Tools For A Zero-Waste Kitchen

If you’re just starting out on your plastic-free, zero waste journey—or are somewhere in the middle of things—the kitchen is by far, one of the easiest places to make a significant change. Most of us would only need to open our top drawer to reveal the massive amount of single-use, disposable plastic items (baggies, plastic wrap, food items, and more) that have become a kitchen essential in nearly every household. Yet, as we begin to extract ourselves from plastic’s harmful effects on our bodies and our world, we might be left to wonder what essentials can take its place? 

The best kind of plastic-free kitchen essentials are beautiful, multi-purposeful and budget-friendly to boot. That’s because they combine plenty of old-school wisdom with new and thoughtful innovations that make your plastic-free kitchen the perfect place for creative solutions and of course, a little elbow grease.

Remember, the goal is to work towards zero waste and ditch that all-or-nothing mentality that can quickly sabotage even the best laid plans. Take these small and practical steps towards a more sustainable future and embrace the simple swaps that add up overtime.

Ready to start? Here are 10 kitchen essentials to help you be plastic-free on a budget. 

1. Mason Jars

This plastic-free kitchen staple continues to receive its fair share of attention through the years and for good reason. The mason jar is functional, beautiful, portable and versatile. I’d argue that it’s the best item to help you transition away from plastic kitchen storage for good because of its low price point and myriad of uses. It’s easy to spot leftovers and cut back on food waste, plus, it’s the ultimate zero waste method for buying and storing food in bulk. So go ahead and stock up on a 4 oz, 12 oz and even a 32 oz mason jar or buy a set of 12 one pint jars for less than $20.

2. Beeswax Wrap

Preserving food in single-use, disposable plastic wrap is for the birds while reusable wrap has gone to the bees (get it?). For less than $20 you can buy a 3-pack of reusable beeswax wrap in various sizes that doesn’t have that nasty BPA (Bisphenol-A, a synthetic chemical used to make plastic and disrupts proper cell function. Food wrapped in plastic has a very high concentration of BPA) or contribute to the trillions of microplastic pieces found in our oceans and waterways. It works just as well as other food wraps and can be reused over and over again. Just remember to wash with biodegradable soap under cold water to keep the wax from melting off! 

3. Cloth Napkins

Don’t be nervous about this simple swap. You can buy a set of 12 cloth napkins for $15 to $20, and skip the plastic-wrapped replacements to save money. Reuse them until they are dirty enough to throw in with the rest of your laundry and then embrace the wrinkles and stains! Imperfections add the best kind of character and in this case, it’s a conscious choice that is worth making. White cloth napkins are certainly pretty but darker colors and patterns draw your eye away from marks and stains. 

4. Dish Brushes

Trading your sponge for a dish brush is a change you can make once and will last for a long time. The majority of store-bought sponges are disposable and wrapped in plastic (if you can find one without the wrap, then go for it!) and tend to hold more bacteria. The bristled brushes easily scrub away food without morphing into a bedraggled and brown mess. I love my wooden Redecker Brushes ($11.99) and compost them when they fall apart. There are plenty more budget-friendly options that go for $6-8 each.

5. Reusable Food Storage Bags

From holding a loaf of bread at the bakery to stashing your snacks and even trading places with the plastic baggies that hold your produce at the grocery store, reusable food bags can be likened to a cloth version of mason jars. Versatile and affordable, stocking up on cloth bags can help you take a huge leap towards a plastic-free kitchen. They are also an easy conversation-starter at the store and I never miss an opportunity to (over) share with strangers. Get a set of 7 from Earth Junky for less than $25.

6. Glass Spray Bottles

Once you’ve ditched the toxic cleaning sprays and decided to DIY your own, you’ll find that these glass spray bottles come in handy. I like to keep one on hand for the homemade cleaning solution and one filled with water for a quick wipe down or keeping the plants happy. The going rate for a pack of 2 glass spray bottles costs around $10-12. 

7. Stainless Steel Funnel Set

Once you begin buying food in bulk, a stainless steel kitchen funnel will help you easily transfer the contents from cloth bags to mason jars. If you are wondering if this is an essential or not, it is! The only thing worse than cleaning up half a bag of oats off the floor is throwing it away. Invest in a set of stainless steel funnels that will help you reduce unintentional food waste. Check out Refill Revolution’s set of 3 different-sized pieces for $14.

8. Reusable Coffee Filters

A morning cup of coffee is an essential. Plastic-wrapped coffee filters? Not exactly. In an effort to be truly zero waste, I switched to reusable organic cotton coffee filters that are easy to clean and work just as well as the store-bought versions. Brew a cup of your favorite drip or pour over as usual and compost the grounds then rinse out the filter. CoffeeSock has affordable options for however you prefer to brew your morning joe.

9. Resealable Sandwich Bags

Nixing the single-use, disposable plastic baggies for good requires a great eco-alternative like resealable sandwich bags. If you’re frequently packing a lunch or traveling and bringing food along, take your zero waste habits up a notch by storing them in a reusable bag. Many have easy-to-clean interiors that are dishwasher-safe and are durable enough that your food won’t get squashed. I had a lot of luck while taking mine along on a recent backpacking trip! Check out Lunchskins version for $7.99.

10. Handkerchiefs, Bandanas And Rags

These simple items have an infinite amount of potential and there are so many ways to use them in your plastic-free kitchen. Put a small container full of bandanas or rags in an easily accessible spot and use them to wipe up a mess, wrap up food for snacks on-the-go, and anything other small kitchen tasks —without the waste of paper towels.


Katherine Oakes is a professional writer, editor and aspiring environmental advocate based on the East Coast. Her passion for sustainability and the outdoors comes only second to her love of really good tacos. She has written for various publications and brands including, Huckberry Journal, REI’s Adventure Projects, Pure Green Magazine and more. Offline, you can find her teaching yoga or blogging about her wholehearted attempts at sustainable living at The Basic Goods.