Cleaning / Kitchen

Making My Home Greener and Cleaner, Part 3: Zero Waste Kitchen?


It always surprises new visitors to my home to learn that we never buy paper towels. I guess it’s just habit for most people to ask for them after washing their hands, but it’s literally been years since my husband or I have bought a roll. This didn’t happen overnight. Eliminating paper towels and napkins was definitely a process, but it was a necessary step toward reducing the amount of waste in our kitchen.

Our goal is eventually to have no waste at all leaving the kitchen, which tends to be the room where most of our household trash is produced.

Paper products

Getting rid of paper towels was a logical step, and here are some simple tips to help you do the same.

  • Once you’ve made the decision to ditch paper, build up a stockpile of cloth towels, rags and napkins.
  • Don’t feel the need to buy special kitchen towels, since you’ll be using them to clean up messes and do all the things you used to do with paper towels.
  • Have some full-sized towels that are on their last leg? Use pinking shears to cut them up into kitchen-sized towels. One bath towel can typically make 4-6 kitchen towels. More, if you cut it into smaller rags.
  • Any piece of fabric you have laying around could be a cloth napkin. Literally.
  • Put the cloth towels and rags where they are accessible so you won’t be tempted to reach for paper. Our favorite kitchen location is inside a small basket on the kitchen counter. In the bathroom, I tie a ribbon around towels and rags in the corner of the counter to make them easy to find.

Getting rid of paper towels and napkins really isn’t as hard as it seems. Once you’ve done it for a few weeks, it’ll become second nature.

Food packaging

We still have a long way to go to eliminate kitchen waste, though. Food packaging is a major source of trash, and it drives me crazy.

When grocery shopping, we consciously try to buy only foods that are packaged in recyclable containers — preferably ones also made of recycled materials as well. We also do our best to avoid plastics — even the ones that are recyclable in our community. At the end of the day, metal and glass can be recycled infinitely, but plastic will eventually reach a stage where it can no longer be recycled. Then what?  A lifetime in the landfill.

Still though, we’d find ourselves buying food packaged in recycled paperboard, only to find a non-recyclable baggie inside. We try to avoid single-serving foods, even when they’d be more convenient.

Eventually, we want to be able to avoid packaging altogether. We have been doing more shopping at farmer’s markets where we can get fish and other meats wrapped in paper, and we recently found a local co-op farm where we plan to sign up. This will allow us to get produce fresh from the Earth sans cans, wrappers, containers, etc.

Food waste

One of the biggest areas where I admit I have failed is composting. I keep saying that I want to try it, but I never get around to it. Yes, we live in an apartment, but these days, there are composting options for indoor and outdoor use. I’ve read all the details time and time again, but get intimidated by the balance we’d have to achieve to make composting work as it should. But really, there’s no valid excuse for why we haven’t taken the plunge.

Given my daughter’s affinity for half-eaten plates of food, we really would cut back on a lot of what we throw away if we could just toss it in the compost bin.

So here’s me kicking myself in the pants. We WILL buy an outdoor composter for our patio, and we WILL be successful at it by December. Hold me to it.


Seventh Generation and Walmart challenged me to take a month and share the things I’m doing to make my home greener. That’s a little tough, since making my home green is all I ever aim to do. Still, we can always do more, right? In this series, I’ll share with you some of the new, and old, things I’m doing to make sustainability a priority in my home. You can see what other Walmart Moms are doing, too. Sheena from Sophistishe, Monica from MommyBrain Reports, Jenn from Frugal Upstate and Denise of Wholesome Mommy are also participating. Be sure to come back next week for more!

Disclosure: I am a participant in the Walmart Moms program. Seventh Generation has provided me with products. Walmart has provided me with compensation to blog about attempting a more sustainable household for a month. Participation in this program is voluntary. All opinions are my own. (sponsored post)

About Author

I am a graphic designer by trade who has a strong passion for interior design and doing what we can to protect the environment. This blog and my other site, Green & Gorgeous, are my ways of giving back to the Earth.


  • Sue
    September 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    I’ve been composting kitchen waste for the past 16 months and appreciate the output in my garden. I’ve tried to think about worm composting but like you I found it gets overwhelming!

    If you don’t want to actually compost, you might find a local gardener/gardening club to take your kitchen waste – compost is gold for growing.

    Love the new photo, btw!

    • jennae
      September 13, 2010 at 8:05 am

      Sue, I had never thought to find other gardeners to take our kitchen waste. That’s a great idea!

  • HeatherLin
    September 10, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    I think I\’m the opposite of you! Living in an apartment, I find regular composting too intimidating, but have a ~$70 vermicomposting bin that makes things so easy. I only have to add trays once a month or so, and I get compost tea for my patio garden!

    • jennae
      September 13, 2010 at 8:07 am

      Heather, we’re in an apartment too, and I’m thinking that a bin is what we’ll end up using. And changing the trays once a month sounds very doable! What specific bin do you own?

  • Lynn
    September 10, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    I’ve tried to rid the kitchen of paper towels and I would have were it not for my husband. He still wants to use them from time to time. I’d say we’ve cut back by 90% though. Happy about that.

    I do compost, but I don’t live in an apartment. In fact this year I bought a rotating composter. Don’t worry too much about the amounts. What I do is use a lot of paper which I shred, for the “dry” stuff and food for the rest. One hint is that I wrap all food in some layers of paper. (Unfortunately, my husband insists on getting the Sunday paper–sorry to keep putting stuff on him, but it’s true). Anyway, I find when I wrap the food in newspaper, I don’t get any fruit flies which are the bane of most composters.

    Things may not compost as quickly with the newspaper, but it’s pretty simple to do it this way.

    I’d love to get one of those that you put under your sink, but they are WAY up their in price. Plus I don’t have the room under my sink 🙂

    • jennae
      September 13, 2010 at 8:10 am

      We all love our husbands, but they do tend to resist change, don’t they? 🙂

      We occasionally get the Sunday paper too, for the coupons, so it’s nice to know I’d be able to find a better use for it than just putting it in the recycling bin. I absolutely despise fruit flies, so if something as simple as newspaper can keep them at bay, I’m all for it.

      What bin do you use?

  • Crystal
    September 15, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Just wondering – when doing cleaning, do you use rags also? I’ve tried to use old T-shirts or towels, but I feel like they don’t clean as well as paper towels. I feel like I’m just moving the dirt around instead of absorbing it up and getting rid of it. I went through like 2-3 rags just cleaning my bathroom before.

    How do you go about big cleaning messes with just rags? Do you think it’s as good as paper towels? I would love your thoughts/suggestions!

    • jennae
      September 16, 2010 at 7:08 am

      Crystal, when I’m cleaning, I use cloth rags for some things, like cleaning mirrors, the stainless steel refrigerator and stove, glass, etc. For heavier cleaning, like in the bathroom, I like using Skoy cloths (which are awesome), or eco-friendly sponges or loofahs with an abrasive side, like the ones from Twist and 3M.

      The only time I use any cleaning supplies that can be thrown away are when I’m cleaning the toilet. I prefer to use the Seventh Gen disinfecting wipes for that.

      Hope that helps!

  • Carrington
    September 18, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Oh, let me just say- so glad you commented on my blog- so I could find yours- this is BEAUTIFUL! Wow!

    I’ve been going through your last couple of posts, and I’m looking forward to going through more.

    We are in the process of trying to get rid of paper towels. I finally just convinced my husband to use cloth wipes for our cloth diapers (I think it’s so much easier!), and so paper towels are the next step- because, dang those things are expensive! I just spent 10 bucks on a pack of 8 rolls! It’s painful to spend 10 bucks on something like that, ya know?

    Thanks for the encouragement to do this… I’m going to make it happen!

    • jennae
      September 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm

      Carrington, thank you so much for stopping by! I’m glad you’re having a good time going through the archives, and I’m so happy that I could provide the little push you needed to try going paperless 😉

  • Lady
    October 30, 2015 at 8:03 am

    I’m really surprised that there is somebody not using paper rolls. Actually, a lot of waste could be saved, along with that a lot of trees as well. You are such an inspiration! From today I will remove all paper rolls at home, because every tree matters!


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