Zero Waste Week: trying to go plastic-free? Easy eco-friendly kitchen swaps

Madeleine Howell
Could you achieve a zero-waste kitchen?

Today marks the beginning of the 12th annual Zero Waste Week, an independent campaign raising awareness of the need to reduce the amount of waste that ends up either in landfill sites or floating in our oceans- and this year, the message comes with more urgency than ever before. 

In October 2018 the world's leading climate change scientists warned that we have 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which will result in far greater risk of catastrophic floods, droughts, extreme heat and innumerable deaths. 

The zero-waste movement has gained a huge amount of traction in the last year, with supermarkets pledging to go entirely plastic-free by 2023, the launch of the first EU-wide strategy to fight plastic waste, and the ever-growing popularity of zero-waste shops, offering fill-your-own stations and plastic-free solutions for household products. 

Climate change activists are even gaining celebrity status, with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg gracing the cover of Time Magazine, GQ, Wired and most recently, Vogue's September 2019 cover. 

But while we can't all be expected to forego air travel and take to the seas in a £4m yacht like Thunberg, there are plenty of surprisingly small changes and swap we can make to cut back. Here are a few easy tips and zero-waste swaps for cultivating eco-friendly habits in your own kitchen - changes that won't necessarily break the bank.

Loose vegetables

Buying loose fruit and vegetables is one of the simplest ways to cut back on plastic. “Purchasing loose fruit not only cuts down on plastics but also reduces food waste, by encouraging you to buy the amount you actually need for the week,” explains a Whole Foods Market spokesperson.

Often, it pays to plan a trip to a larger supermarket, market or greengrocer for more choice when it comes to loose fruit and vegetables. Just remember to bring your own re-usable bags - these Veggio Carrinet bags are a great option for loose fruit and veg, avoiding the need for single-use paper bags when you get to the weighing machines. 

Loose vegetables

According to an investigation by Money Saving Expert published last year, it can also be a wallet-friendly option: the reporter found that everyday fruit and veg including mushrooms, apples, courgettes, broccoli and bananas were significantly cheaper to buy loose rather than pre-packed when purchased at the same store.

However, in a more recent investigation this year, Money Saving Expert criticised supermarkets for “penalising” environmentally-conscious consumers after they found that some products in plastic packaging were sold for less than their fresh equivalents. If you’re swapping to loose produce, it pays to shop around for the best prices. 

Food storage

The way you store your food also has an impact. Try the Fresher for Longer disc from EcoEgg, which lasts for three months, and keeps food fresh by absorbing ethylene gas, which slows down the decay process (read our guide how best to store different foods here).

Grease proof paper or Bee’s Wrap (set of three assorted size wraps, £13.00, Amazon) is an  alternative to disposable plastic clingfilm, which has just been launched in Waitrose and John Lewis.  Bee's Wrap is reusable, biodegradable and compostable, and is made from organic cotton, sustainably harvested bees wax, organic jojoba oil and tree resin.

Ditch the cellophane clingfilm in favour of stretchy silicon lids or Bee's Wrap

You could also try out the new generation of stretchy re-usable silicone lids and covers available, which can adapt to cover everything from ramekins and trays to pineapples (head to Waitrose for a variety pack of microwaveable Covermate food covers, £2.20).

Coffee

A  more "conscious" cup of coffee in the morning is another way to make a difference. The mixed material coffee capsules and pods found in single-serve coffee machines, for example, are notoriously bad for the environment - but you can still source biodegradable options. 

However, as with vegetables, loose coffee is the best way to go. It’s also becoming more widespread, especially among those who prefer a French press or cafetiere coffee, or like to experiment with grinding their own coffee beans or brewing their own cold-brew coffee at home. “We have seen sales in loose coffee and tea increase year on year. Customers tell us they like being able to buy less but buy fresh - all the while reducing waste food and packaging. It also encourages them to experiment more,” explains a spokesperson from Whole Foods Market.

With MPs calling for a 25p "latte levy" on disposable coffee cups, and Pret, along with a number of other food and drinks outlets, now offering 50p discounts on coffee if you bring your own cup, there’s a real buzz around reusable options such as the fashionable Ecoffee cup (I particularly rate my William Morris print one for providing cheer on cold mornings), made with natural bamboo fibre, is dishwasher safe and has no nasty plastic aftertaste.

Cleaning products

Re-thinking everyday cleaning products such as machine washable dishcloths and scrubbers is another good place to start.

If you seem to get through a disproportionate amount of non-recyclable, grubby washing-up sponges and scrubbers, it might be time to clean up your act. A silicon dish scrubber makes for a good swap, and since it’s washable and reusable, it’s also cost-effective.

Furthermore, it isn’t such a breeding ground for bacteria as traditional sponge or wire scrubbers - so it’s a means of improving kitchen hygiene, too (according to a recent study by Scientific Report, analysis of kitchen sponges found them to be “microbiological hotspots” with the capability to collect and spread bacteria with a “probable pathogenic potential”.)

The KoTop dish scrubber (£6.99 for 3, Amazon) is dishwasher safe and heat resistant, and Swiss brand Kuhn Rikon have a rather snazzy Stay Clean Scrubber with over 5,000 bristles (£9.50 for 2, Amazon). If silicone doesn’t appeal, you could try a Safix coconut fibre wash pad (£6.50 for a pack of 4, Save Some Green). As well as being biodegradable, they’re kind to hands and nails, and promise not to scratch non-stick pans.

You might also consider investing in a greener dustpan and brush, such as the wood pulp and recycled plastic brushes and brooms from Greener Cleaner.

We also recommend the reusable bamboo towels from EcoEgg (£9.01, buymeonce.com). They also have a plant-based Power Degreaser (£14.99), which is effective without enlisting the help of harsh chemicals.

Edible packaging

While this may all feel a bit Willy Wonka, edible disposables - such as wheat bran bowls and plates and seaweed food wraps - are tipped to  enter the mainstream.

Tis month, Diageo, the world's largest producer of spirits, announced that they are to launch a range of edible straws in collaboration with online drinks retailer 31Dover.com, to be paired with popular pre-mixed drinks such as Baileys Iced Coffee (chocolate straw), Captain Morgan and cola, and Pimm’s and lemonade (strawberry straw).

Buy in bulk

Buying in bulk saves on unnecessary packaging, and also works out cheaper - it just takes a little more planning, and requires space for storage. The industrial-sized bags of rice in Asian supermarkets spring to mind, and you can buy everything online from cereal to almonds, lentils to apricots from Suma Wholesale and Planet Organic - but you’ll find bulk buys in most supermarkets across the country.

Those in London are lucky to have plenty of choice: nutritionist and wellness blogger Madeleine Shaw recommends Hetu, a vegan zero-waste store, in south London, and eco blogger and TV personality Kate Arnell points to Bulk Market in East London.“With a growing list of refillable items available, from grains, pulses, pastas, oats, seeds, nuts, spices, salt and herbs to harder to find items such as maple syrup, honey, yoghurt, cream, nut butter, essential oils, cosmetic clays, loo roll cleaning products and even dog food, it really is a one-stop shop for almost everything,” she says.