As someone from California, a state that has already seen the devastating effects of climate change, I know how important it is to reduce our individual and collective environmental impact. While switching from single-use plastics and paper products makes less of a difference in carbon emissions than, say, traveling less by plane, I still make it a point to reduce waste when I opt for reusable straws or snack containers.
If this is your first foray into the world of reusables and sustainability products, start with one or two products. Part of the appeal of disposables is that they don’t require a ton of thought or effort, but most reusables can be just as convenient to use (and will save you money in the long run). Once you get in the habit of using eco-friendly items, you’ll be able to add in more sustainable swaps into your kitchen over time.
Read on to see some of my favorite sustainable swaps that can help you create less waste in the kitchen, from a reusable pour over filter to our fave all-natural dish scrubber.
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A Low Maintenance Sustainable Swap
If you’re looking for the absolute easiest way to reduce single-use waste, these Swedish dish cloths are a great alternative to paper towels. They’re super-absorbent, can be cleaned either in the washing machine or dishwasher, and they can be composted when they reach the end of their lifespan (~100 washes). I like this set from Amazon because of its muted, abstract design.
A Longer Lasting Scrubber
These Japanese vegetable scrubbers have a cult following, and for good reason: they’re made with natural palm fibers instead of plastics, and last much longer than traditional dish sponges. The palm fibers are tough enough to clean out caked on food on pans, but gentle for delicate surfaces. You can also hang up your Tawashi to quickly dry, which will keep harmful bacteria at bay and ensure a long life for your scrubber.
An Ingenious Tofu Press
I started cooking tofu more often at home as part of an effort to eat less meat, but I hated wasting paper towels to squeeze the moisture out (a necessary step for effective marination or achieving the perfect crispy edge). So when I saw this press on TikTok, I immediately ran to Amazon to purchase one for myself. Elastic bands sandwich an entire block between two slabs of plastic, and the excess moisture drains into a bottom reservoir for mess-free dumping. While I’m not typically a fan of plastic-made items that only do one job, this press is definitely worth it if you cook with tofu regularly.
This Reusable Pour Over Filter
As easy as paper filters are to use, the only way to dispose of them in a sustainable way is to compost it with the grounds. Most people won’t do that and they’ll toss it all out. Plus, once you factor in the resources used to make and transport those filters, it makes more sense to get a reusable one. If you’re a pour over coffee fan, this stainless steel filter can be used on its own on top of a mug or in conjunction with your existing setup. This model comes with its own cleaning brush, and it’s also dishwasher safe.
A Reusable Filter for Drip Coffee
If you’re a less discerning coffee drinker like me, you can also reduce single-use waste of paper coffee filters with your drip coffee machine. I’ve been using this GOLDTONE reusable basket for a few months and it’s more than holding up to rigorous daily use. It doesn’t leave a ton of sediment at the bottom of the pot like other reusable filters I’ve tried.
A Cotton Product Bag To Keep Veggies Happy
This produce bag is great for replacing single-use plastic bags for your veggies. The undyed organic cotton material creates the ideal environment for greens, carrots, and more to keep your produce fresh and crisp in the refrigerator. The porous cotton is actually better for keeping your vegetables happy in the fridge than plastic, so both your groceries and the planet will thank you.
The Best Plastic Wrap Alternative
If you often use plastic wrap to proof bread dough or store half-used produce, a beeswax wrap does a great job of sealing off bowls or minimizing oxidation on leftover avocados. These Bee’s Wraps are easy to rinse clean with cold water, and you can eventually replenish the wax coating with additional beeswax to extend its lifespan. I use these most for covering bowls of ingredients that need to soak or proof, but I’ve also folded up larger pieces to use as a makeshift snack container.
A Dishwasher Friendly Plastic Wrap Swap
These airtight silicone lids from Food 52 are also great for replacing single use plastic wrap, especially if you’re often too lazy to rinse and wipe clean reusable wraps (i.e. me). They use slight suction to create an airtight seal and come in a variety of sizes to fit over bowls, pots and even mugs. When you reheat leftovers in the microwave, they can act as a splatter-guard. The best part: they’re dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
The Perfect Container For Snacks
These silicone Stasher storage bags are perfect for storing snacks on-the-go or leftover portions in the fridge. Reviewers say that they use these bags to pack lunches or even to preserve unfinished chunks of cheese in the fridge. I rarely use resealable bags to begin with, but I can see myself using these Stashers not only to keep trail mix in my bag, but also as a dry bag for valuables at the beach or to use with meat in a sous vide bath. This 4-pack from Stasher is great for a variety of storage needs, and comes in a clear or aqua color.
If You Don’t Already Have Reusable Straws
I first fell in love with stainless steel reusable straws in college, and now have more than I’ll ever need because my family knows I care about sustainability and constantly gifts them to me. Back in ye-olde times pre-pandemic, I used to keep a few in my backpack with their fabric case, so I was always prepared at the coffee shop. These days, I rotate my metal straws with my daily iced coffee drinks, and my partner loves to use them with our highball glasses when making cocktails. This set comes with 12 straws with varying lengths and shapes, so they’re sure to fit in a wide variety of cups and bottles.
A Set of Chic Cocktail Straws
I know I just said I have more reusable straws than I’ll ever need, but I’m willing to make an exception to purchase these shorter cocktail straws. These stainless steel ones are shorter and won’t stick out as much in smaller glasses and look especially cute peeking out of a Moscow Mule mug. Plus, they make your bar setup feel extra-fancy.
Ditch Disposable Napkins for Luxuriously Soft Linen
Switching from paper napkins or towels to cloth napkins can help reduce waste, but also just makes your meals feel fancier. These linen napkins from Linoto feel soft and luxurious against your skin. A convenient label loop that can be used to hang the napkins or double as a napkin ring for an extra elegant presentation. I also love how Linoto’s napkins are a larger 21 x 21 inch size, which is useful for other kitchen tasks like drying dishes or wiping up small spills.
The Closest Thing To Single Use Paper Towels
If you love the convenience of traditional paper towels but want a more sustainable alternative, Marley’s Monsters UNpaper Towels are your best bet. The large cotton flannel cloths naturally cling together and can be rolled onto a tube to be used with a standard paper towel holder. You can also keep them in a drawer or basket. Once you’ve used the absorbent cotton towels, toss them into your washing machine and reattach them to your roll when they’re clean. While my Swedish dishcloths are my most used kitchen staple, I prefer the soft flannel texture of these for tasks like drying my hands or delicate wine glasses.
A Powerful All-In-One Cleaning Concentrate
While reusables get all the hype when it comes to sustainable products, using concentrates is one of the easiest ways you can reduce waste and your carbon footprint. Most household cleaners are heavily diluted, which not only creates unnecessary plastic packaging, but also creates more emissions to ship. This all-in-one concentrate from PUR Home not only can be used as a surface cleaner, but also to clean windows, dishes, and laundry. There are also several scent options, including a calming lavender, refreshing mint, and bright rosemary citrus. While the concentrate itself contains only 32 ounces of liquid, that’s enough to do 64 loads of laundry (to wash all your reusable napkins and towels), or fill several containers of dish soap and surface cleaners.
This All Natural Dishwashing Set
Another easy way to reduce waste is by ditching your stinky dish sponge (which, if you didn’t already know, is super gross). This dish brush and soap combo can help you get your dishes squeaky clean, all while reducing single use plastic waste both from sponges and dish soap bottles. The soap has orange and lemon essential oils for a bright, clean scent along with coconut oil, so that it’s gentle on your hands. I also love how the brush head is compostable, so it can continue to do good long after you’ve scrubbed it into oblivion.
For the Seltzer Aficionado
I like to always have seltzer and sparkling water on hand when entertaining, either as a palette cleanser between drinks, to make non-alcoholic drinks, or even in cocktails like a Paloma. What I don’t love? Throwing away single-use cans or bottles after a boisterous night in. I finally bit the bullet and bought a SodaStream two years ago, and haven’t looked back since. Even aside its sustainability benefits, I swear by drinking seltzer to calm an upset stomach and am grateful that I don’t even have to leave the house to get myself a much-needed glass. This SodaStream is electric, so you don’t have to worry about manually pumping the CO2 into the carbonation bottles.
An Upgraded Soda Machine
If you want a more fancy looking carbonator that’ll look gorgeous on your countertop, Aarke’s Carbonator is absolutely stunning, and has an easy-to-use lever to pump the CO2 gas. It’s compatible with SodaStream cartridges, so finding refills or cartridge swap sites shouldn’t be an issue, and the carbonation bottles are also beautifully designed.
For Those Ready to Start Composting
Composting may seem like a daunting task, but if you live in an area with curbside pick-up or that allows you to drop off compost, it’s as easy as collecting your food scraps at home and adding to it to a larger communal compost pile. This caddy is great for storing food waste throughout the week, and the 3.5L capacity is the perfect size for compostable bags or for carrying to your local community garden. The lid can be propped open so you can easily toss in bits of peel and veggie ends but also seals tight to help keep in less desirable odors. Just be sure to check with your local org to see what types of waste they can and cannot accept.
A More Sophisticated Composting Solution
The act of saving food scraps for compost is an honorable endeavor, but not necessarily a glamorous one. With simplehuman’s Compost Caddy, composting is just about as nice looking as it gets with a stainless steel body and an integrated hangar that works with simplehuman trash cans. There’s also an antimicrobial coating that limits the growth of bacteria, fungi, mold, and mildew — all great things when it comes to keeping the outside of your compost caddy odor-free.