little bit stiffer. Now, personally I only do this with sponges that are still whole and kind of decent if I can remember to, and only once. It will give the sponge a few more weeks of life in the kitchen, which means less waste on your tally at the end of the year. Also, we usually demote our bad kitchen sponges to bathroom cleaning sponges before finally tossing them out, unless they’re really bad.

less waste kitchen tips

#4: Dilute your dishwashing detergent

You know that feeling when you pour a drop of detergent on your sponge and most of it washes off on the first item you clean with it? Personally I hate that. It means you have to constantly reach for more detergent and use a lot more of it than needed, which consequently means more chemicals in the sewer system and more bottles of detergent per year for you. Now, here’s a hack my Swedish friends taught me: use a spray bottle to dilute your detergent and spray the solution on to your washing sponge. In this way you’ll always have the right amount of detergent, which nicely soaks into your sponge, and you’ll use less detergent, which both saves you money and leads to fewer bottles per year and less plastic waste.

Dishwashing detergents are always formulated to be extra strong, so there’s absolutely no harm in using a diluted version. We use about 1/10 or even less of detergent to water ratio in our spray bottle and our dishes are always nice and clean. If there’s something extra greasy or baked on, you can always add a bit of pure detergent though. A single bottle now lasts us for several months and my hands no longer feel dry after washing the dishes + our spray bottle makes a pew pew sound, which makes it fun too. 🙂

less waste kitchen tips

P.S.: Use an eco friendly detergent if you can. Alternatively, you can use a solid block of dishwashing soap, but I haven’t tried it yet, because they’re quite expensive.

#5: Don’t toss out the glassware!

While you don’t need to hoard every single glass jar that comes your way, saving and washing glassware is one of the best ways to reduce your kitchen waste and waste in general. Since so many food products come in glass jars, you can easily find and keep the right sizes and shapes for your needs and throw the rest of it into the recycling bin. Glass jars are free, easy to wash, sterilise and reuse and have so many uses both inside and outside the kitchen, that it’s really a waste not to utilise their full potential.

You can use them as food containers in your fridge, pantry or to bring you lunch to work – unlike plastic, glass doesn’t absorb colour or smells and is easier to clean. You can also use them to preserve your herbs (here are some of my tips for preserving herbs) or even freeze food, as long as you leave a bit of space on the top to accommodate the expansion of liquids. You can use them for (quick) pickling, fermenting, for storing your home-made cleaning solutions, loose leaf tea/coffee or cosmetics or even just for storing small bits and pieces that would otherwise get lost (jewellery, sewing kits, coins, cotton or cloth make up wipes, hygienic products…). If you pick out a couple of nice looking jars and dress them up a bit with spray paint or ribbons, it looks really pretty and a bit rustic, if that’s your thing of course. Speaking of which, you can also use them instead of gift wrapping and place your gifts or baked goods in a glass jar. Here are some more ideas for reusing glass jars – simple, nice, sustainable and free!

Radish leaf pesto.

P.S.: The easiest way to get the label stickers off is to either run them through the dishwasher or scrub them off with a steel scrubber or use oil and baking soda on them.

#6: Store dry food in sealed containers

Whether or not you’re buying your dry food in bulk, you should always store it in sealed containers (you can reuse your glass jars for this). Open or flimsy containers let in air and bugs and there’s nothing worse than tossing out a whole package of moist rice, stale tortillas or flour with weevils in it. Whatever you store it in, plastic, glass or paper, make sure it’s dry, clean and closes well to avoid creating unnecessary food waste and tossing your money out the window.

Our chaotic one shelf pantry.

#7: Use beeswax wraps or cloth covers and silicone baking mats

These days it’s quite easy to buy or DIY a couple of beeswax wraps (here‘s a DIY guide) that you can use to cover your food instead of aluminium or plastic foil. They work practically the same and you can easily reuse them by washing them with dish soap, although you have to use hot water to help them regain their shape. Alternatively, you can also use cloth bowl covers with elastic edges, although I’d avoid using those for wet foods. So, even if you still use single use foils for certain things, you can reduce your waste a bit by using reusable ones where you can.

Another single use item you can replace with a reusable one is baking paper. Baking paper is a must when baking, but it’s non-reusable and if you bake a lot that’s quite a bit of extra waste. You can buy food grade silicone baking mats, which are non-stick baking surface mats that you can place on your baking tray. They’re a bit thicker than baking paper, but they’re more slippery, very easy to clean and can withstand very high temperatures. I’ve had mine from Ikea for a year now and they work like a charm.

So, what do you think about these less waste kitchen tips? Are you already doing some of these or would you be willing to give them a try? I realise some of them may be a bit radical, but they’ve worked for me, so I hope you’ll give them a try despite any misgivings you might have. As they say, the devil is in the details, so every little bit of waste we don’t need to produce is better than throwing stuff out for recycling or filling up the landfills.

Also, always remember the golden rule of reducing your waste: use what you already have. There’s no need to buy new fancy food containers or cloth napkins, if you already have functional ones at home. It’s better to reuse and repurpose, than to fall for the “zero waste essentials” marketing schemes.


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11 responses to “7 steps towards a less waste kitchen”

    1. Thanks! There’s really so little change needed to produce less waste.

      1. I agree. My approach is asking how it saves me cash.

      2. That too. Most sustainable options save you money in the long run anyway, because they’re durable.

      3. Naya

        I haven’t tried the beeswax thing yet . I will !

      4. I like it and they usually look pretty too!

  1. Great ideas! I won’t give up my toilet paper either. We used to waste a lot of money on paper plates. I finally decided it was time to buy melmac plates. I bought all different sizes and now that’s what we mostly use for our everyday dishes and they are a nice hard plastic so they don’t brake. Love all your ideas for recycling old and using them again.

    1. Thanks! It’s always better to use washable options.

  2. Very good ideas and frugal, as well.

    1. Like I said, most sustainable options are usually cheaper too.

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