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Lessons Learned from Starting Zero-Waste in the Kitchen

Written by Bea Reyes

I entered the year 2019 with the resolution to live healthier. After years of being sedentary and frequently consuming fast food, I realized it was time for a change.

I began the year following at home exercises on social media, going to the gym, and exercising with friends. I also started to find healthier recipes online. In this process, I came across the pages of vegan and zero-waste cooking advocates, such as Max La Manna, Merle O’Neal, and Anne-Marie Bonneau. Their recipes and practices not only encourage eating well, but also manifest mindful attitudes towards reducing our food waste and ultimately, our carbon footprint.

Coincidentally, at that time, I was also taking ecology and fish biology classes. My professors emphasized that our behavior, the way we consume and use resources, strongly affects ecosystems that support us in the first place. They taught me that food waste from the household and unsustainable food production not only leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, but also occupies billions of hectares of arable land and contributes to losses in terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. 

I was initially intimidated by such large scale problems and thought that whatever actions I make would be insignificant. However, after paying attention to my professors and environmental supporters, I realized that slowly changing my habits can already create a substantial impact. Thus, I’ve become more mindful of how I consume food, slowly incorporating sustainable habits in my daily life. Here are some lessons and practices I learned throughout the process that may help you start reducing kitchen waste. 

1. Less is more.

The key to reducing waste is to simply start consuming less. As I’ve stopped buying impulsively and purchasing unnecessary goods, I’ve learned to maximize the products I already have at home so that they won’t perish and go to waste. This perspective helped my family and me free up space in our kitchen, lessen clutter, and save time and money. 

You may start by cooking simple dishes that require minimal kinds of ingredients,  such as those from The Foodie Takes Flight and Minimalist Baker. Using smaller plate sizes allows you to control your food intake with the perception of feeling full. Try reducing the number of dishes if leftovers are piling up. Remember to be realistic in your decisions, investing only in the essentials. 

I made easy, no-bake peanut butter & jelly energy bites for my snack from the Minimalist Baker, using only six ingredients.

2. Preparation and organization are crucial.

Prior to going on grocery runs, my family and I prepare a list of goods we need to buy based on recipes we’d like to make. This helps to save time in trips and decreases chances of impulsive buying. I’ve also become more mindful of how I purchase by assessing expiration dates and taking note of what I already have at home. 

Organizing our pantry and refrigerator by putting older items in front has also helped us to use them as soon as possible before they expire. Properly preserving food items also prevents them from going rancid fast.

 

My family and I put food that should be eaten or used more immediately in the front of our refrigerator. We also mostly use reusable containers to store our items. 

3. Plants are our allies. 

Eat more vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods. Their cultivation does not contribute as much carbon emissions, water and land use, pollution, and wasted resources compared to the livestock industry. If you hate the taste of greens, try to spice up your recipe to make them delicious and suitable for your palate. And if you think you can’t totally give up meat and dairy, like me, try reducing your consumption first. Buying smaller portions of these foods can be the first step in making a large change in your lifestyle.  

Homemade ‘ice cream’ made of bananas and cocoa powder topped with granola


Instead of using meat, I used tofu to make ‘chicken’ nuggets.

4. Be resourceful and creative.

Bring reusable bags when going to the grocery or market and carry your own water jugs instead of plastic bottles when out for a run. Find leftover jars to store your grains. These small actions help to lessen plastic usage and to save money in the long term. 

Although we should, as much as possible, buy package-free products, many accessible goods, especially in this time, are packaged. Thus, I’ve instead learned to find innovative ways to make use of these supposed waste goods. From turning milk cartons to temporary pots for my plants to converting my pasta sauce jars into pen holders, I’ve untapped my creative potential and the material’s versatility. 

Growing scallions in a milk carton ‘pot’.

5. Make the most out of everything. 

One of the best ways to reduce food waste is to use every part of the product as much as possible. Most of us think that vegetable and fruit peels and tops should just be simply thrown away. However, I learned that these scraps can be repurposed in making food stock, sauces, and tea. Use fruit peels to flavor meals and to even naturally deodorize your household goods. You may also start leaving the skins on your veggies when you cook them. They are rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that are beneficial for your health. 

Start regrowing vegetables and fruits at home. My family and I have begun to save and plant the bottoms of scallions and seeds from peppers and tomatoes for planting with the help of this guide from DOST-PCAARRD. Many of these vegetables don’t require as much space and time as you’d think. You can even start by placing jars of water with onion bottoms on your window sill. 

Our family’s red bell pepper plant has been growing for around three months now

Scallions can initially be grown in a glass jar with water before transferring them to pot and soil when they get larger 

If your scraps are wilting, however, try composting to enrich the soil and aid the growth of plants. Composting also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and sequesters carbon from the air. 

Be sure to save your leftovers as well! It would be such a waste of resources to simply discard them. Store them properly for future eats! Feel free to spice up your leftovers into a new dish! 

As a beginner in this lifestyle, I know that there is more to learn and do to heal our planet, even outside the kitchen. While I do not live completely waste-free, I realized that my small imperfect actions are contributing to a bigger difference for our environment. And so can yours. Let’s create a sustainable food chain together! 

Bea Reyes is a recent graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman, with a major in biology. She is an incoming medical student, hoping to integrate functional foods and holistic wellness in her future practice as a physician. Currently, she enjoys practicing and learning more about sustainable living, self-care, and fitness and strives to share these interests with other people. In her free time, she loves creating healthy food recipes, listening to inspirational podcasts, staying active, and traveling with friends and family.