When I pause to think where the trash from our garbage bins goes, it’s a little overwhelming. It doesn’t just magically disappear. Instead, it’s dumped in landfills or burned. And as recycling becomes less the norm, even the feel good notion of recycling more than we trash is evaporating.
But there is hope. And hope lies in being more sustainable in the kitchen.
Food waste adds up. Between the coffee grounds, vegetable peels, and stems alone, it’s a lot filling up trash bags. But why send that nutrient-rich refuse to the dump? Many items considered food waste can actually be used and reused.
Meanwhile, single use items like resealable sandwich bags, plastic wrap and disposable plates also can add up. So what’s a responsible Earth dweller to do?
It’s simple: Waste less.
Trade Plastic Wrap for Beeswax Wrap
Reusable beeswax wrap makes wrapping up leftovers and storing food a cinch. And when you’re done with it, you just wash it and reuse it. This is available in stores throughout Maine including locally at The Willie Wags in Downtown Bangor and the Natural Living Center in Bangor.
Trade resealable sandwich bags for reusable ones
Sure, plastic bags are convenient. But they are also very wasteful. Instead, purchase a few reusable ones. They can be washed out easily and reused daily without waste. Check local stores and craft fairs for these or check out the selection on Etsy.com. I purchased lined ones with a Velcro closure that we love.
Trade plastic containers for glass ones
If you have a set of reusable plastic containers you love, keep using them. But as they break, consider replacing them with glass ones. A variety of options in many sizes are available from companies like OXO and Pyrex and can be used to store leftovers, pack lunches and more. I was gifted a set of Pyrex ones several years ago and they’ve become my go-to for all things food storage. Not only do they wash well and resist discoloration (a pet peeve of mine) but they are also super durable.
Trade single-use bags for reusable bags
As more and more towns in Maine move to discourage or ban the use of single-use plastic bags, take the hint: Reusable ones are better. Purchase some (I prefer canvas, but ones made from recycled materials can be great too) and store them in your car so you don’t forget them. Also, fold one up and tuck it into your work bag and/or purse so one is always at the ready. And your reusable bags don’t have to be limited to shopping bags. Reusable produce bags are sturdier than the flimsy single-use bags and are readily available. Better yet, make your own reusable bags and produce bags from clean old clothes.
Don’t Toss These
Lemon and lime rinds
When you juice lemons and limes (oranges and grapefruits too), don’t toss the rinds. Instead, store them in a freezer-safe container (in the freezer) and pull them out to zest. Citrus zests add a nice burst of flavor to foods, and frozen rinds are super easy to work with. Hint: A little balled up towel inside the rind makes it’s easy to hold while zesting.
When you peel onions, carrots and other veggies, stick the discarded peels in a freezer-safe container. Also toss in the scraps from chopping veggies. As long as they are well-washed (hint: no dirt), they are perfect to hold onto. Once you have several cups of scraps, toss them in a pot of water, bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Voila! Vegetable stock.
If you happen to buy marinara sauce (in particular the ones that come in nice, thick jars) then you want to hang onto those jars. They have so many uses from storing leftovers to packing layered salads to crafting. Those jars can hold your random collection of nails or screws. They can store ribbon for wrapping. They can even hold your homemade pet treats.
Make Smarter Choices
Don’t roll your eyes. This is serious. When you buy less, you waste less. Better yet, plan your meals for the week (yes, all of them) so you can purchase just what you need for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Then stick to the plan.
Shop in bulk
Not only is it more wallet-friendly (seriously, bulk bins are big money savers for staples like rice, flour and beans), but it means you only have to buy what you need when you need it. Bulk bins, which you can find at stores like Tiller & Rye in Brewer, the Belfast Co-Op and the Natural Living Center, are excellent for eating sustainably and lowering your waste. Only need a cup of rice this week? Just buy a cup of rice from the bulk bin. Need just a little bit of nuts or seeds for a recipe? Buy exactly what you need.
Think before you buy
There was a time when I would walk into stores with their inexpensive, flashy $1 or $2 products. And I would be enthralled. Itty bitty milk jugs for drinking out of? Why not? Diminutive chalkboards? Sure! But there’s a reason those items cost so little: they are cheaply made and constructed. In other words, they are just waiting to be trashed. So I don’t let myself be lured in by them anymore. If something just has that cute factor, consider not buying. You don’t need it. Maybe if enough of us reject cheap cute stuff, fewer stores will keep pushing it on us.
I am buying less new. Used furniture has always held a certain allure for me (love the Habitat for Humanity ReStore for this) and you can sometimes score great items in the kitchenware section of Goodwill. If you need something, consider thrifting for it. It might take a little more looking to find the pan, pot or plate set (or collection — I love a random collection of plates) that fits your needs, but it’s worth it for the environment, your wallet and our Earth.
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s April 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.