My 5 Favorite Zero Waste Kitchen Hacks

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©. Melissa Breyer

With a tiny investment and a little foresight, you can do away with a lot of unnecessary waste.

I know that a "hack" in the predictable sense is something that would spring from the brain of MacGyver and involve some uncanny and unconventional problem-solving. Here I am playing more of a long game, and my hacks may be more grandma-style than MacGyver, but they've saved me loads of money and waste in the kitchen.

1. For disposable party plates: A stack of vintage bread plates

Seventeen years ago I picked up a pile of 20 pretty mix-matched six-inch bread plates (some of which are shown above) for a shower I was hosting. They came from a thrift shop and cost nearly nothing. I have never bought paper party plates again. They have served birthday cake for a combined 31 years of kids' birthday parties, they have taken the place of snack napkins at numerous cocktail parties, they have held an uncountable number of snacks, and they have even been used for ... get this, bread.

2. For paper napkins: A drawer of linens

Cloth napkins for paper ones – the idea certainly isn't anything new. But for anyone still unsure if this is a reasonable option, I am here to tell you that yes, it is! We have two drawers full of cloth napkins, some have been gifts, some have been homemade, many from vintage shops. We have then in all sizes and various degrees of formality – from small vibrant pom-pommed ones to large crisp antique lace ones, and lots of casual cotton and linen ones in-between. I have a household of miraculously tidy eaters, and we only wash them once they are soiled, so it doesn't add much to our laundry footprint. And it's just so much nicer than rubbing paper on one's face.

3. For plastic cups: A case of party glasses

I have a case of restaurant wine glasses that I keep in a closet, and they have been used for every party I have had since owning them. They are sturdy and apparently indestructible, and have saved me more plastic cups than I can count. Not only it is waste-free, but things just look and taste better in glass than in plastic.

4. For paper towels: A box of retired textiles

Paper towels are a hard one to give up, especially if you have small children and pets in the house. Somehow, I made the break and now the idea of having to buy paper towels over and over again makes me cringe. Rather than tossing old sheets, blankets, towels, t-shirts, jeans, for anything that can't be used or worn by someone else, cut them into squares or rectangles of various sizes and employ them for messes instead. You can also retire overly used / stained cloth napkins to the rag bin as well. Sometimes they need to be tossed in the laundry after one use if it's an icky spill or used on something that may be germ-ridden, but other times they can be rinsed and used over and over throughout the day or days.

5. For plastic food storage: A hodgepodge of hacks

In a drawer that once held saran wrap, zipper plastic bags, and aluminum foil now lives an assortment of non-single-use food storage supplies. It's not an exact science, but a mix of stainless containers, old jars, glass storage containers, wax wrappers, cloth produce bags, jumbo rubber bands (to hold wax / cloth covers on bowls), and my one guilty single-purpose indulgence, an avocado saver (a gift from my kids that has saved more avocado halves than I can imagine, even if it is the kind of plastic gizmo that usually makes me grimace). See more ideas here: How to store leftovers without plastic.

I know that none of these are all that revolutionary. MacGyver would be shaking his head at me, and then craft an emergency napkin out of a fan belt and some leaves. But for anyone looking for testimony that simple switches can become just as comfortable as the wasteful conveniences of paper and plastic – these hacks are for you.