Do you always have leftovers? Often end up throwing bread crusts in the bin? Does the cheese lie forgotten and mouldy in your fridge?
You are not alone.
Food waste makes up about half of the average waste disposed of by each household in Singapore daily; with rice, noodles and bread being the most commonly thrown items. As a society so proud of our food tradition, with hawker centres and ‘makan’ being central to our plans and conversations, it is troubling that we aren’t doing better.
The good news is that we can all do our part to tackle the issue of food waste, starting from our own homes! There are many ways to make our kitchens more eco-friendly, including considering the right packaging, right storage, knowing the dates, using the correct appliances and many more!
In this guide, we’ve created a list of zero-waste kitchen strategies and tips. Use them to run a more environmentally friendly home!
1. Smart Shopping
The adage ‘nip in the bud’ is the perfect place to start. In Singapore, out of the 1.6 million tonnes of domestic waste disposed of in 2018, one-third was made up of packaging. So if you are serious about establishing a minimal waste kitchen, cut the trash at the point of purchase. Here’s how:
Needs Before Wants
Make a weekly menu so you can plan your grocery shopping. The important thing to remember here is to draw up a list and, ahem, stick to it! “Buy one get one free” sounds like a great deal, except when it turns to “ate one, threw one forgotten”! Don’t overstock or overfill that buffet plate, that’s just a slippery slope to wastage.
A pretty simple life hack to minimise plastic waste in your kitchen is to carry reusable bags and even containers when you go grocery shopping. Yes - you need plastic bags eventually to bag your kitchen waste and throw it down the chute in Singapore - but food packaging makes its way into our kitchens in so many ways - be it the large bags of rice or the plethora of bread bags. Consider reusing these for your trashing needs instead.
Run an eco-friendly kitchen by consciously ditching single-use packs, and opt for items with less or no packaging at all. Yes, there are zero waste stores and markets in Singapore that make this possible! Be it the sacks of chillies in Little India or the mounds of nuts at Fu Lu Shou Complex or the tapped jars of handmade soap in zero waste shops - there are many shopping centres that will let you take the low-waste road.
Carry your own shopping bag and prefer package-free stores to reduce your plastic load.
2. Mindful Cooking
Cutting waste at the point of purchase is not enough for a low-waste kitchen. Carry your efforts through to the point of action - the kitchen - for tangible impact. Here are top tips for zero-waste cooking:
Store Like A Pro
Let’s face it: many of us have, at one time or another, uncovered hidden food at the back of the fridge that went bad before we knew it, and had to be tossed out. Wouldn’t it be great if food could last longer? Well, yes, it can! Give a try to mesh and cloth bags in the fridge - they help fresh produce last longer by wicking away condensation. The freezer is another powerful food saving tool - be it herbs dunked in olive oil inside ice trays, or tomatoes frozen as a puree, or berries stoved as-is - enlist your refrigerator’s help to extend the life of your herbs, fruits and vegetables.
Mind the (Date) Gap!
Regularly check the expiry of canned and packaged food to consume before they go bad. But while you’re at it, keep in mind that ingredients can often be used even beyond their “best before” and “sell by” dates. Use your judgement to see if the ingredients have really gone bad or can be used in edible ways.
Pack A Punch
Durable food grade containers should be your go-to choice for storing groceries. As for dry foods - metal bowls, ceramic serve ware and glass containers are some convenient and attractive alternatives to easily-scratched plasticware. And if you have been wondering how to win the fight against clingwrap in the kitchen, do so with plates, ‘orphaned’ lids from ‘missing’ containers or even beeswax wraps.
Invest for Life
Many of us love teflon-coated non-stick utensils. After all, they are convenient, easy to use and lightweight. On the flip side, the non-stick coating is toxic and wears off after repeated use, creating the need for frequent replacement, and increasing the waste coming after your kitchen. To avoid this, use pans and pots with a longer life made out of stainless steel or cast iron. Yes, they cost more at the point of purchase, but they are more cost-efficient as they can also last decades!
No Leftovers Left Behind!
Meal planning is fundamental to achieving this aim. Check the jars at the back of the pantry and bowls at the back of your fridge before you set about deciding the menu for the day. Follow that up by cooking in quantities that can be finished in one seating. And finally, aim for a clean plate at the end of the meal! If you have leftovers, freezing them for reuse as lunch or dinner later is the easiest path to a no-waste kitchen.
3. Minimal Disposing
Food offcuts and peels are usually tossed in the bin - but in fact they store nutrients that have much more to give! Use kitchen scraps resourcefully in these ways:
Save the Scraps
One creative opportunity we all have to maximise the potential of food is to repurpose and upcycle! Bread crusts can be dried and blitzed into breadcrumbs. Nutrient-dense peels can be easily incorporated into “recipes” for cleaning products and face masks. Even traditional recipes can be tweaked for the saving goal: our top tip is to boil vegetable offcuts - such as onion skins and carrot peels - and add seasoning to create a vegetable stock.
Go for Gold
Try your hand at making compost, also known as black gold. Before you ask - yes, even an apartment can house a compost kit without attracting pests and cresting smelly odors - head here for a beginner’s guide to learn the process. Your garden will thank you for the nutrition!
Not only is composting a simple and easy way we can do our bit for climate change, but it also produces a nutrient rich compound that feeds our soil.
4. Smart tools
Modern kitchens cannot do without energy usage - but they can do with energy saving!
Whether it’s a dishwasher, fridge or a blender, buying a refurbished or a second-hand appliance is a more planet-friendly option. If you have to purchase new, opt for high energy efficiency when choosing appliances (at least 3 ticks!)
Cooking processes do not always need a big whirring appliance, especially in daily, small-batch cooking. Use manual options such as handheld whisks and mortar and pestle for the daily grind. They are not only convenient and easy to clean, but they are energy-smart too!
Food for Thought
Going zero-waste in the kitchen might seem like a daunting task, especially with the hundred other to-dos to juggle on a daily basis. But all it really requires is planning! Caring for the planet is a fringe benefit.
More FAQs on Low- and Zero-Waste Kitchen Tips
Is Zero-Waste Really Possible?
It definitely takes effort, and for some of us, a 100% zero-waste kitchen may not be the most feasible. That said, you can still run a low-waste kitchen and reduce wastage!
How Can We Reduce Waste in the Kitchen?
There are countless ways! Simple steps include freezing or reusing leftovers, opting for reusable containers, planning your meals (and grocery shopping) carefully and more.
How Do You Do Zero-Waste Grocery Shopping?
There are many zero-waste stores and markets in Singapore that encourage you to bring your own containers when buying food, spices, and even toiletries.
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This article is authored by Secondsguru, a social enterprise empowering communities towards greener living. With its offerings of corporate workshops and community projects, Secondsguru focuses on solutions that make sustainable living fun, creative & practical for all. Website | FB I Instagram