10 Ways to Eliminate Kitchen Disposables and Reduce Kitchen Waste

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While kitchen disposables like plastic wrap are convenient, they are bad for the environment and the budget. Here are ten practical ways to ditch the disposables and reduce kitchen waste.

selection of eco-friendly kitchen items

Are you trying to cut the cost of groceries and reduce kitchen waste?

Make an instant impact on your weekly grocery bill and your waste pile by switching from kitchen disposables to reusable items.

Disposable products are designed to be used once and thrown away, which means you’re pouring money out week after week to replace these single-use items.

Stop that money drain with reusable alternatives.

Reusable items are purchased (or upcycled!) once and reused over and over saving your money and reducing waste.

Here are 10 common kitchen disposables and their alternatives.

1. Replace paper towel with…

…rags and tea towels.

A drawer full of tea towels comes in handy. Not only good for wiping dishes and hands (best to use a separate towel for each) but you can use them to strain liquid, absorb liquid (for instance, when pressing tofu), dampen and cover bowls or pastry instead of cling wrap, to name a few ideas.

Rags (old clothes or linen make good rags) are good for the really grotty cleaning jobs, like wiping the raw egg off the floor, although I admit, if things are really, really bad, I use a little bit of loo paper.

When draining fatty food like bacon, you can use a cake rack to let the fat drip off the bacon into a pan. You can place recycling paper under the rack to catch and absorb the fat or just let it harden on the pan and scrape it into the bin.

Or you can collect the fat to use in cooking! Yum…but not so good for the waistline.

For jobs where you want to pat dry chicken, for instance, use a dedicated cloth and clean it well afterwards. Or keep a roll of recycled paper towel on hand just for this job and compost it afterwards. 

You might also like: 8 Alternatives to Paper Towels

2. Replace disposable Dishcloths with…

knitted dishcloths.

Dishcloths or sponges can go really funky, really quickly. And that usually means disposing of them regularly.

Reusable dishcloths are actually more hygienic than disposable ones because you’re replacing them every single day…just washing them rather than throwing them out.

You can use any old cloth – face washers work well – but I do love knitted dishcloths – the texture of the knit makes them really effective reusable washing up cloths.

For dish brushes, if you already have a plastic one, it’s important to use it as long as possible. Clean and sanitise it to extend its life. Why? Because there’s no point buying ‘eco’ products and throwing perfectly good items that you already have into landfill.

But if you are in the market for a new dish brush, this wooden one has a detachable head so you’re only replacing the head as needed.

3. Replace disposable cleaning cloths with…

…reusable cleaning cloths.

Reusable kitchen cloths can be used for wiping down benches, sinks and stoves. Colour code them to make sure you’re not wiping the kitchen bench with the toilet seat cleaning cloth.

Microfiber cloths are popular but not ideal. Why? Because most are made from plastic and shed microfibers into our waterways. And at the end of their lifecycle, they’re not recyclable or compostable. 

So a better option is to stick to natural fibre cleaning cloths like cotton (old recycled rags are perfect or you could make these recycled cleaning cloths from old towels) and using a natural homemade cleaning spray. I like to use colour coded knitted cloths – it gives me an excuse to do some more easy knitting.

4. Replace paper napkins with…

…cloth napkins.

We don’t tend to use napkins because…cutlery. But napkins are useful for messy food or finger food.

For the kids whose cutlery skills aren’t yet fully developed, I use a damp face washer instead of napkins. I also have a bunch of cloth napkins for special occasions.

Here’s how to make your own cloth napkins.

How to clean reusable cloths

For cleaning cloths, rags, knitted dish cloths, napkins, face washers and tea towels, keep a bucket of cold water with some Oxy-soaker in it to soak cloths before washing.

Make sure all cloths are rinsed out first before adding to the bucket (no food still clinging to them). This prevents them from going funky or mouldy. Wash them in cold water with the weekly load of towels, so they don’t make an extra load.

5. Replace paper or plastic plates and utensils with…

…real crockery and cutlery.

Not that you would use paper plates every night to eat off (I’ve read that some people do).

But even for picnics and BBQs, a set of reusable plates, proper cutlery and reusable plastic ‘glass’ wear (aluminium is even better) will reduce costs and reduce waste.

And if you eat out regularly, you can carry a set of utensils in your car or handbag. Secondhand utensils are a cheap options. Don’t take them through airport security. Speaking from experience.

6. Replace Cling Wrap with…

…storage containers.

Alternatives to cling wrap when refrigerating leftovers include using plastic or glass containers or plates with upturned bowls over the top.

For lunches, use a lunchbox there are dozens of different ones to choose from to suit your preferred lunch.

For food that travels, use containers with lids.

For more ideas, check out the article: Alternatives to Cling Wrap.

7. Replace zip lock bags with…

…storage containers.

A set or two of plastic containers like Decor (not ideal but budget friendly and that’s what we have) stainless steel or glass containers (recycled jars are a great free option) are all useful alternatives to zip lock bags.

Zip-lock bags do come in handy sometimes especially if you have a freezer too small for a whole bunch of containers. You can now get reusable silicone zip-lock bags in a variety of sizes that can be used to freeze food in.

8. Replace Freezer bags with…

…more storage containers!

Or if there’s not enough room for containers in your freezer, save frozen vegetable bags for reuse.

After meat has been stored in them and defrosted, they have to go into the bin. Or you can wash them out (and let them dry) and put them in the Redcycling!

Alternatively, you can use the reusable silicone zip-lock bags mentioned above.

What about the produce bags you get from the supermarket? Buy loose fruit and veg or use reusable bags. You can make them yourself, buy them online or I saw some reusable bags the other week at Coles in the same section as the cling wrap and zip-lock bags!

8. Replace tea bags and coffee pods with…

…tea leaves and real coffee beans.

For a single cup of tea, use a tea ball or cup sized tea strainer. For more than one cup of tea, invest in teapot and enjoy an old fashioned tea.

For coffee, a french press, stove-top percolator or drip machine are great alternatives to the pods.

Place the spent leaves and coffee grounds in the compost or throw them directly on the garden.

9. Replace Aluminium Foil with…

…bake ware with lids.

Bake food in bake ware with lids to avoid the need for aluminium foil.

Cover meat when resting it with a large, upturned bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel to keep the meat warm.

Extend the life of foil by reusing it. I do use foil very occasionally, sometimes it comes in handy when barbecuing for instance.

As it’s aluminium, foil can be recycled as long as it doesn’t have a lot of food on it.

10. Replace garbage bags with…

…used bags like bread bags or frozen pea bags.

If you’re reducing disposables, reducing packaging, recycling recyclables, composting your scraps, and Redcycling your soft plastics, you won’t have much rubbish anyway.

But if you need a garbage bag, you can reuse packaging as garbage bags.

For instance, if you buy bread, instead of putting the empty bread bag in a rubbish bag or redcycling, use the empty bread bag as the rubbish bag. Same goes with the empty rice bag, or the empty pasta bag, or the empty frozen peas bag.

For more ideas, check out the Alternative Bin Liner Ideas post.

Avoiding disposables doesn’t as much effort as we might think. But the savings add up and that little bit of effort will pay dividends for years to come.

What are your tips for reducing kitchen waste?

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  1. Eileen Miles says:

    I used to buy cotton dish cloths from Woolworths but they are no longer available. I switched to microfibre . I bought a packet of 36 cloths in 4 colours at Masters for $12. I segregate and clean mine in a similar way nappy sanitiser is great.Do you have a pattern for the knitted cloths ? Do you knit them in cotton or wool?I use plastic chinese type containers for storage ,I have about 6 different sizes and shapes all reusable. You can buy a packet of plastic bowl covers (look like motel shower caps) you can wash and reuse.We only have a small council garbage bin ,but I usually only have 1 bag in it each week,mainly full of the celophane wrapping common to most products these days.I have used cereal box bags before for storage but have never thought of using them for garbage.The thing I most hate are the trays meat comes on from the supermarket ,you can’t reuse them even after washing. A lot have changed to recyclable . I try to buy from our local butcher ,he does use plastic bags for each item but then they go in a BROWN PAPER BAG, which is by the way the best way to dry herbs-dark enough not to bleach colour from herbs and they dry very fast when hung up.I have 4 bins garbage,recycle,compost and chooks . If you can’t compost but still want to feed your garden try digging a hole (cover to keep out the fliesand european wasps)food process your scraps and put them in the hole and cover each day with a layer of dirt. When the hole is full just start again in another part of the garden.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Eileen,

      The link on the knitted dishcloths goes to a round up of patterns. I knit them in either cotton or cotton/acryclic blend, which I find dries quicker than the pure cotton.

      I should probably cover the scraps we through into the garden :). The kids throw the banana peels and apple cores straight into the garden – it helps keep the neighbours cat out too :).

  2. Bridget McDonald says:

    We’ve totally done away with bin liners. We put the rubbish directly into the bin and carry out the entire container and tip it into the council bin each night. We do have a small plastic container with a lid that we keep in the sink, we put the really gross stuff in there; Weetbix, after dinner plate scrapings. This goes into the bin every night too and the container goes in the dishwasher. We do line the bottom of the bin with the old local newspaper and give it a hose down on the weekend.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Does the driver ever have a problem with the rubbish falling out of the bin when he picks it up?

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Thanks Sonia :).

  3. Love this post & cutting down waste in general. I plan to buy my meat at the butchers instead of the supermarket, foregoing points/rewards for less waste & less smell. Meat wrappers are at least half our rubbish as we compost & have chooks.

    Have you seen this site? http://zerowastehome.blogspot.com.au/

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Karen.

      Meat wrapping is the hardest I think. It’s hard to get away from plastic when it comes to meat.

      Thanks for the blog recommendation! I’ve read her book – it’s great, very challenging. I didn’t know she had a blog :).

  4. Roberta Harrington says:

    Great idea about covering meat with a bowl instead of foil. Why did I not think of it? Saves money that is certain.

    I also put all scraps of compost into a blender and blend them with water. This mixture goes directly into gardens and eliminates compost bins which attract unwanted animals like racoons, rats, and mice. There is no unpleasant smell and liquified food scraps disappear into plants. I blend all vegetable, fruit peelings as well as egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags once or twice a day. No need to use a green bin which gets very smelly in the summer months in Canada where garbage pick up is every two weeks. Instead of items going to a landfill, this liquified blend nourishes the garden directly and no need to deal with above stated pests.

    We own a Bed and Breakfast and use all of our old face cloths, towels etc. as cleaning rags which can be washed instead of using paper towels. The idea to soak cleaning items in oxiclean is an excellent idea and one I will use.

    I do enjoy getting your articles on a regular basis and have always found useful ideas which I incorporate here in Canada. Wonderful to be in contact with someone so far from here. Thank you.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Roberta, it’s great to hear from you. I’m going to try blending our scraps and see how it goes. Thanks for sharing your tips. Mel

  5. We buy the reusable coffee pods for our Keurig. They work great! You just tap the old coffee grounds into the garbage (or sometimes my houseplants) and refill with fresh grounds. They can be thrown into the dishwasher every now and again.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      I didn’t realise they existed! That’s awesome. Win win. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you for making the point that there is no sense in buying ‘better’ eco-friendly items when you still own functional items for the same purpose. On several other frugal/minimalism blogs I follow, this point is often overlooked.
    It does the planet (and your wallet) no good to purchase more items when you already own some that get the job done! Thank you for that reminder!
    Like, I have WAY too many plastic food containers. I know this. But I am not going to chuck them in the bin and replace them with glass containers right now…I need to use them until they are not usable any longer, and THEN replace them with something better. So for now, I store food in them, leftovers, and find plenty of random other uses for them around the house. The cat toys go in a big one, I put small things in one for when I travel, office supplies get stored in old lunchmeat boxes. Not ideal, but still very very useful.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      I have a lot of plastic food containers too.

  7. I love these ideas Melissa this is what they should be teaching our kids in domestic science at school

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Amen to that!

  8. Lovely ideas ! And the french-press is actually a good substitute for a tea pot, so it’s a win-win !