What to eat in a zero waste household

Filed in Blog by on April 7, 2009 30 Comments
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zero-waste-pizzaOne of the first questions people ask when they hear about our zero waste lifestyle; along with “Doesn’t it cost a lot more money?” is “Don’t you eat?”

To be honest I would love to be able to say that we eat all home grown produce along with some locally foraged / bartered stuff, but alas I’m a supermarket girl.

A few weeks ago, I showed you exactly what went into our bin every day. Today I’m going to let you sit at the dining table with us, sample our food and have a nose at our meal plans. If it proves to be popular, I might make this a regular slot.

I use the word ‘plans’ loosely. I rather fancy the idea of being a meal planner kinda chick, but I have a couple of things against me on that one. First an eight year old. Enough said, right!?

If you’re a parent you’ll know that one day kids eat like a horse and the next they eat barely enough for a sparrow. Plus, today’s favourite ‘must have’ becomes tomorrow’s I-never-want-to-eat-that-again compost offering.

Second, I have a beautiful husband who is all raw food one day and pie and chips the next. To be fair to him, during the summer he sticks to his raw diet, but come a grey, drizzly English day when the temperature has plummeted over night and the white tips of his fingers need a little ginger and turmeric to warm them up. And who can blame him.

Menu planning tends to go along the lines of seeing what is in the ‘fridge and veg box and keeping those in mind as I go through the week. My weak area is the fruit bowl. It sits there on the table next to me at each meal time, but I keep forgetting about it and things can sometimes turn mouldy. Maybe I should move it to the kitchen, but I don’t like a cluttered worksurface.zero-waste-curry

Our food choices include one vegetarian, one meat eater, one in betweener who sways between lots of meat, lots of fish and none of either and then there is cattus green who is an all singing, all dancing, chicken, liver, fish-eating beauty, and barfs up any brand of cat food. She does, however, eat dry cat biscuits. Hunting live biscuits from the box and killing them with a deft swish of the paw is about all her daily exercise amounts to now.

We try to eat organic where possible, buy locally where we can and there are days when I want convenience, so both of those options go flying out of the window and I hang up my piny and pick up the tin opener.

So without further ado, take your place at the table for today’s culinary delights:


fried egg
baked beans
grated cheese

Drinks: herbal tea, water or coffee (Mr Green takes his coffee with soya milk and a big teaspoon of honey)


‘pizza’ i.e. toast topped with tomato puree, bits of ham (or olives) and grated cheese, then popped under the grill to melt the cheese

Pudding; home made flapjack
Drinks: water or fruit juice


Chicken curry or lentils with fried rice.
Alfalfa sprouts, broccoli and carrots for those that want it (I’ll put in my disclaimer here – sometimes most of the time we eat weird combinations of things. It’s the rebel in me πŸ˜‰ )

Pudding: left over chocolate cheesecake brownies from LMG’s Birthday (it’s ok, they’d been frozen) with cream
Drinks: water

Let me tell you a bit about the packaging from each item eaten today.


cardboard egg carton gets returned to the farm for reuse. If this isn’t an option for you, some chicken owners are happy to take them off your hands, or you can shred and add to your compost heap, recycle with cardboard or grow seeds in them or offer them to playgroups for junk modelling

baked bean tin is recycled

Cheese is bought from a large piece and cut into our own reusable containers where possible. This eliminates any non recyclable packaging. If this is not possible, we try to buy in clingfilm. Failing that we buy pre packed cheese and the packaging is landfilled.

herbal teabags are added to the compost bin, the boxes are cardboard which are composted or recycled and sometimes there is a cellophane seal which is landfilled.

Soya milk for coffee comes in a tetrapak which is recycled, honey comes in a glass jar which is kept for making chutney later in the year or kept until someone asks for jars on freecycle or snaffleup. There are zero waste coffee choices, such as Illy or bought from a coffee shop and put into paper bags. Mr green’s favourite however, comes in a tin (which can be recycled) and a plastic lid, which is landfilled. Although we keep quite a few of these tins for reuse around the home and garage as they make useful storage containers.

Water is filtered, and the filters can be sent back to Brita for recycling or taken to collection points throughout the county.


bread for pizza is homemade, although I do buy shop bread sometimes most of the time. if I can, I buy from our butcher who sells naked bread. Failing that, bread is bought in polythene and the bag is recycled at the supermarket, with the carrier bags or sent to Polyprint.

Tomato puree and olives are bought in glass jars which are reused for storing leftovers. Or olives are bought from a deli counter in our own containers.

Ham and cheese is bought from the butcher in our own reusable containers

Depending on where we buy it from, watercress bags can either be sent to GHS for recycling or end up in the landfill. During the summer we can often buy it with just a rubber band around the base; which is reused. This year we’ve bought some seeds to try growing our own!

Apples are bought from our local orchard or farm shop loose and peelings and core are composted

Flapjack made from mornflake oats which come in a cardboard box with no inner, butter bought in a paper wrapping, sugar or fructose bought in paper bag and agave syrup bought in a glass bottle.

Fruit juice bought in tetrapaks which are recycled unless I have a glut of oranges and then it is fresh squeezed and the skin is composted.


Chicken curry – chicken bought from butcher in our own container, onion bought loose from farm shop, and I used a glass jar of curry sauce which is washed and reused for chutney / jam later in the year. If I make curry from scratch, instead of the glass jar of sauce I add a tin of tomatoes (tin is recycled), tomato puree (bought in a glass jar which is recycled or reused) and mix my own spices. I might add soyaΒ  sauce (glass bottle; recycled with annoying cellophane seal which is landfilled) and something like mango chutney (glass jar, washed and reused).

Lentils packaging has to be landfilled, although I believe Sainsburys can recycle theirs. Vegetables are bought loose from farm shop. Spices are bought in cardboard boxes which are recycled and the cellophane inners are landfilled. Some spices are bought in bulk from suma and come in polythene bags which can be recycled at some supermarkets with the carrier bags or sent to Polyprint. Cooking oil is bought in glass bottles which can be recycled and I often use butter for frying which is bought in paper packaging.

Rice can be bought in cardboard boxes. Lidls sells basmatti in this way. i prefer tilda, however, and the packagaing has to be landfilled.

Alfalfa bought in cellophane from the farm shop which is landfilled. When i’m organised I sprout it which results in no waste – the seeds (biosnacky) come in paper seed packets which can be composted.

Cream pot can be recycled at GHS. Cheesecake brownies were made with cream cheese – in this instance it was a tub of philadelphia which is reused at home – these are useful for storing bits of leftover food in the fridge. You can buy some soft cheese at some delis in your own reusable tub. fructose came in a cardboard box which can be recycled, egg box is returned to farm shop for reuse, chocolate bought in foil and paper wrapping which can be recycled, flour is bought in paper bags.

So there we have it. Loads of packaging, when you break down one day’s worth of meals, but much of it can be reuse, recycled or composted.

What about you? What difficulties do you have with zero waste food options? Perhaps someone can help solve your dilemma!


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (30)

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  1. My 2 main food packaging problems are rice and pasta.

    The rice one will now hopefully be solved if my Lidl sells the rice you have mentioned.

    The other is the plastic (PP) packaging on the pasta, which can’t be recycled and as it is food packaging still can’t be sent to STM.

    We always have a bowl of Tuna & Pasta in the fridge for the boys to pick at if hungry.

  2. poppy says:

    How do you do your sprouting seeds Mrs G? I bought some seed a few weeks ago and did have a go at following their instructions, but it was a bit of a nightmare and I ended up ditching the whole lot πŸ™

  3. Carole Blake says:

    Although I have a small flat I have four yoghurt pots of cut and come again lettuce leaves on my kitchen window sill, all at varying stages of development. So at least I can have fresh lettuce without dealing with plastic packaging, it tastes better too, freshly snipped!


  4. Kirsty says:

    I fell upon your website by pure chance, looking for somewhere to recycle the plastic contents from a recent computer delivery at work. Trying to find somewhere in Sheffield that will recycle LDPE and ‘Any Other Plastics’ (denoted by number 7 in the triangle symbol) is I must say a nightmare. It galls me that I might have to put them in the landfill tip. You are right in one of your articles, about more being done regarding the recycling of plastics by all our coucils.

    Had a quick read of your food diary…a bit like myself I try to source locally, and would really love an allotment, but they are so scarce and the waiting lists are endless. I’ve decided now that as my garden isn’t big enough to grow my own in, and I really dont’ want to dig up all my flowers, I’m having a go at crops in pots! First project started yesterday – strawberry ball (that’s strawberry’s in a hanging basket), next is corn and beans, tumbling toms with herbs…oh the list is endless.

    Anyway keep up the good work, this is a fascinating site. Anychance of being able to post on Facebook or other networking site to increase your coverage?

  5. John Costigane says:

    Mrs Green,

    My attitude is to avoid foodstuffs which have only plastic packaging. Desiccated coconut and dried fruit are the main examples, making my baking options that bit more restricted.

    Polythene bags of salt are the exception as are dried herbs in glass jars and plastic lids. Instant coffee another plastic lid which I leave in store as a reusable pot is used at home.

  6. carol b says:

    didn’t know I could get the water filters recycled, that’s great news…

  7. @carol b: Carol, you can take the filters to most supermarkets or if you are avoiding them the freepost address is:

    NAT 17876
    OX26 4BR

    they like to have at least 3 in a package, and for them to be dry obviously.

  8. VegBoxClara says:

    What a post!!!

    SO useful to be able to compare notes, isn’t it?

    My major bugbear is the plastic wrappers around oatcakes. You buy a box, and then inside the box they’re wrapped in sixes for portability, I suppose. I DID make my own oatcakes, and I loved them, and it’s easy, and yet I can’t quite get into the habit of making enough to get me through the week. They’re my main alternative to having bread, as I try to avoid wheat as much as I can.

    Am soooooooooooooo LAZY sometimes!

  9. Layla says:

    Great post!!

    VegBoxClara, can you post the oatcakes recipe?!! πŸ™‚
    I used to buy a lot of rice puffy cakes to avoid gluten, but then ditched the whole gluten-free idea cause it was so environmentally unfriendly!!
    (So I hope I’m not gluten-intolerant! – or am I? /still confused/)

    I checked: looks like cellophane, says #5 PP – hmm?! should I just rinse & put them into recycling box? (all plastics are collected together here..)

    A major bugbear is also some packaging of biscuits, ‘overbaked toast’ (Mum ate it) or toast (Sis eats it) – some are labelled with # of plastics, some not..

    For the ‘zero waste week’, I think I’ll just collect all those separately & then see what remains..

    I looked at 2 health food stores recently – one had most stuff in cellophane or such, one had stuff in brown paper bags with just a see-through window (not sure what the window was made of though) Some stuff is also in paper bags fully.. Or some rice (in supermarket/conventional shop) in heavily-printed-on cardboard..

    Do you guys compost, reuse or recycle paper bags from flour etc? reuse seems most sensible.. (my Dad likes to burn ’em though.. so ideally I’d snatch them before that & use for shopping where allowed/possible..)

    I did see yeast for baking in a little glass jar too, in tiny little balls – has anyone used that & what was it like?
    (I didn’t dare to buy it yet :))

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie dalziel: rice and pasta can be a problem maisie. I’ve seen lasagne in mainly cardboard boxes with a small plastic window, so I don’t know why this can’t be used for regular pasta.
    Rice is available in cardboard boxes, but only in small amounts. I tend to favour bulk buying rice because I use so much of it.

    @poppy: Can you explain what went wrong, poppy? Did they end up dry or slimy? What did you use to sprout them in? I could do a post about this if it helps.

    @Carole Blake: Brilliant idea about the cut and come again salad, Carole. Can you tell me what type you use? I’d love to get Mr green some of this.

    @Kirsty: Hi Kirsty, welcome to the site – it was lovely to read your comment and hear about the things you have been up to πŸ™‚ Good luck with the growing; you’ll be hooked from the moment you eat your first home grown crop!

    I’m not really sure about using social network sites; how would I go about getting our posts onto them?
    Maybe you could use the contact us form and enlighten me please?

    @John Costigane: Hi John, I guess we all have things which we are prepared to boycott and other things that we just can’t do without! It looks as if you have found solutions that you are happy with. What does your baking consist of?

    @VegBoxClara: Ah yes, oatcakes, ryvita, corn crispbreads and rice cakes – all in non recyclable packaging. It’s such a pain as we try to avoid too much wheat too. We have it once or twice a week if possible.
    I made oatcakes once and they were a disaster. They fell apart and I ended up with some baked crumbs that tasted of cardboard.
    Goodness knows how you would make rye or corn or rice crackers!

  11. John Costigane says:

    Mrs Green,

    Standard cakes are : Lemon or Orange Madeira cakes, various sponges (jam filled-vanilla flavoured, chocolate butter cream-coffee, coffee butter cream-chocolate, lemon butter cream-lemon sponge) and vanilla frosting filling for any.

    Small cakes in baking cases : lemon, chocolate, coffee with various icing toppings.

    I try to follow my mother’s techniques from memory, and her various baking books, notepads. One thing I have not twigged is the changing of oven level for sponges. These usually take 30 minutes to bake but I know she shifted them up or down as part of the baking process. I have experimented myself to try and work it out. I am sure the answer will be revealed.

  12. Carole Blake says:

    @Mrs Green: Unwins Organic Cut and Come Again. “A fascinating mixture of loose-leaf lettuces,including reds and oak-leaf types”.

    As almost always with seed packages, there was a paper outer and a foil/laminate inner.

    I look on it as saving myself an awful lot of plastic bagged lettuce, as I’m a bit of a leaf freak and the shops around here don’t sell nekked lettuce.


  13. VegBoxClara says:

    @Layla: Here is a link to the recipe I use for oatcakes, which is a Nigella Lawson recipe:


    Hope it helps… They came out really really yummy for me.

  14. Karin says:

    In the ’80’s there was a book called the Benefit Cookbook – or something like that. I’m afraid I can’t be bothered to go downstairs to check just now. The woman who wrote it was featured on the food programme, probably more than once. It was all food the author could buy from her local shops and make for herself, so would have created very little waste, especially as so much would have just come home in a paper bag, or loose in a shopping basket.

    I found it a great help when bringing up a family on just one wage (hubby’s) for many years, especially at the end of the month.

  15. Poppy says:

    @Mrs Green:

    I didn’t get that far Mrs G. I gave up at the first hurdle. I had a jam jar with a cloth lid held on with an elastic band, but the seeds were all sticking to the cloth and refusing to be ‘rinsed’. πŸ™

    @Carole Blake:

    I planted the packet pf mixed lettuce that was given out by Aunty Rubbish during Zero Waste week and so far they are coming up well. I have mine in a hanging basket away from the pesky slugs!

  16. Poppy says:

    @Mrs Green:

    I didn’t get that far Mrs G. I gave up at the first hurdle. I had a jam jar with a cloth lid held on with an elastic band, but the seeds were all sticking to the cloth and refusing to be ‘rinsed’. πŸ™

    @Carole Blake:

    I planted the packet of mixed lettuce that was given out by Aunty Rubbish during Zero Waste week and so far they are coming up well. I have mine in a hanging basket away from the pesky slugs!

  17. @John Costigane: John, I swap my cakes top to bottom and front to back at approx half way through the cooking process.

    Cake on top shelf gets turned round 180Β° and put back in on bottom shelf then the same is done with the cake on the bottom shelf which is put back on the top shelf.


  18. John Costigane says:

    @maisie dalziel: Maisie, thanks for the tips. That sounds about right. I have 4 levels in the Gas oven (mark 5) and tried 2,3 swapping but 1,4 next.

    Rotating 180 degrees was probably done by my mother as well.
    That will be my new routine for next week.

  19. @Mrs Green: Mrs Green, I got the Rice in Lidl the other day, so will give it a try, I had been using Tesco value basmati but this in Lidl was actually cheaper as well.

    We have rice definitely once (curry night) and sometimes twice a week.So 1 box will last 2-3 weeks depending.

    I buy my lasagne in those same boxes and can’t see why something similar couldn’t be used for shapes and Spagetti.( it will be something to do with shelf space probably).

    Maybe another email to the manufacturers?

  20. MrsJ says:

    Yay for this post. Argos take brita water filters but I always forget to take them. How about the netting around the oranges? I keep thinking maybe I could protect my growing veg from cats with them somehow.

  21. Carole Blake says:

    T@MrsJ: They could be put around individual cabbages/caulis to protect from the dreaded cabbage white butterfly caterpillar. I had a whole crop of caulis ruined one year when I had a garden.


  22. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: John, it sounds like you eat well, despite lack of ingredients πŸ™‚ I’ve never heard of moving the baking around. I tend to keep the door firmly shut for fear of flops!

    @Carole Blake: Sounds lovely, Carole – LMG loves the red leaved salad and always picks it out of the bags. I agree one small laminated pack saves a lot on the salad bags over the months.

    @Karin: karin, that book sounds amazing. I’m going to check it out. I love inspirational books like that. Thanks for the recommendation.

    @Poppy: Poppy, what seeds was it? What sort of cloth? Muslin is good – very fine. I know what you mean though; it can be tough if you’re using something like alfalfa. You might do better to start with mung beans to make beansprouts.
    I have to admit, I find the three tier system (costs about Β£16) to be far superior to a jar – but it’s only worth it if you intend to eat alot of the spouted seeds.

    @maisie dalziel: maisie; let me know what you think about the rice. I’m still a rice snob and buy tilda for myself, but the other two eat Lidls!

    @MrsJ: Mrs J – you could use it to protect seeds; that’s a fine idea. Carole’s idea is excellent. Another is to hang seeds in for the birds. Of course, our resident artists use it to make cards and the like πŸ™‚

  23. John Costigane says:

    @Mrs Green: I enjoy the baking and the help from Maisie is really appreciated. Her idea is spot on. I miss coconut but making my own from the actual nut may be the answer.

    The attitude is not to accept the plastic, where possible, and to look for, and promote, alternatives. The simple truth is that once we find these alternatives the producers/supermarkets will have to follow suit, or their profits will slide. Easter Eggs next year will be worth seeing. I predict that the largest Eggs will get similar packaging.

    One downside to unpackaged is the ease of breakages in handling. I saw this at Morrisons today with several “fractures”. There were some loose trays on top shelves and you can imagine a whole tray being spilled. You could not possibly catch more than a few, or maybe just the one, or none!

  24. MrsJ says:

    Ironically today I bought some grapes from morrisons today and they come in a plasrtic bag which they split out all over the place as the bag ripped as the cashier was in such a hurry to get us through the till!

  25. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: I’m sure I bought some creamed coconut in just a cardboard box John. If that’s right, I’ll let you know the brand. You could also try coconut cream in a tin?

    @MrsJ: Hope you didn’t lose all the grapes, Mrs J. Those cashiers whizz through sometimes – I’m not surprised we need lots of packaging to prevent our purchases getting squashed!

  26. eddie says:


    Hallo there, I am a newbie here πŸ™‚

    I’d like to ask what is the best way to start a compost heap. I have a very tiny garden (used by my son and his freinds for football).

  27. John Costigane says:

    @eddie: Eddie, Are you over from the forum? If so, good to see you here.

    For compost heaps, you can buy a plastic “dalek” to store all the fruit/veg scraps, teabags, coffee grounds, crushed eggshell, ripped up card (egg boxes, card centres of paper rolls). It is well enclosed taking up a 3 foot sguare.

  28. MrsJ says:

    @eddie: We were worried when we first started our compost but it’s been fine. Just put all veggie peelings, shredded paper, card, tea bags etc into the pile and it works its magic. Quiet amazing to see really.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    @eddie: Eddie – welcome to the site! I have heard all about you and it’s great to see you participating. Sorry I have taken so long to respond. We’ve been on holiday, so I haven’t been around.

    Have you had any more thoughts about your compost heap?

    There are lots of options including an open pile to something made from pallets to a wooden ‘beehive’ style to a plastic dalek as John points out.

    A small wooden beehive or plastic dalek would be ideal for your small garden.

  30. Layla says:

    Clara, thank you for the recipe! πŸ™‚

    I’ve been meaning to test it, haven’t managed yet!

    Eddie, welcome! πŸ™‚ Good to see new people aboard!
    Maybe you can visit some people who have compost already (ideally local) & see how you & they like it?

    Maybe some ideas here can inspire you too? http://tinychoices.com/2008/01/24/four-ways-to-compost-indoors/

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