Beyond Recycling: The Three Rs of the Environment in the Kitchen

"Reduce, reuse, recycle." Often people focus their energy on the final word of this ecological trifecta — but the first two are just as important (if not more so)! Tweet this To really tackle the issues of waste, consumers should reduce how much is used, reuse whatever they can, and ultimately recycle what is left over.

How to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Common Kitchen Items

Parchment and Wax Paper
Reduce: Can you use a silicone baking mat instead?
Reuse: If paper isn't greasy, torn or burned, wipe off parchment with a wet cloth and allow to dry before reusing. When baking batches of cookies, you can reuse parchment paper until it gets dirty, dark or brittle.
Recycle: Most parchment and wax paper cannot be recycled since it's coated in wax or silicone. Check the label to see if it is compostable.

Plastic Zipper Bags
Reduce: Can you use a reusable container instead?
Reuse: If baggies held something other than meat or greasy food, wash them in warm, soapy water and dry thoroughly. Use again for food storage, household organization or packing toiletries for a trip.
Recycle: Many curbside recycling pick-up programs don't accept zip-close bags (or plastic bread, produce or grocery bags), but you can take them to a recycling center or retail store's bag recycling bin.

Aluminum Foil
Reduce: Can you use a silicone baking mat or reusable container?
Reuse: Aluminum foil is top-shelf dishwasher safe and also can be gently hand-washed with soap and water. If you don't want to reuse it for food, it makes a great scouring pad for cleaning the grill, can deter unwanted pests, birds and deer when hung in strips around a garden and even can remove tarnish from silverware.
Recycle: Although it is 100-percent recyclable, many curbside programs and recycling centers don't accept it for sanitary reasons. Those that do accept aluminum foil often require it to be clean and intact.

5 "Reuse" Tips from Stone Soup Bloggers

  • "Clean, reusable takeout containers are great to store kitchen essentials, such as twist-ties, rubber bands and toothpicks." – Kate Moran, RD, LDN
  • "Save the bag from boxed cereal to use for wrapping sandwiches, packing baked cookies and bars and separating foods in containers." – Jen Haugen, RDN, LD
  • "Use plastic baggies as gloves when working with messy foods or greasing baking pans." – Tawnie Kroll, RDN
  • "Clean plastic takeout containers or jars to make kids' maracas filled with dried beans, lentils or rice." – Jessie Erwin, MBA, RD, LD
  • "Use egg cartons to start seedlings for fall vegetables." – Nadine Pazder, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND
Lauren Fox
Lauren Fox is the managing editor of Food & Nutrition Magazine and senior manager of creative media at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.