There’s never a wrong time to consider the products we use in the kitchen, but some times feel especially right: in the spring, for example, when our urge to clean and declutter dovetails with Earth Day (April 22), reminding us to be mindful about how we take care of our home; or now, in the midst of a pandemic (!), when curbed shopping habits and scarcer resources lend fresh urgency to that age-old adage to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.”
For all those reasons it feels like a good time to talk about products that help us waste less in the kitchen!
Whether you’re trying to use less plastic, save money, or just can’t find paper towels and napkins at the store anymore, here a few product swaps we recommend if you want to rely less on disposables.
Product Swap Ideas
Swap for: Paper towels
Machine washable, reusable, and compostable, these Swedish cloths are a combination sponge-wash cloth. Made of 70% cellulose and 30% cotton, they're super absorbent and perfect for mopping up messes, scrubbing countertops, and cleaning dishes.
No, you can't drain bacon on them, but they'll tackle almost every other paper towel task and last way longer.
They also come in tons of colors and patterns. This plain set of 10 is the best deal, but if you can't resist a fun pattern, I'd recommend these or these.
Swedish Cellulose Dish Cloths, $20 for set of 10
Swap for: Paper napkins or paper towels
Who says cloth napkins are just for company or fancy dinners? We like to use them for every meal when possible—yes, even with kids! (Tip: Get darker colors or a pattern to better hide stains.)
I prefer thicker 100% cotton napkins because they wash well and aren't too wrinkled when they come out of the dryer, but linen is a great choice if you like that more relaxed, rumpled look.
Watercolor Plaid 100% Ringspun Combed Cotton Napkins, $16 for set of 12
Swap for: Plastic wrap or cling wrap
Forget wrangling finicky cling wrap over a bowl only to throw it away the next day. This set of silicone stretch bowl lids comes in 12 circle and square sizes ranging from 2.5" to 8" in diameter diameters.
The covers are made of BPA-free, food-grade silicone that, when stretched over a bowl, create an airtight, leak-proof seal. Wash them and reuse them a hundred times — they can take it! Safe to use in the dishwasher, microwave, freezer, even in the oven up to 445 degrees Fahrenheit.
For smaller 2-3 day food storage jobs – like wrapping half an avocado or half an apple – Bee's Wrap is another plastic wrap alternative.
True Nature Silicone Stretch Food Covers, $15 for 12-Pack
Swap for: Parchment paper
Use a silicone baking mat anywhere you'd normally use parchment for even baking and browning on all your baked goods, and nothing to throw away at the end!
Silpat is the original nonstick silicone baking mat, and it's still the one we rely on most. It's a bit of an investment upfront, but it will last you forever.
The half-sheet size gets the most use in my kitchen, but you can also buy mats sized for cake pans, jelly roll pans, muffin pans, toaster ovens, and baking cookies.
Silpat Nonstock Silicone Baking Mat, Half-Sheet Size, $25
Swap for: Plastic or other disposable food storage containers
Glass is a great material for storing food. Unlike plastic, glass won't absorb smells and food stains, you can safely wash it at high temps in the dishwasher, and it's fully recyclable.
Yes, it's breakable ... technically. But I have had this set of Glasslock storage containers for almost a decade—and every piece is still going strong!
Also, don't forget: you can also wash and reuse tomato sauce, pickle, and peanut butter jars, too! I have many of those in my pantry and fridge right now, repurposed for nuts and other grains.
Glasslock 18-Piece Oven-Safe Food Storage Set, $33
Swap for: Ziploc or other plastic food storage bags
Silicone again! It really is a marvelous material for reusable items in the kitchen.
These silicone bags from Stasher are made from platinum-grade silicone (which is higher even than food-grade silicone), and come in five sizes. You can freeze food, marinate food, and even sous vide in them! And they're safe for the microwave and dishwasher, too.
Stasher 100% Silicone Reusable Food Bags, starting at $10
Swap for: Plastic produce storage bags
Wilty, slimy salad greens make me sad. Enter Vejibags. This unassuming French terry cloth bag is a plastic-free way to keep lettuces, greens, and other humidity-loving vegetables fresh and crisp for up to two weeks in the fridge. I've read rave reviews of these bags everywhere.
Vejibag Reusable Vegetable Crisper Bag, three sizes, starting at $20
Swap for: Individual, single-use hand soap bottles
Use less soap and make it last 5x as long! That's what a foaming soap dispenser will do for you. Both Claudia and I have been using this system for years: We buy a big bottle of castile soap (Dr. Bronner's Peppermint soap is my favorite), then mix it with water and air in a foam soap dispenser, like this one from Better Things, which I have and recommend.
Better Products Foam Soap Dispenser, $14
Swap for: Non-biodegradable scrubbers and sponges
What, you thought loofahs were just for the bathroom? It turns out that loofah fibers make excellent pot scrubbers as well!
These scratch-free scrubbers can be used on all manner of pots, pans, and glassware. Each sponge will last for months, doesn't smell (thanks to the loop so you hang it over the faucet to dry out!), and when it does finally wear out, you can throw it the compost pile!
Homug Natural Dish Scrubbers, $8.99 for 6-pack
Swap for: Plastic straws
If your kids love to drink out of straws as much as mine do (even more so now that they're home from school and we're making smoothies all the time), consider getting a few reusable stainless steel straws to replace the plastic ones.
Greens Steel Stainless Steel Straws, 4-pack, $3