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ROOTS

Ellen Humphreys is an actress, freelance content producer and micro-influencer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Born and raised in Oklahoma, trained in Boston + refined in Los Angeles, she’s chosen the high desert as her home base to build a career as a creatrix, thinker + writer. A devoted stewardess of the Earth and the life around her.

ROOTS is an everyday resource for a mindful + beautiful life, built on the values of integrity, responsibility, practicality, and authenticity.

Waste Less Guide: Kitchen Edition

Note: This entire blog post is shoppable at this link. Prime Day is this coming Monday, July 16 and you can get a 30 day free trial of Amazon Prime by clicking here. That means you can order this whole, waste-less kitchen set and it will ship for free!  (And if you’re a student, you can also get 50% off your membership!)



I’ll spare you the statistics, since you can find them in any and every blog post on this topic, and because you already know. That plastic waste-island in the Pacific is now twice the size of Texas. Schools are being built atop our bloated and toxic landfills and making kids sick. My addiction to disposable products is literally killing my planet and its inhabitants… and yet still I find myself using paper towels and plastic bags? Why??

I know that part of the problem is that it’s just really hard to tell how much waste we’re creating. The infrastructure in the United States allows citizens to be completely removed from our trash. In an apartment building like mine, garbage just disappears into one of several giant dumpsters. If you live in a home and take the trash to the curb once weekly, you’re able to see how much you make in a week, but that’s still only measuring what you throw away while at home.

I recently made a big move, and took that as an opportunity to transition to a less-wasteful home. I’d already done the obvious: reusable shopping bags, water bottle + coffee thermos, but I found that my kitchen, in particular, made so much trash. I live on a tight budget and cook/eat almost entirely at home, so I can’t hide from the waste I’m producing, like we tend to do when dining out.

I knew it was time to make a mindful plan for my kitchen, but there are some things I’m not quite ready to let go. This Waste Less guide isn’t going to transform you into that girl who went viral a few years ago for “living totally trash-free” (and then created an outrageously expensive store from the idea...) — because the fact is, most of us don’t have the broad financial means or the flexible lifestyle to make that happen.

But the kitchen is one place we can probably all do a little better. I did all the googling so you don’t have to — here’s your easy-to-follow, Waste Less Guide for a beautiful and mindful kitchen.

 

Step 1 - Shopping

When shopping, it’s key to plan ahead and bring the right supplies. But other than that, you just gotta do the best you can. Unless you live in an area with an amazing affordable bulk store, we’ll all have to buy items packaged in plastic at some point. Even though it costs me a little more, I switched my grocery shopping from Trader Joe’s to Sprouts when I realized that TJ’s packages  everything  in plastic, including really unnecessary and wasteful stuff — like wrapping three zucchinis together in plastic, on a styrofoam board.   I get that we all have to shop at a place that’s convenient and affordable for us. But in any grocery store, where we can best avoid plastic is in produce, spices + nuts/grains. Try reusable mesh  produce bags ,  spice tins  (seal ‘em with a rubber band - I keep old ones from fruit containers, etc.!) and glass  jars , respectively. Take a photo of each type of container on a kitchen scale and keep it on your phone to show the cashier — you should only pay for the weight of the food, not the container.

When shopping, it’s key to plan ahead and bring the right supplies. But other than that, you just gotta do the best you can. Unless you live in an area with an amazing affordable bulk store, we’ll all have to buy items packaged in plastic at some point. Even though it costs me a little more, I switched my grocery shopping from Trader Joe’s to Sprouts when I realized that TJ’s packages everything in plastic, including really unnecessary and wasteful stuff — like wrapping three zucchinis together in plastic, on a styrofoam board. 

I get that we all have to shop at a place that’s convenient and affordable for us. But in any grocery store, where we can best avoid plastic is in produce, spices + nuts/grains. Try reusable mesh produce bags, spice tins (seal ‘em with a rubber band - I keep old ones from fruit containers, etc.!) and glass jars, respectively. Take a photo of each type of container on a kitchen scale and keep it on your phone to show the cashier — you should only pay for the weight of the food, not the container.

 

Step 2 - Cleaning

Find all the disposable items in your kitchen and try to figure out ways to use sustainable products instead. Swap your paper towels and dish sponges out for these versatile, washable, completely biodegradable cellulose  rags . Pro-tip: microwave 1 minute or otherwise sanitize them once a week, and always squeeze out excess water between uses to maximize their lifetime. Stock up on thrift store rags or organic cotton cloths to replace the  napkins  in your life. I use  Borax  (which comes in recyclable cardboard) to get dirty rags super clean.

Find all the disposable items in your kitchen and try to figure out ways to use sustainable products instead. Swap your paper towels and dish sponges out for these versatile, washable, completely biodegradable cellulose rags. Pro-tip: microwave 1 minute or otherwise sanitize them once a week, and always squeeze out excess water between uses to maximize their lifetime. Stock up on thrift store rags or organic cotton cloths to replace the napkins in your life. I use Borax (which comes in recyclable cardboard) to get dirty rags super clean.

 

Step 3 - Eating

Refusing single-use plastic is the new Save Darfur tee. While businesses should ( a  nd must ) take the lead to reduce waste at the source, we as consumers can buffer plastic from our oceans in the meantime. Reusable straws come in a bunch of different materials, and with convenient features like carrying cases and included cleaning brushes. If you work a 9-5, bring a lunchbox with a set of utensils.

Refusing single-use plastic is the new Save Darfur tee. While businesses should (and must) take the lead to reduce waste at the source, we as consumers can buffer plastic from our oceans in the meantime. Reusable straws come in a bunch of different materials, and with convenient features like carrying cases and included cleaning brushes. If you work a 9-5, bring a lunchbox with a set of utensils.

 

Step 4 - Storage

If there’s one purchase I can recommend above all others, it’s the Ball jar. I have dozens of Ball jars, each holding anywhere between 4oz and 1/2 gallon, and I couldn’t possibly name all their uses here. They are obviously effective drinking glasses and storage containers. I also serve sauces in small, wide-mouthed jars and brew my iced coffee in a big one. I use all the same brand of jars so that I can have one storage unit for all the identical wide-mouthed lids, and never have to worry about losing or mis-matching a jar to a lid. Whatever your preferences, I highly recommend having as many matching pieces as possible to make food prep and storage seamless.

If there’s one purchase I can recommend above all others, it’s the Ball jar. I have dozens of Ball jars, each holding anywhere between 4oz and 1/2 gallon, and I couldn’t possibly name all their uses here. They are obviously effective drinking glasses and storage containers. I also serve sauces in small, wide-mouthed jars and brew my iced coffee in a big one. I use all the same brand of jars so that I can have one storage unit for all the identical wide-mouthed lids, and never have to worry about losing or mis-matching a jar to a lid. Whatever your preferences, I highly recommend having as many matching pieces as possible to make food prep and storage seamless.


Don’t beat yourself up when you forget and mess up — you don’t have to be perfect, but each day you do remember, you do a little more good. Try the yogic practice of detachment (Aparigraha), choosing not to stress about the waste you do create, and instead focus on the changes you can make to do good.

Remember that it’s literally impossible to be perfect in this practice of wasting less. Our government does a bad job regulating what businesses can waste, and we only have the options available to us, in our immediate circumstances. You need to eat, and you want to live a beautiful and mindful life. So make the changes you can make, right now, and let go of the result. Remain conscious and reflective. Re-evaluate when you need to. You’re doing just fine, I promise.

Meanwhile, if you want to do more, check out the Plastic Pollution Coalition for more actions — donate, sign a petition, call your senator, and go on + invest in the mesh bags and metal straws. Everyone’s doing it. ;)