Zero Waste Kitchen Essentials

If you're looking to go zero waste, the kitchen is a good place to start. In traditional American homes it's the altar to the Packaging Gods, and it's no coincidence that it's the room where a household's largest trash can sits. So, today I'm sharing some of the tools I use in my kitchen to stay litterless. I hope these tips prove helpful to you.

-Cotton bags: I use these several times a week at the grocery store or farmers' market. I put produce or bulk dry goods directly into these bags, eliminating the need to use the static-y single use plastic produce bags that the grocery store offers. Mine come from Simple Ecology, whose customer service & commitment to quality I can't recommend highly enough (not sponsored - just true!). You could also make your own from scrap fabric or old towels, or search around for a local store that sells them.

-Cloth napkins and towels: These obviate the need to purchase (and throw away) paper napkins and paper towels. Purchase a few at a local store (or even make them!), and then throw them in the wash once a week.

-Jars galore: Dry goods bought in bulk need to be stored in airtight containers so that they don't go stale. Ball jars, Weck jars, old peanut butter jars - anything here will do! I use a motley crew of assorted jars picked up here and there, and they work just fine.

-Funnels: Tired of beans bouncing across my countertops as I tried to pour them from cotton bags into their jars, I finally purchased two funnels. One has a narrow neck (used for transferring liquids to different containers), and one has a wide mouth that is perfect for pouring dry goods. Though you don't need these, I find that I now use them several times a week and love how easy they make pouring - plus, I waste less food when I use them because it ensures that all of the food is transferred to its new container, none to the floor.

-Wooden & natural bristle brush: I'm planning to write more about the tools I use to wash dishes without making trash, and this brush is key. Plastic sponges aren't recyclable and need to be replaced frequently after they acquire that old, dirty sponge smell. (My coworkers call it "sponge hands," for the way your hands smell after using them!). This brush lasts longer and can be tossed into the compost when it finally wears out. I purchased mine at a local Sur La Table store, but Life Without Plastic also has many great options.

-Ingenuity: A devotion to living trash-free takes a pinch of down-to-earth common sense and the willingness to think on your feet. Figure out what tools you never use (can opener? offset spatula?) and give them away to local charities. Think of what you can repurpose to eliminate the need for something else (perhaps a napkin can be tied in a bundle to keep your fork and fruit clean on the road, for example). I love the constant, pleasing challenge of making my kitchen more streamlined and sustainable.

Finally, here's a secret: my kitchen is way more beautiful these days since I stopped buying goods packaged in plastic and started relying on the tools above. Ever wanted to have one of those pinterest-worthy kitchens, all linen napkins and foods lined up in jars? No need to hire a personal prop stylist or a magazine photographer - just start moving towards a zero-waste kitchen and invite your friends over to ooh and aah.

Any other essentials to add, or tips & tricks to share? What tools are you reaching for these days?