My Zero Waste Kitchen

I love what Annie Leonard says: “There’s no such thing as ‘Away’……. When you throw something, it ALWAYS goes somewhere”.

She nails the whole Zero Waste concept in that simple comment. So if you’re a newbie to Conscious Living and Sustainability, and just wondering what this entire ‘Circular Economy’, ‘Zero Waste Kitchen’ jargon is all about, Annie Leonard’s comment is a great place to start.

Zero Waste Means: Throw Nothing Away!

For the most part, hubby was okay with the whole Sustainable Lifestyle shift and was all in on reducing our use of plastics as much as is practically possible.

But when I started talking about Zero Waste, he didn’t quite understand How it was all supposed to work.

“Sounds to me like Zero Waste means you don’t use stuff in the first place! How do you Not Have any waste?” was his question.

Valid Point, right!

When you think it through, there’s no denying it: There must be waste produced in the process of daily living. Take a look; each time you –

  • Cook, you have vegetable peels and fruit peels left from peeling the ingredients.
  • Eat your chicken or steak. There will be bones leftover.
  • Brush your teeth. You spit out the toothpaste and the rinsing water.
  • Do your laundry. The washing machine dispenses the soapy water down the drain.
  • Wash utensils or clean the house, there must be wastewater from these processes.

So How Practical Is a Zero Waste Kitchen in Reality?

Zero Waste is a lifestyle goal to work toward once you’ve decided to Live Consciously. For the most part, Zero Waste is an idealistic situation; it is a perfect scenario that cannot be attained perfectly.

Although 100% attainment of a Zero Waste Kitchen is not possible, we can try to aim as high as possible through Responsible –

  1. Decisions,
  2. Shopping and purchases, and
  3. Consumption.

We can attain some level of a Zero Waste Kitchen through the 5R Principles that I mentioned in my post Plastics and Conscious Living:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

The end product (or by-product) from totally using up a resource, what we refer to as ‘waste’, must be biodegradable; it must have the capability to rot or disintegrate completely, without contaminating the earth.

Let’s take another look at the five previous examples of daily activities that generate waste, to see if Zero Waste could be attained.

Daily Activity Zero Waste Potential
  • When you cook, you have vegetable peels and fruit peels left from peeling, de-seeding, or removing the cores.
  • Near 100%
  • Reason – Fruit and veggies waste is entirely biodegradable
  • When you eat your chicken or steak, there will be bones leftover
  • Near 100%
  • Reason – Bones are inherently biodegradable
  • When you brush your teeth, you spit out the toothpaste and the rinsing water
  • Low – Medium Potential for Zero Waste
  • Reason – Unless organic products are used, the chemicals used in toothpaste, mouthwash, flossing, etc., products may not be 100% biodegradable. Also, the tubes and containers may be plastic.
  • When you do your laundry, the washing machine dispenses the soapy water down the drain.
  • Low – Medium Potential for Zero Waste
  • Reason – Unless organic products are used, the chemicals used in soap products may not be 100% biodegradable
  • When you shower, wash utensils or clean the house, there must be wastewater from these processes.
  • Medium Potential for Zero Waste
  • Reason – Unless organic products are used, the chemicals used in soap products may not be 100% biodegradable

Zero Waste Transitions – Kitchen Comforts

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.”

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

A young couple preparing groceries for cooking

The average person spends at least 1 hour of eating per day. The time varies; people eat faster in Canada and North America, but those in Europe and Asian countries take much longer. Take a look at this analysis:

A chart by Statista showing where people spend the most time eating & drinking


In Malaysia, food is a massive part of our culture, and we spend at least 40 minutes on main meals like dinner (not counting cooking time).  So when I showed the tabled analysis to hubby, he automatically picked out food and eating as the first target for our Zero Waste transition.

Reasons Why to Start with the Kitchen!

It just made sense to start with the kitchen. These are the reasons why we thought the kitchen to be the best place to start.

  1. If you are starting a new project or a big task, quick wins (small tasks that are easy to implement) are a huge motivation. We did not have to over-analyze the facts on food: we need to eat to live, we buy it almost every day, it is biodegradable. Simple.
  2. Like every other person, we have to eat every day, and probably upwards of 2 meals daily. Food, drinks, and the kitchen as a whole generates a lot of containers, packages, and waste. The main reason for this is the frequency with which we eat, as well as the variety of food and drinks we consume.What we had to re-think was everything else around food and eating; the source, containers, packaging, and what to do with the leftovers and waste. So this is the place that would have the highest impact in Living Sustainably.
  3. We already had some supplies of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and detergents. So it did not make sense to toss them out and buy or make more. So we decided to use up our existing supplies, as we researched the options available at our local stores, and planned our next purchases. Changing toothpaste brands and organic sourcing options for soap and detergents would take a little longer to settle into.

Zero Waste Kitchen – Plastic Dilemmas

The guiding principles to making our kitchen as close to Zero Waste as possible were still the 5 Rs:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

From plastic wrapping to plastic containers; Plastic is Everywhere!
Dealing with plastic is a whole blog post on its own, just because there’s so much to be said about it.

Plastic is so pervasive that dealing with what you’ve already bought (and trying not to buy more) can easily make you feel overwhelmed. It does not rot, which is the whole dilemma about using and managing it in a Conscious Lifestyle. The options we’re left with are to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle the plastic.

Recycling Plastic

After sorting household waste into different categories (paper, glass, metal, plastic, and organic), the next logical step is to have them disposed of.

What Goes into Our Plastic Recycling Pack?

  • Water bottles
  • Single-use plastic bags and wrapping (cling film falls under this)
  • Carrier bags that are damaged or that we don’t plan to reuse or donate.
  • Extra takeout containers that we don’t plan to reuse or donate
  • Disposable cups, straws, plates, and cutlery

Recycling bins for plastic, cans, and paper

Everything that’s got plastic in it. While we do our part to have our plastic kitchen waste properly segregated and sent to the recycling center, not all plastics can be recycled. Plastic that does not get recycled in Malaysia gets incinerated. The rest just ends up in landfills, and because it is not biodegradable, the pollution problem continues.

Drinking Straws and Takeout Cups Aren’t Recyclable?

The National Geographic did an insightful article on 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Plastic (and Recycling) that opened my eyes to the realities about recycling plastic. Did you know that plastic drinking straws and takeout coffee cups cannot be recycled?

This surprised me. This article explains that there’s a whole technique in sorting out what goes into the actual recycling process, and unfortunately, a lot still gets left out, ending up in landfills or burnt.

Let me just say that I am not an activist. But now that I am aware of some of these facts, it makes me more determined to Live Consciously. My life can no longer continue down the same path of passive concern.

In my opinion, I believe that the sustainable approach to the plastic dilemma is to Reduce the amount of plastic we use or to Refuse to buy or use plastic products. Let me share with you how I am Reducing and Refusing plastic in my kitchen.

7 Tips to Reduce Plastic in the Kitchen

“I’m sorry, but I have to end things between us. The thing is, I have changed – we don’t see life the same, so we just can’t be together anymore. I’ve decided to move on with my life and explore my options.”

That’s my Break-Up Speech with plastic. If only it were as easy as ending a relationship as we know it. Since recycling plastic is not an end to the Plastic Dilemma, the more sustainable solution is to reduce the number of plastic products we buy. More than that, I believe we also need to refuse plastic-wrapped products where we have a choice.

So here’s what we are doing for our zero waste kitchen transition:

Refuse Single-Use Plastic

Just don’t buy single-use plastic-wrapped on food as much as possible. In many places, this may not always be easy, because foods such as cold meats and dairy products are packaged in plastic. So I am realistic to the fact that this particular transition will be gradual.

Refuse Take-Out Plastic and Styrofoam

This is especially the case with cups and dishes. Styrofoam is made from toxic ingredients, depends on petroleum, and creates pollution when it burns. Worse still, styrofoam is not biodegradable and can last in the environment for over 1 million years.

This will also mean that when we go out for a meal, and there are leftovers that we want to carry, we need to ask about the type of packaging they will be using.
P.S: I’m not sure how hubby will handle this. Bummer!

Reuse Plastic Containers

Try to reuse plastic containers from previous purchases as much as possible. Since we already have these containers anyway, the sensible thing to do would be to keep reusing them as long as we can.

Use Glass and Clay Containers

We have always used a mixture of clay and glass storage containers for our rice, spices, legumes, and other dry foodstuffs. So we will add onto these, and probably get some mason jars with bigger capacity (64 ounces/ 1.9 liters). I think we will add a couple of smaller ones too, for freezing small portions.

Bigger containers are great storage options for dried foodstuffs like breakfast cereals, lentils, rice, and legumes so that we can buy less frequently.

Shop for Fruits and Vegetables that Last

Shop in adequate amounts to last a week and learn how to make soups, sauces, jams, and pickles that I can either freeze or store some of them longer. Less frequent purchases mean reduced packaging & wrapping to throw away, which is a step in the right direction.

Buy the Biggest Package of Dish-Washing Detergents

Since we hand-wash our dishes, we usually have to buy detergents and cleaning products that are packed in plastic containers. We have decided to buy bulk products, especially those that are available in 3 – 5-liter solutions. We then portion the solutions into our handy 500ml bottles for daily use.

He Loves Coffee. I Love Tea!

A cup of coffee on a table covered with coffee beans, and cinnamon sticks in the cup's tray

We have been buying sachet-packed instant coffee, and hubby is particular on the brand he likes. So to start with, we are going to make a switch to ground beans that we can use in a coffee machine. I’m going to have to go easy on that particular transition so that I don’t lose his support on all these changes…… Baby steps, right!

For my tea, I usually buy loose tea leaves because I love brewing it with added ginger, masala, or cinnamon. My switch has been easy because I can buy bigger packs of tea leaves and transfer to an air-tight jar.

Well, there you go! Those are my top 7 Tips to Reduce Plastic in the Kitchen. I’m sure there’s so much more that you probably do, and we would love to hear from you on what else works for you.

Look What We Found!

We just had to share these nifty Food Savers that are a must-have for your kitchen.

Food Huggers

Food Huggers are these smart tops and lids that are handy helpers in your Zero Waste Kitchen. The mission of Food Huggers is to reduce food waste and replace single-use and disposable foods by preserving them.

Love Avocados?

You’ve got to get yourself a set of these customized Avocado Huggers, which even have a clever pit-pocket. The thing I love with these is that the pit pocket is designed to fit your avocado, with or without the pit.

Take a look at the rest of their amazing collections here, and order yourself a set.

Please write to us and share what else you’re doing to reduce the amount of plastic in your kitchen.

In my next post, I will share my experiences with Zero Waste for Kitchen Leftovers. Malaysian cuisine generally uses a lot of ingredients, which in turn generates lots of scraps and waste. Some people throw theirs away, and others stew their scraps. Keep it here to find out what I do with my scraps.

Start Living Consciously!

You will also love my post on Zero Waste for Coffee and Tea Lovers, to see what amazing things you can do with Coffee Grounds. Stuff like face and body scrubs – So cool! Keep it here for more of this.


What other Zero Waste things do you do at home? We would love to know: Drop us a line on any of our Social Media handles and share your thoughts and experiences with us.

Let’s Do This Together!




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