Though the dinner table can get divided by pineapple on pizza, it should be an undeniable fact that food waste and increased plastic use is presently a prevalent issue. Most of the time, plastic packaging is not reusable or recyclable. Especially in the kitchen, there are lots of easy switches that can be taken in order to produce less waste and become more environmentally friendly.

In the past few months, I’ve become particularly mindful of the impact I am leaving on the Earth. Over the summer, I came across some YouTubers who participate in a zero waste lifestyle. While being zero waste is extremely challenging in today’s time when ready-made items are so much more convenient and even fresh produce comes with packaging, I have adopted a few simple ways to live sustainably without breaking the bank.

Reusable Shopping Bags

Erika Zhang

Here in California, many grocery stores and some retail shops charge for plastic bags, so this was a switch I’ve been accustomed to for years. Some bags that stores distribute are made from paper, which can easily be recycled; however, it is only so long before the bag rips and you find yourself having to buy another bag.

That is why reusable shopping bags are so great—they can be used for a long time and save you money each time you head to the store. My favorites are foldable and collapsible bags which take up close to no space so they can easily be kept in backpacks, purses, or even your car glove box for your next shopping excursion.


Erika Zhang

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, of the items thrown away in 2015, around 22% of all waste consisted of food scraps totaling over 23.4 million tons. These high numbers are concerning, not only because they do not show signs of decreasing, but also because food waste contributes over 6.7% of the greenhouse gases emitted. 

Composting is a great way to prevent food from ending up in the trash. Composting uses various organisms such as worms to turn food scraps into fertilizer and recycle essential nutrients back into the soil. If your city’s garbage collectors have a service for food and garden waste, it is really simple to compost as you just need to collect your food scraps and then put them in the bin that gets collected.

#SpoonTip: Refer to this handy guide about what you can and can't compost. 

In my apartment complex, there is no green waste collection. Instead, my roommates and I collect our food scraps in a small bin lined with a compostable bag. Once filled, we bring our bags of compost to one of our college campus’s compost bins. From there, the food is taken and then turned into fertilizer, ensuring that even eating food is sustainable and environmentally friendly.

#SpoonTip: If you do not have access to compost collection in your area, you can start your own—all you need is a box, dirt, and some food scraps!

Mesh Produce Bags

Erika Zhang

In produce aisles, there are rolls of bags to place your fresh produce in. Unless they are compostable bags, these bags are made from plastic and will not be reused most of the time. Additionally, even though they are a few grams at most, they add weight to the item you are purchasing, causing you to end up paying for the plastic bag along with your item.

Instead, a great way to replace plastic produce bags is to use mesh bags. These mesh bags can be reused over and over again and can be washed with your laundry load. Additionally, if you get ones like the one I purchased, they can have a tare weight on them so you can ask the person ringing you up at the grocery store to deduct the weight of the bag; that way, you are only paying for the items you are buying and can save money in the long run. 

Repurposing Containers

Erika Zhang

Similar to using mesh produce bags, repurposing containers from items like salsa is an excellent way to save money and be environmentally friendly at the same time. By repurposing containers—particularly glass ones—you are able to give that packaging additional uses prior to recycling it, and you can spend less money purchasing tupperware or storage containers for items like flour or sugar. 

Quite a few of my repurposed containers have come from salsa, yogurt, ham, and peanut butter jars. These all range in shapes and sizes, and they are perfect for many uses. For instance, I use ham containers for meal prepping, larger yogurt and peanut butter jars for storing dry goods such as sugar or oats, and taller jars such as barbecue sauce bottles to chill water in the fridge. The containers have endless possibilities and can be reused for years before needing to be replaced, if ever. 

Revitalizing Ingredients 

Erika Zhang

Last and most definitely not least is revitalizing ingredients. There have been many times where ingredients or prepared dishes have vanished into the back of the fridge, only for me to find it two weeks later and immediately place it in the compost bin. If you are anything like me, chances are your fridge might also have some foods that are nearing their expiry or best by date. Not only is this a waste of your money, but it is also contributing to food waste.  

You can also repurpose ingredients to use in new recipes. For instance, you can turn overripe bananas into breakfast cookies or banana ice cream, and you can steep left over packets of red pepper flakes from pizza in olive oil to make chili oil. With prepared dishes, placing them in the freezer instead of the fridge extends their shelf life—all you need to do is thaw, heat, and enjoy.

An additional step you can take to help decrease food waste is by using a service such as Imperfect Produce, which delivers “ugly” or misshaped produce that cannot be sold at stores. By getting produce from such services, you are helping limit food waste two fold: by preventing misshapen produce from being thrown away and by using each ingredient to its fullest in your kitchen. 

With ever increasing food options and people in the world, everyone should take control of the impact that they are making, and the kitchen is a great place to start. By making easy switches such as taking your own grocery and produce bags the next time you shop, or even reusing the containers from items you purchase, you can take steps to make your kitchen a more environmentally friendly one.