Learning to cook sustainably is not only good for your wallet, it’s better for the environment and your health, too. Here are our top 5 tips for cooking sustainably, eliminating plastic and reducing food waste in our journey towards a zero waste kitchen.
Wandercooks HQ – An Environmentally Conscious Kitchen
At Wandercooks HQ, Laura and I live a very frugal and minimalist lifestyle. Over the years of running the blog and cooking together, we’ve become more and more environmentally conscious in the kitchen, making small steps where we can to make our processes better where possible.
We’ve achieved this so far by:
- Minimising food waste through new recipes, techniques or appliances.
- Shopping more sustainably with reduced plastic and plastic free purchases.
- Reducing plastic items around the kitchen from cling wrap and utensils to food storage and rubbish bins; and
- Shopping in bulk.
One of our biggest challenges has been shopping for Asian ingredients. It’s no secret we love cooking Asian recipes. We go through a LOT of noodles, sushi rice and dashi stock, so one of the difficulties for us has been finding plastic free ingredients for these recipes.
Then we stumbled across Naked Asian Grocer.
Finding a source for plastic free options for our Asian ingredients has been a gamechanger for us and the community. That, paired with our local Asian grocers providing fresh, local and plastic free produce – we’re now spoilt for choice for our cooking.
We felt compelled to write this post – which is completely different to our usual recipes each week – as we thought sharing the tips we’ve learnt along our zero waste journey, as well as some inspo from Jian at Naked Asian Grocer, could help you on your sustainable journey too. Enjoy!
5 Tips For an Environmentally Conscious Kitchen
1. Use glass jars for storage
Glass is much safer for storage. It’s thought that the chemicals in plastic can degrade over time, possibly leaching into food. So switch to glass jars where you can, but don’t throw away your existing plastic storage – look for other ways to use it or donate it instead.
We love using glass jars with bamboo or glass lids for almost all our pantry staples. Think rice, pasta, sugar – everything! You can usually find these at Op Shops or reusing jars from items like Moccona Coffee.
2. Adapt recipes
Recipes need only be a guide when it comes to cooking. We believe wholeheartedly in adapting a recipe to suit your tastes, diet or using up ingredients. Don’t be afraid to be creative and try something new!
Before cooking, check what you have available in the kitchen, then take note of the variations or substitutes in a recipe. You might find you’re out of strawberries for strawberry muffins, but can easily substitute them with the blueberries or raspberries in the fridge.
Recipes like soups and stews that call for a lot of vegetables are fantastic for using up the last tomato or 1/4 cabbage left at the back of the fridge. A great example is with our curried sausages recipe – our readers sometimes love to add sweetness by using up a handful of sultanas or even pineapple pieces!
If there’s a sauce you don’t have, you might be surprised how easy it is to make out of staple ingredients at the last minute, with no need to head to the shops.
2. Buy only what you need
At supermarkets especially, it can be hard to buy the specific quantity you need for a recipe. Not only that, but items such as meat are usually stored in single use plastic containers. Consider switching to buying from independent butchers or grocers, and ask if they will let you bring your own containers. If you must buy in single use plastic, look for recycling options in your local community.
A great example is with Naked Asian Grocer, we can buy their ramen noodles per serve. So knowing we go through a lot, we could buy 20 serves at once to last over a month or two. Rather than what’s available at the local supermarket, which sometimes only cater to 2-3 serves a packet!
What to Look For on Your Next Shop
- Bulk Foods – A lot of the bulk food stores near us have a “weigh and pay” system, where we can bring in our jars and containers to refill with the perfect amount. We may only need a small serve of raw nuts, but 5kg of flour!
- Plastic Free Packaging – Fresh produce, especially fruit and vegetables, are the easiest to buy without packaging. If your local supermarket has too much packaging, try a farmers market instead. You might be surprised at some of the food items available completely plastic free!
- Organic or Local Produce – Help support the local businesses in your area when you can. This can go a long way to reducing food miles and the impact on our environment. For items that must be imported from other countries, see if you can buy in bulk to reduce plastic waste (such as for rice, noodles, spices etc) through places like Naked Asian Grocer, or make them at home with local ingredients (such as Japanese sauces).
Don’t feel like you need to make all these changes at once. It can sometimes feel overwhelming, but always remember:
“Being sustainable is all about making small, sustainable changes you can implement in your life. No action is too small!”Jian, Naked Asian Grocer
3. Reducing plastic with your kitchen cleaning
Cleaning items can be a big source of plastic waste in the kitchen. Here are a few easy swaps you can make to avoid buying plastic bottles over and over again
- Make your own antibacterial kitchen sprays – they’re safer for you and your family, made from easy pantry staples, and they even smell better than chemical laden store-bought sprays. We’ve made orange, lemon and mandarin kitchen sprays – all from our families trees, which are all natural and give a use for the citrus peel.
- Dishwashing liquid and/or dishwasher tabs – these are easy to make at home, otherwise, look for dishwasher tabs that aren’t sealed in plastic or foil.
- Dish scrubber – use bamboo or wooden brushes where possible. If you already have a plastic brush – throw it in the dishwasher for a proper clean, so you can use it again and again instead of replacing.
4. What to do with food scraps
Food waste is a huge contributor to greenhouse emissions. Rather than throwing food scraps in your regular landfill garbage:
- Set up a home compost system or worm farm if you have the space.
- Place it in your council’s green waste bin – this valuable resource can then be used as mulch for community gardens.
- For veggie scraps, start collecting and storing them in the freezer. Once you’ve collected enough, turn it into veggie puree that you can then use to add extra nutrition into soups, stews and other recipes!
- Old fruit can be salvaged by using in smoothies, baking into cakes or popping them in a dehydrator.
- Don’t peel if you don’t have to! We rarely peel our carrots or potatoes any more. There’s extra nutrition in the skin anyway, so we just give it a quick wash and chop it up.
5. Replace the plastic utensils
Plastic utensils are not recyclable, fall to pieces easily and can eventually start to break down into your cooking – especially items like spatulas and tongs that are left on hot surfaces too long.
We’ve now replaced all our plastic utensils with either wooden or metal. Our most popular utensils in the kitchen are Sarah’s wooden wok spatula and cooking chopsticks which are both now over 8 years old, and still going strong!
Where to buy plastic free, bulk food in Australia and beyond:
Here’s some places we recommend checking out for your next zero waste shop online:
For our overseas readers, we recommend heading to Google and searching for your closest store nearby. Use search terms like:
- Bulk foods near me
- Plastic free foods and products near me
- Zero waste food near me
If you’re still unsure, ask your local supermarkets, butchers, delicatessens or shops if it’s possible to bring your own containers or bags for your next shop.
Questions and Tips with Naked Asian Grocer (NAG)
NAG: Most definitely need to transfer to airtight glass jars or containers. A lot of spices would lose their flavour or deteriorate if kept in paper bags. No specific container as long as they are clean, airtight and then kept in a cool, dry place.
NAG: Definitely the boxes – use it to store books, knick-knacks, whatever it is around the house! Use it to send other deliveries, wrap a present or use it to move house – the possibilities are endless.
As for the paper bags, yes, potentially for other items but not for food storage. Otherwise, throw them in the worm farm compost or recycle them! Paper can be broken down naturally.
NAG: 1.Plan, plan, plan. Always shop with a list so you don’t end up buying things you don’t need.
2. Eat things that are going bad first, so you don’t throw them out.
3. We love some good old “fridge-clearing” recipes, like fried rice or noodles, stew and soups!
Use up what’s in your fridge with these veggie-full and adaptable Asian dinner recipes:
Keep the conversation going. Drop your favourite tips in the comments below!