How to Reduce Kitchen Waste
by Wendy Priesnitz
Do you want to reduce the waste
your household produces? Well, the
kitchen is a great place to begin. And, in the process, both your family and
the planet will be healthier as you minimize exposure to tin cans and
plastic, and you will save money.
If you think of the waste generated in your
home, you will realize that most of it is either compostable food waste or
packaging, much of that made of plastic in one form or another.
The International Plastics Task
Force, a global network of activists, ecologists, non-profit organizations
and waste management experts, says that “plastic has become an environmental
problem of global scale.” Plastics are essentially a byproduct of petroleum
refining – and, of course, petroleum is a non-renewable and rapidly
declining resource. Various chemicals such as plasticizers, antioxidants,
anti-static agents, colorants, flame retardants, heat stabilizers and
barrier resins are added to give plastic products their performance
properties. The emissions from chemical plants that make the plastics and
their additives have been ranked at or near the top of the list of
carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
People are exposed to these
chemicals not only from the manufacturing process, but also by using
products made from plastic, by eating food contained in plastic packaging
and even by breathing them as they off-gas in the indoor environment.
Plastics are very stable and
therefore stay in the environment a long time after they are discarded,
especially if they are shielded from direct sunlight by being buried in
landfills. Decomposition rates are further decreased in food containers by
the antioxidants that are often added to enhance their resistance to attack
by acidic contents.
At the same time, the low cost of
plastics has enabled the development of disposable products, which has
increased the amount of trash. Plastics account for an estimated one-quarter
of all waste in landfills. Tens of billions of pounds of plastic are used
for packaging designed to be discarded as soon as the package is opened.
Some types of plastic are accepted
in municipal recycling programs, although a significant amount never makes
it there. (See this article
for more details about recycling plastic.) But, as the International Plastics Task Force points out,
plastics don’t actually recycle. Instead of being reformed back into the
original products, they are reprocessed into secondary (and usually
My bottom line is that if I prevent plastic from
entering my kitchen, I don’t have to worry about how to deal with it.
How to Minimize Kitchen Waste
Store foods, especially those with high fat
content, in something other than plastic, preferably glass jars or
Avoid microwaving foods in plastic (if you
microwave at all) and cover them with a cloth towel.
Buy cheese and meat from a dairy and
butcher and ask them not to wrap it in plastic.
For produce, cotton mesh bags are available
for purchase, or you can make your own drawstring bags.
Avoid plastic bags at stores by taking
reusable cloth bags.
Buy foods like peanut butter, as well as
laundry soap, shampoo and other products in bulk, using your own containers.
If you have storage space, this minimizes waste packaging and saves money.
Avoid take-out food, or alert the
restaurant when you order that you’ll bring your own containers.
Cook from scratch, which can be healthier,
save time if you freeze unused quantities, and minimize packaging.
Make your own yogurt at home in a thermos
or yogurt maker, and store in glass jars.
Buy eggs in paper cartons and return them
for reuse or recycling.
At coffee shops, take your own mug or, if
you’re not having it “to go,” ask for a china mug.
Wash and reuse any plastic containers you
feel you must buy.
Replace paper with cloth dishcloths and
napkins; use containers with lids instead of aluminum foil and plastic wrap;
avoid disposable plates and cups.
Use a compost collector in your kitchen that
doesn't require lining; stainless steel works well.
Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine. She has been an
environmentalist and journalist for over 40 years, and is the author of thirteen
Natural Life Magazine's Green and Healthy Homes.