Ivana Steiner's Zero Waste Kitchen Is Revolutionary

It's designed with a place for everything except packaging and plastic.

Zero Waste Kitchen

Ivana Steiner

Seventy-five years ago, every kitchen was a zero waste kitchen. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky's Frankfurt kitchen of 1926 had a wall of bins to store ingredients without any packaging at all; Lenore Sater Thye's step-saving kitchen of 1949 had a place for everything, including giant bins for flour and sugar on one side, potatoes, and onions on the other.

Now Ivana Steiner of Vienna is trying to design a zero waste kitchen for today. She hit all six zero waste stores in Vienna, spoke with everyone, and started with lessons from Schütte-Lihotzky, noting that "at the time when housewives started working outside and the household had to work very efficiently in the kitchen. Every move in the kitchen with minimal distance."

Clothes Horse and Plants
Clothes Horse and Plants.

Ivana Steiner

"Almost a hundred years later, a new concept comes - we should dedicate our kitchens to the current climate crisis and combat it. The young people of Fridays for Future direct their focus to nature and away from the material world. They want to concentrate on the climate and its changes and take responsibility for each person. Zero Waste does not hope that politics and business will tell you how and when you will implement your environmental measures and goals, but rather that each of us can actively contribute to climate protection through a resource-saving lifestyle. Zero waste not only includes avoiding waste, but also how we deal with nutrition and cooking. If we concentrate on fewer, regional foods without packaging, we can actually implement changes in our immediate surroundings."

As an architect who has always been interested in the design of kitchens, I feel qualified to comment on the design here. However, when it comes to zero waste, I should defer to Treehugger senior writer Katherine Martinko, who tries to live a zero waste lifestyle and has written a great deal about it. I asked her for comments on this aspect of Steiner's project.

End of Kitchen

Ivana Steiner

The kitchen is built out of recycled stainless steel made in electric arc furnaces, and which lasts forever. While I am not enthusiastic about the graphic design and the hyphenated compost, there is a lot to like about the kitchen design.

"The zero waste kitchen functions as a large table around which you can gather to cook or eat together. The structure consists of an elegant form made of stainless steel with areas for glass containers, baskets for regional fruit and vegetables, a worm box, storage space for multi-purpose glasses for dairy products, linen bags and pouches and a vertical herb garden. For the vertical herb garden, a daylight lamp is needed for the plants if the kitchen is too dark. The humus comes regularly from the worm box and can be used for the herb garden. It is also possible to grow certain types of vegetables."

Martinko notes: "Having a built-in herb garden and worm composter both make a lot of sense. Those are the types of things that people often want to get into, but may not bother initiating; this way, you're set up for success because the maintenance is integrated into how the kitchen functions."

Frankfurt kitchen

Frankfurt Kitchen

A big difference between the Steiner kitchen and the ones designed by Schütte-Lihotzky and Sater Thye is the way everything is stored in jars instead of bins, as can be seen on the right in the photo of the Frankfurt Kitchen. In many ways, this probably produces even less waste; no need to deliver flour in big sacks. But also, it is easier to shop at the zero waste store.

Bottle designs

Ivana Steiner

"The trend towards more unpacked shops, mostly in urban areas, can be observed. The food is not packed there but stored in glass containers. The ingredients can be transferred to a glass container with scoops or funnels that you bring with you. There should be three types of containers. Once for rice, barley, various grains and once for oils and again small ones for spices."
Food Containers

Ivana Steiner

A problem is that the jars are behind other jars, it is not nearly as easy to find what you are looking for. However the jars are sealed, and it is probably a lot more sanitary. In our own home, we use jars for almost everything because of an unfortunate moth infestation, and they offer excellent protection. Martinko notes:

"This kitchen looks like a beautiful, inviting space to use. I see similarities in the way I designed my own kitchen during a recent renovation—no overhead cabinetry and pull-out drawers rather than cupboards for ease of seeing and accessing what's inside. I love the racks of glass jars, though I'd want them to be adjustable to accommodate the mishmash of jars that I collect from various sources and whose beauty comes from their unique shapes and sizes."
dish storage

Ivana Steiner

There are no upper cupboards and not a lot of storage for dishes. Steiner writes that "the 'zero waste' is based on a minimalist lifestyle where you only keep things that you use every day. Only a limited number of 12 deep plates, 12 flat plates and 12 small flat plates, 12 water glasses and 8 wine glasses are used so that not much storage space is required." There's no room for grandma's china here.

Double Sink in Kitchen

Ivana Steiner

There is no dishwasher, but there is a double sink for proper handwashing and a place to dry all the dishtowels. Steiner claims that this saves electricity and "a lot of water compared to the dishwasher." Treehugger has looked at this a number of times and found that in fact, dishwashers are more efficient. Those posts were also written before we discovered the importance of measuring the upfront carbon emissions of making things; the sinks will last forever and the dishwasher doesn't.

Worm Composting
Worm Composting bin.

Ivana Steiner

And of course, there is composting.

"Under the sink there is a stainless steel compost container called "the worm box" that you can cover. There all organic waste is converted from worms to humus. The worm box can remove biological waste and immediately produces the humus for the herb garden. The only things that cannot be decomposed in the worm box are bones, citrus fruits and garlic."
shopping bags
Shopping bags.

Ivana Steiner

We have often noted that food and cooking can be political statements, and this kitchen design certainly is. Steiner notes:

"You want to eat, cook and live sustainably. I took the liberty of taking the Fridays for Future slogans and stamping them on the refrigerator door and on the textile bags. "There is no planet B." Or "Don't meld my future" I would like to see the kitchen as a political revolution kitchen combined with a political message. The kitchen as a political instrument for sustainability. This community is young and takes to the streets for their rights. The community shows a strong sense of attachment."
extending panels

Ivana Steiner

It's a very European kitchen with lots of prep space (even these pullout panels, which Martinko wonders "whether they can support the aggressive kneading that occurs when making bread—which apparently is their purpose") and a teensy fridge behind the Planet B motto and a Euro-sized range and oven.

"I think the kitchen would be well-suited to a small European household within easy walking distance of grocers and other food markets," says Martinko. "Personally, I wouldn't be able to store enough food or dishes to feed my family of five for much more than a day, which creates extra work (and trips to the store) for me, so it wouldn't be my first choice—but I do think she's on to some great ideas here that would be great to see more widely adopted."

Steiner is also designing smaller versions for apartments. And, like Schütte-Lihotzky's Frankfurt Kitchen that was going to liberate women from the drudgery of cooking, it is designed to be revolutionary. Steiner concludes:

"I was 10 years old in 1989 when the east-west revolution in Europe started, the people were going to the streets, now they could start in the kitchen and change our idea of food and their preparation."

Designing for zero waste is indeed a revolutionary idea, and we need more of it.