Zero Waste Week: Kitchen and Food Swaps

The kitchen, the whole kitchen, and nothing but the kitchen (except the beginnings of the dining room and lounge)
The kitchen, the whole kitchen, and nothing but the kitchen (except the beginnings of the dining room and lounge)

In my second post for Zero Waste Week, we’re going into the kitchen! Renting in rather-pricey North London means that our kitchen is on what estate agents optimistically refer to as the ‘cosy’ side. On one hand, this is good for zero waste living as there’s very little space for over-shopping, either in the cupboards or the fridge (not that it’s doesn’t happen sometimes!). On the other, batch cooking is curtailed by a single freezer shelf and buying numerous large items in bulk is out.

Here are some of the good habits I’ve managed to develop on my ongoing zero waste journey:

Tea

Loose tea is available to fill my own bags with from the ever-wonderful Earth Natural Foods in Kentish Town, where everything comes in beautiful self-serve glass jars. This week, WestyWrites also mentioned on Twitter that a number of Whittard’s branches have refill options, where she reports that they were happy to refill her own container.

If you don’t mind the possibility of a small amount of plastic in your teabags (who knew?! Polythene Pam at Plastic is Rubbish, that’s who), but don’t want the horrible crinkly unrecyclable plastic-y foil and the extra layer of unrecyclable plastic round the outside as per a normal box of tea, there is another option! It’s certainly a bulk option, and we have had to give over a whole kitchen shelf to it – but tea is very important! Catering-size packs from Cafedirect come in 440 and 1100 bags, and are available in paper sacks. Never be without tea again, in fact, always be with lots and lots and lots of it. These big sacks can also be rather good for reusing for garden waste collection, especially if you have a little pocket-handkerchief sized balcony and no room for a compost bin.

In case you haven’t guessed from the above, I’m more of a tea than a coffee person. I save that for dining out, when it comes more stylishly made than I could hope to do! If anyone has any good links for zero waste coffee at home, please share 🙂

Washing up

It’s easy to have a bit of a zero waste nightmare with both washing up liquid and whatever you use to wipe it on your plates. I was rather alarmed to see a warning about the chemicals in it causing harm to aquatic life on a bottle of ‘regular’ washing up liquid the other day. No animals, no matter how tiny, should be having to suffer for my washing up!

There are lots of brands that have formulations that are much kinder to both your hands and the environment, including Clear Spring, Ecover, Bio-D….

Ecover washing up liquid is available to refill in lots of places, which is my preferred option. If you’re in Central London, you can do it at The People’s Supermarket (which provides even more exciting refill options if you read on…), which you really should because they also have an awesome selection of loose fruit and veg, and amazing bakery-fresh bread. Ecover have a very helpful refill locator on their website, and they really do seem to be everywhere. If your nearest one isn’t that convenient, perhaps you have space for a 5l bottle of washing up liquid which you can refill?

These washable, reusable cloths and sponges can be popped in the wash every week or so, ensuring you’re not clogging up the bin with those little plastic sponges that disintegrate every few weeks 🙂

Herbs and spices

Why not grow your own? Perhaps because like me, you can start them off quite well but then they mysteriously die off just as they’re getting big enough? Although I do have a lovely chocolate mint plant kindly given to me by a friend who was optimistic/silly enough to place its life in my hands.

I really need to stop harping on about Earth Natural Foods so will just give the briefest of mentions to its huge refillable range of herbs and spices in lovely giant glass jars. Other good options I find to be Asian and Eastern grocery shops, where herbs and spices can often be found in satisfyingly larger-than-supermarket bags.

If you’re a fresh herb type of person, I think it’s better to buy unpackaged cut herbs than a plastic-potted-and-wrapped ‘living’ pot, the latter of which I can usually kill off even quicker than homegrown ones. Once you’ve found your supplier of lovely bunches of fresh herbs (greengrocers and markets usually the best for this) then it’s important to keep them good as long as possible. The best technique for this I’ve found is to put them in a small glass of fresh water, and keep them in the fridge.

If your herbs are starting to get a bit floppy, my advice is pesto them up! Whilst basil is traditional, coriander and almond pesto is delicious with naan bread, and parsley and walnut pesto is delicious in pasta, in sandwiches or even a cheeky spoonful straight out of the jar! One tip I have (which may alarm pesto purists, but you may already be alarmed by now), is don’t bother with the cheese – the taste is virtually the same and it lasts 3-4 times as long in the fridge.

Woodier herbs like thyme and rosemary will take a lot longer to decompose, and can be dried easily enough if you’re reaching a critical point.

Rather excitingly, a random stop in a shop I passed the other night, Mother Earth in Islington, I found a refill option for salt. Fancy pink Himalayan sea salt, no less.

Wine

Refillable wine is guilt-free wine right? In that case, Borough Wines let you refill their own bottles over and over, once you’ve made your initial purchase from them. Also available at The People’s Supermarket (I told you they were good) and I hear there are also wine refills in the Unpackaged section of Planet Organic in Muswell Hill.

Obviously the most zero-waste option is to brew your own booze. If we ever upgrade to more luxuriously-sized living, this is definitely on our list! If you don’t mind going on a waiting list, there’s a rather awesome initiative in Southwark called UBrew, where people can go along and rent brewing space to make their own beer. How cool?

Fruit & veggies (and what you bring them home in)

This is a great area to start if you’re new to zero waste, as there are options pretty much everywhere! Markets and greengrocers are in pretty much every town, with a wide selection of fruit and veg free from packaging. Even larger supermarkets usually have a range of loose produce available.

Lots of people now take large canvas bags when they go out shopping now, but you’ll probably want to put your items into smaller bags too. One thing on my to do list is to make some small fabric produce bags. For now, I reuse bags from other products I haven’t been able to get packaging-free, and wash and reuse them over and over. Paper bags get a shake out and a brush off, and folded up to be reused until they completely disintegrate. If you feel a little bit shy about doing this (and yes, I have occasionally had some funny looks from staff), reuse the bags from that shop instead of throwing them away – no one will notice if they’re just looking a bit crumpled – and then you’ll still be using much less packaging overall.

Some people love a veg box delivery, and they can be a great way of supporting local farmers and getting fresh fruit and veg even if you can’t go out market shopping during the day because you’re stuck at work! It’s not something I choose to go for, partly because there’s nowhere to leave a box of veg outside our house, but I also like being able to pick exactly what ingredients I like, rather than a lucky dip!

Although not completely packaging-free, one option if you live in London, is Farmdrop. It works as a hub for a number of food producers. You do your shopping online, choosing from ranges of not just fruit and veg, but dairy, eggs, meat and bread, and they can either deliver to you, or to a nearby drop off point. Ours is a shed in the garden of the local pub, meaning you have an excuse for a pint as well as doing the food shop! I don’t always use Farmdrop, as it does still come packaged in paper bags (and even some plastic, grrr), but for the time-pressed, it’s definitely a more local and eco-friendly way to shop.

Everything here came packaging-free: eggs, veg, fruit, cheese, olives, bread and wine (plus pot of mint in the background which is a whole 4 weeks alive so far!)
Everything here came packaging-free: eggs, veg, fruit, cheese, olives, bread and wine (plus pot of mint in the background which is a whole 4 weeks alive so far!)

Well, I hope everyone has had a lovely Zero Waste Week for 2015! It doesn’t stop here of course, but having a week to celebrate the enthusiasm of so many people committed to reducing their rubbish (and hopefully their carbon) footprint is awesome. I feel very happy to have talked to, and read the posts and blogs of, so many other people who care about this at least as much as I do if not even more, you’re an inspiration!

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8 thoughts on “Zero Waste Week: Kitchen and Food Swaps

    1. Thanks for the tip, I may need it. I went to order a bulk bag yesterday and it looks like CafeDirect have swapped their paper sacks for crunchy plastic! Perhaps I can convince the Mr to join me down the loose tea route 🙂

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  1. Great post! I wish we had all of these options and then some. I live in BC, Canada, and we have a store in our town with bulk items, which is also where I self-fill my coffee (I love tea too, but more of a coffee person ;)). I do prefer loose leaf teas. I haven’t found that many from Twinings, and some of their packaged tea has foil covers (maybe it’s different for imports?). I managed to join Zero Waste Week UK (we don’t have one here yet), so I’m happy to see you did very well!

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    1. Thanks for the lovely comment 🙂 I found somewhere that does loose fill-your-own chocolate buttons yesterday, so I’m very happy indeed. And Zero Waste Week is definitely for everyone everywhere!

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    1. Hehe! I have now discovered the problem of wine refills if that I feel a lot less guilty about cracking it open midweek, because “it’ll need to be refilled in time for the weekend anyway”. I think a second reusable bottle or some self-control is in order…

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