Our Home Editor Is Making Her New Kitchen More Sustainable—Here's How

Six simple ways to make your kitchen space more eco-conscious.

June 23, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food & Prop Styling By Alexis Anthony.

We’ve partnered with Lifestraw to share totally doable ways to make your home more sustainable. Here, Senior Editor Arati Menon highlights six simple ways she’s preventing waste in her new kitchen space.

Just like my family's kitchen in my childhood, my kitchen now is the beating heart of my home, fostering all the joy that comes from the eating and togetherness that occurs around food. As an adult, I've also become increasingly aware of the role of my kitchen in consuming material resources and producing waste. Between the shopping, meal prep, cooking, and cleaning, there’s a lot that’s either lost or wasted in there.

When my husband and I moved into a brand-new home two months ago, we saw it as an opportunity to make a few new resolutions. I realized that to make real changes at home, I’d have to begin with the kitchen, so I started to think about how I could make it as sustainable as possible. I had already eliminated plastic straws, set up a composting system, and carried reusable market totes—but what else could I do?

I began by identifying all the things that would allow me to avoid plastic, paper, and food waste, and started discovering that often, the small changes were just as impactful. Will our kitchen waste ever go away completely? Hopefully someday; but for now, here are six changes I’ve made that I believe will make a dent.

1. Check food waste at the door

Did you know that the average American adult will waste 6,180 pounds of food in their lifetime? Just saying that makes me feel guilty, so I’ve been making a genuine effort to limit my food waste. I plan my menus at the start of each week and shop accordingly. I organize my fridge better, storing foods that need to be finished on a shelf at eye-level so I know to get to them quickly, as well as labeling leftovers. I also try to stretch the life of fresh produce by using fruit and veggie bags, and storing herbs the right way (removing cilantro leaves from stems before storing them is a game changer).

2. Single out single-use plastic

I remember a time when plastic wrap was the workhorse of every kitchen. Not anymore. I’ve substituted mine with reusable beeswax food wrap, which works for covering bowls and wrapping sandwiches. My food-storage bags are made of organic cotton and can be washed and reused many times over. I also always carry a reusable shopping tote—mine fold into their matching pouches and are perfect for tucking away in my bag. Another tip: Instead of buying spices in single-use plastic jars, buy from the bulk aisle and have fun assembling your own collection of small glass jars.

3. Stay hydrated—sustainably

When I first met my husband, I cringed each time I opened his refrigerator and saw store-bought water bottles in there. (That situation changed pretty quickly!) We’ve since also traded most of our reusable plastic bottles—for some reason, we had six—for a single reusable water filter pitcher. My Lifestraw Home water pitcher is durable (even clumsy me hasn't broken it), produces crisp, clean-tasting water, and is so nice-looking it goes straight from kitchen to table. It’s a great reminder that sustainable products are often more durable, attractive, and nicer to use than their single-use counterparts. Another bonus? It has me reaching for a glass of water more than I ever have.

4. Swap out paper towels

One of the simplest ways to kickstart a sustainable kitchen makeover is by replacing single-use paper products with reusable cloths. I used to instinctively reach for paper towels to mop up spills and wipe counters, until I realized that an eco-friendly sponge cloth or simple, small towel will do the trick—as will rags made from your worn-out cotton sheets and old T-shirts. Just throw them in the wash when you’re done, and start again.

5. Examine your cleaning aides

Dishwasher pods, sponges, and dish detergent can all do a real number on the environment. As much as possible, I’ve been trying to avoid cleaning products that release chemicals in waterways, and synthetic materials that clog landfills (instead, I look out for recycled, compostable, and renewable materials instead). I’ve even been mixing up my own cleaning sprays, and decanting them into glass bottles that I can use over and over again.

6. Organize your trash units

I used to have assorted trash and recycling bins that were strewn all across my kitchen. I hated the way they looked, and found it annoying to have paper, plastic, and trash in different places. I now have a single trash can that consists of a composting bin, a trash compartment, and a recycling section all in one. It’s slim enough for apartment dwellers like us—or anyone who doesn’t want their refuse taking over their kitchen. Remember: The more accessible your recycling system, the more likely you will actually recycle.

What are simple ways you've made your kitchen more sustainable? Tell us in the comments!

Have great-tasting drinking water always at the ready (waste-free!) with help from our partner Lifestraw. The Lifestraw Home water pitcher filters out bacteria, microplastics, and more—and comes in a sleek and sustainable design that fits right in to any kitchen. Even better, for every product purchased, a school child receives safe drinking water for a year.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • klmkaren
  • Tiffany Egan
    Tiffany Egan
  • Katie
  • Arati Menon
    Arati Menon
  • Janice
Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


klmkaren January 3, 2022
We've taken the water bottles, filter pitchers one step further with an undersink filtration system, a bit costly, but I feel better about less plastic, and the water tastes great, about two filters per year.
Tiffany E. January 28, 2021
Love this post. We live in as close to a plastic free home as possible. Living healthier, more sustainable, more abundant, more empowered lives. And helping others around the globe do the same. I like to say change your water, change your life. 💦 @tiffany.m.e
Arati M. January 28, 2021
Thank you so much, Tiffany. And more power to you, and your journey towards sustainability!
Katie June 29, 2020
Instead of composting most of my vegetable scraps I have a container I add them to in the freezer. When it gets full enough (anywhere from 4-8 cups of assorted chopped bits: carrot tops, radish greens, trimmed celery, onion shells and roots, pepper cores, herb stems, etc) I toss them in a large stock pot with a glug of oil and steam/sautee them down, add any extra herbs (think bay leaf, thyme, chili flakes, S&P), cover it with a generous amount of water, and let that stew on the stove anywhere from an hour to 8. Voila, homemade veggie stock!
For the non-vegetarians: save bones and even bits of bacon fat, shrimp shells, salmon skin and add things like that, too.
Arati M. June 29, 2020
Yes, 100% agree, Katie. I've been composting for a while now, but this has been on my list of things to do with veggie scraps instead!
Janice January 9, 2021
I love this idea. Thank you