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Zero-Waste Cooking & Recipes: The Complete Guide

You’ve started buying food at the supermarket that doesn’t contain a lot of packaging to reduce the amount of plastic that you throw away.

But what about the waste that gets produced when you’re cooking?

Here are important ways to learn how to cook without creating any waste.

What’s the idea behind cooking with zero waste?

It’s about much more than preventing food from going into the bin, although that is one of its important rules. Zero-waste cooking is also about using sustainable cooking utensils and using sustainable ways to store food.

Taking all of these points into consideration, let’s look at important ways in which you can start cooking your next meal with zero-waste. It sounds like an impossible task, but it’s doable!

First, Ensure You Have Enough Storage

Zero Waste Food Containers


When planning what you’re going to cook for dinner, you might not think in terms of storage, but if you want to lead a zero-waste lifestyle then you have to consider it.

You’ll be throwing out less, which means that ingredients and food leftovers need to be stored properly.

Storage containers made of glass or silicone go a long way in the zero-waste kitchen by providing you with items you can reuse many times.

Use Your Food Scraps Like A Pro

One of the easiest ways to create a zero-waste kitchen is to be smarter with your food scraps.

These can easily accumulate during the cooking process. So what should you do with them? One of the most overlooked options is to eat them.

Has some citrus peel leftover from a baking recipe?

Use it in a new recipe, such as one for marmalade or baked goods!

Have some broccoli stalks left over?

Roast them and enjoy! They’re a great source of Vitamin C.

Even the water you’ve used to boil pasta or potatoes can be saved. You can use it to thicken sauces or add extra flavor to soups.

What happens if you can’t eat the items?

Whatever you can’t reuse for new recipes can be thrown into the compost heap, such as eggshells and onion peels.

Food Scrap Recipe: Apple Cider Vinegar (courtesy of Going Zero Waste)

DIY Apple Cider Vinegar


Making your own apple cider vinegar from food scraps is a valuable way to use apple peels and their cores instead of throwing them away.

Best of all, apple cider vinegar is a great zero waste food to try because it’s so versatile and can be used in many meals, such as in salads as a delicious dressing.

Here’s what you’ll need

  • Glass jar
  • Rubber band
  • Cloth
  • 2 cups apple peels and their cores
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon honey (alternatively, 1 tablespoon sugar)


  • Put the apple pieces and their cores in the glass jar.
  • Pour the water into the jar.
  • Spoon in the honey or sugar, and shake it well so that it all dissolves.
  • Cover the jar with your cloth and keep it in place with the rubber band.
  • Place the jar in a dark place, such as a cupboard in the pantry, and leave it there for four weeks.
  • During this time, you want to stir it every few days or so and ensure that the apple pieces remain underwater.
  • After four weeks, take the jar out and strain the apple pieces.
  • Now, leave the liquid in the jar and put it back in the dark cupboard for another three or four weeks. After that, it?s ready to enjoy!

Note: You can throw the apple pieces you’ve strained into the compost pile so nothing goes to waste from this recipe.

Mop Up Spills With Reusable Cloths

Wiping Kitchen Counter


When you spill some milk or beetroot on the kitchen counter, your reflex behavior might be to reach for the paper towel roll.

But paper towels can’t be recycled once they’ve been used to clean up spills, and you can’t always pop them into the compost.

If they’ve got grease and oil on them, this removes air from the compost heap and contributes to the growth of anaerobic bacteria, a type that doesn’t produce useful nutrients.

Choose a reusable cloth instead that you can wash if it gets dirty.

Plan Your Meals Ahead Of Time

Planning your meals for the week is an essential part of zero-waste cooking.

This is because it helps you reduce your waste from the start of the cooking process, right from when you go grocery shopping for the items you need.

By being more careful about buying what you really need, based on your weekly meal plan, you’ll reduce the number of items you buy so you don’t bring home unnecessary foods that go stale in your fridge.

By planning your meals for the whole week, you can cook in bigger batches and use the leftovers for many days.

Not only does this reduce the amount of waste that gets produced in your kitchen, but it also decreases the amount of water and electricity you use.

Other Zero Waste Recipes To Try

1. Almond Milk

DIY Almond Milk


Almond milk is delicious and a nice alternative to regular cow’s milk. What’s great about this recipe, courtesy of Zero Waste Chef is that nothing goes to waste!

What you’ll need

  • 1 cup almonds
  • Glass jar
  • 3 cups water + enough water to fill your jar
  • Blender/food processor
  • Fine mesh cloth
  • Large bowl
  • Colander
  • Sugar or honey (optional)

How to make almond milk

  • Put the almonds into a jar and add water so that the nuts are completely submerged.
  • Put a lid on the jar or cover it with a cloth and a rubber band to secure it. Store the jar somewhere safe for 24 hours.
  • When that time is up, strain the almonds, giving them a quick rinse.
  • Place the almonds and two cups of water into a blender or food processor. You want to blend them for a few minutes.
  • Take a large bowl and place a colander that?s lined with a fine-mesh cloth over it.
  • Gently pour the almond mixture through the mesh. Allow it to sit for a few minutes to strain.
  • Take the cloth’s edges in your hands and gather them up so that you form a ball with it. This enables you to further squeeze out as much of the excess mixture as you can.
  • Take the almond pulp back to the blender, and add another cup of water to it. Blend it again for a few minutes.
  • Add some sugar or honey to the mixture if you want it to be sweetened.
  • Keep the almond milk in a glass jar in the fridge. It can last for a few days.
  • To prevent wasting the nut water in which the almonds were soaked, water your plants. You might be tempted to drink it, but as the site explains, nuts contain phytic acid that binds to minerals, which prevents our bodies from absorbing the minerals.

2. Mix ‘n Match Potato Salad

DIY Potato Salad


What’s for dinner? Potatoes! This potato salad is perfect for zero waste cooking because it makes use of lots of leftovers you have in the kitchen.

What you’ll need

  • 2 pounds of potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pot
  • 2 bowls
  • Whisk

How to make it

  • Cut potatoes into halves or quarters as this makes them boil quicker on the stove, thus saving energy.
  • Put them in a pot and add water so that the potatoes are submerged.
  • Let the potatoes come to the boil on the stove, then reduce the heat to medium and keep the lid a bit open to release steam.
  • Prick the potatoes with a fork after about 25 minutes to see if they’re soft. If they are, take them off the stove. If not, leave them for another 10 or so minutes.
  • Drain the water, save the water in a jar to use for sauces or in soup!
  • In a bowl, cut up the potatoes so that they’re bite-sized pieces.
  • In another bowl, mix together the lemon juice and olive oil, as well as salt and pepper.
  • Whisk this mixture so that all the ingredients are blended well.
  • Put the potatoes into this bowl of ingredients and stir so that they’re covered by this dressing.
  • Let them sit for about 10 minutes, while you move on with the rest of the recipe.
  • Chop up other ingredients you have in the fridge, such as scallions and herbs. You could even throw in some pieces of chili. These will bring more flavor to the potato salad and they’re a great way to make use of leftovers.
  • Sprinkle these extra ingredients into the potato salad, and enjoy! 

3. Pineapple Fried Rice

Pineapple Fried Rice


Who doesn’t love fried rice?

It’s perfect for using up rice that’s leftover from last night’s meal, and the addition of pineapple in this recipe (courtesy of Damn Delicious) shows how creative you can be when making zero-waste meals.

Just make sure that the pineapples are in season when you buy them, as they’ll be cheaper and reduce your green guilt by not having had to be imported.

Rice is such a versatile ingredient and if you have any leftovers of this pineapple fried rice meal, use it to stuff peppers or add it to a casserole.

To make pineapple fried rice, you?ll need

  • 1 diced onion
  • 2 carrots that have been peeled and grated
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 cup peas
  • 3 cups brown rice, cooked
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups diced pineapple (fresh or from the can)
  • 1 cup diced ham
  • 2 sliced green onions
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Grater
  • Small bowl
  • Whisk
  • Skillet


  • Whisk together the sesame oil, pepper, soy sauce, and ginger powder.
  • In a large skillet, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Throw in the diced onion and garlic, and stir until the onion pieces become translucent.
  • Add in the carrots, peas, and corn. Continue stirring until the veggies are tender.
  • Add in the rice, ham, pineapple, green onions, and soy sauce mixture. Continue stirring for a few minutes. When all the ingredients are heated through, the pineapple fried rice is ready.

Note: You can substitute many ingredients in this recipe depending on what you have in your kitchen. For example, you could use chicken or soy meat instead of ham. Similarly, this recipe can have extra items added to it, such as broccoli, spinach, and so on.

Choosing Zero Waste Cooking Utensils

Zero Waste Cooking Utensils


In order to create delicious zero-waste meals, you need the right utensils.

It’s essential to choose ones that are sustainable so that you won’t have to replace them in the near future, thus saving you money and being better for the environment.

Whenever you shop for new cooking utensils, always ask yourself what will happen to the item when you no longer need it.

Can it be recycled? Can it be reused for something else? Can it be donated?

When you prevent the item from ending up in the bin, then it’s a good candidate to be included in your zero-waste kitchen.

Some Essential Kitchen Utensils For Zero Waste Cooking

Kitchen Utensil What It Can Be Used For Material To Choose
Spatula It’s not just for baking! you can use a spatula to flip burgers and scrape the bottom of pans. Silicone. It’s more durable as well as more resistant to high and low temperatures than plastic. It can also be recycled at a specialist facility instead of thrown away.
Whisk You need it for cooking and baking, e.g. making scrambled eggs, whisking ingredients together for a mascarpone recipe, and so on. Silicone. Whisks made of silicone are better than metal ones because they won’t scratch pan surfaces. Just make sure it’s pure silicone by checking that the whisk is labeled ‘food grade’.
Knives A good set of knives should be standard in every kitchen. Stainless steel. These last longer and are more durable than other knives.
Measuring cups Dry and liquid measuring cups are essential for cooking and baking. Avoid plastic! Research by Business Insider found that glass works well for wet ingredients, while steel is the best for dry ingredients.
Snapware This will help you store your zero-waste food and ingredients. Avoid plastic and choose glass instead. These will last you a long time in your pantry and glass can always be reused to store other things, thus increasing its lifespan.
Moulds These can be used for a variety of things, such as making ice cubes, baking muffins, and even making your own DIY kitchen soap! Silicone moulds fare much better than plastic when it comes to durability. In addition, they’re odorless and flexible.
Dishcloths These can be used to dry dishes, wipe down surfaces, and cover pots or baked goods. Choose sustainable materials such as linen as it can be put into the compost heap at the end of its life. You can also downcycle dishcloths you no longer use into cleaning rags.
Wooden spoon This is versatile for cooking and baking. Just make sure that the wooden spoon you buy is made from bamboo, which is 100 percent biodegradable.
Jars These are a staple of zero waste cooking and can last for many years. Avoid conventional mason jars as these often have BPA undercoating on their lids. Choose mason jars with silicone rings to seal them. Make sure their lids are stainless steel (to prevent rust) or bamboo.

Related Questions

When You Choose Zero Waste Cooking, Should You Throw Away All Your Plastic?

No, since it will end up in landfills. Use it in other ways around the house.

Plastic containers can store various things, such as craft materials, cables, electronics, and more. Plastic spatulas, on the other hand, can be used as a gardening tool.

How Can You Compost If You Live In An Apartment?

A good idea is to start a worm bin, otherwise known as vermicompost. How it works is that you have a container of red worms and feed them food scraps that would go to waste.

They’ll eat those and produce nutrient-rich material you can use as compost for houseplants, as advised on Zero Waste Chef.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is zero waste cooking?

Zero waste cooking is about much more than preventing food from going into the bin, although that is one of its important rules. Zero-waste cooking is also about using sustainable cooking utensils and using sustainable ways to store food. Check out this article for more info, useful resources and practical tips.

What is a zero waste recipe?

Zero waste recipes use food scraps and left overs to make interesting and tasty meals from the food that would normally be thrown away or put into the compost. Check out this article for more info, recipes and practical tips on how to reduce your food waste.

Is zero waste cooking expensive?

No! Zero waste cooking maximizes the amount of food you eat from the food you buy by making use of leftovers and scraps / excess. This saves you money in the long run and results in some very interesting, delicious and unusual meals! Check out this article for more info, recipes and practical tips on how to reduce your food waste.


Zero-waste cooking is easy once you get the hang of it.

By equipping yourself with sustainable kitchen utensils, planning ahead for meals, and following recipes that prevent waste, you can make your meals healthy and good for the planet, too.

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