From food packaging to cleaning supplies, the kitchen is a vortex of disposability

CC BY 1.0 Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

Wastes are made in the kitchen.

Consumers are now accustomed to the conveniences of plastic and our kitchens are full of the evidence. Refrigerators hold plastic jugs, meat in films and coated paper, bags of produce, condiments in squeeze bottles, or packets from takeout or delivery. Snack bags and pouches sit on shelves and cabinets house plastic-lined boxes.

A significant amount of this packaging, meant to be used once then thrown away, are “difficult-to-recycle” complex materials and small sizes not accepted by curbside programs, and destined for the trashcan. But food and beverage packaging is just some of the many wastes made in the kitchen.

For our health and well-being, things need to be clean, so it’s no coincidence that many of our household and cleaning supplies are used and stored in the kitchen. Much of this packaging is also unrecyclable; for example, the trigger heads of spray bottles made of metal springs and different plastics require separating to be recycled, a process that is too labor intensive or expensive.

Made from different combinations of plastic and designed to be disposable, the sponges, dish brushes, floor mops and disinfectant wipes we use to clean our kitchens are headed for landfill. In a fast-paced world it is easy to toss a grungy sponge, wipe or paper towel after it’s done its job. In fact, this disposability is often a selling point.

But even durable items, such as cooking utensils and kitchen appliances once built to last, are made so inexpensively that they have a short useful life. Many spatulas, coffee makers, measuring spoons and countertop devices today are made to wear out or break and be replaced, rather than repaired.

Most of the waste we create is generated in the kitchen; that’s where the food is. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some ways to give more consideration to the things we use in the kitchen:

Recycle your recyclables

This one seems like a no-brainer, but is easier said than done. To many, highly recyclable paperboard boxes, aluminum cans and glass and rigid plastic bottles are considered disposable, with little stopping residents from tossing them in the trash. Now, with the recently added tariffs, some of what you put in your blue bin may not be recycled.

Don’t give up! Call your local recycler and ask them exactly what they accept, and how to prepare your bottles, containers and cans for a smooth trip through the materials recovery facility (MRF). Ask if there are drop-off points for plastic shopping, produce and bread bags, items the MRF can’t handle, and if there’s anything you can do as a resident to help your municipality recycle more.

Find new solutions

Public recycling may not have caught up, but most kitchen waste is technically recyclable. An effective solution for your discarded kitchen items, even in an uncertain recycling system, is TerraCycle’s Kitchen Separation - Zero Waste Box. We can recycle any non-recyclable and non-organic waste that is generated in the kitchen, including food packaging, storage, appliances and cleaning supplies.

Organic waste can be a challenge, especially with about 200 industrial composting facilities in the United States serving less than 5% of the population, but it too, has value. If you have a backyard, a compost bin funnels the nutrients in your food scraps and yard trimmings into a home garden or your lawn, and with a little thought, indoor composting can be as easy as you make it.

Change your consumption

While important, recycling is a reaction to the greater issue of our buying too many things that are perceived as disposable. So many products and packaging are single-use because it is easy, inexpensive and convenient to buy new items that can be thrown way. Figuring out what we are really want from the function of our purchases may steer us towards ones that are useful for longer, without sacrificing convenience.

For example, today, we use tin foil and cling wraps to cover bowls of leftovers, half used onions and portions of avocados we have yet to eat. Reusable beeswax food wraps, such as these by Abeego®, are relatively inexpensive, can be used over and over up to one year, and come in various sizes that breathe, keeping food fresh and intact. These serve the same function as the disposable aluminum and plastic sheets, and can be composted at the end of their life.

But, the most sustainable kitchen items are the ones you didn’t buy. As plastic enables more food, drinks and “stuff” to reach more people all over the world, it allows us also to own more things. Thinking about buying only what food, supplies and appliances you need is a critical task in reducing your impact.

From food packaging to cleaning supplies, the kitchen is a vortex of disposability
Wastes are made in the kitchen.