Zero Waste

Vegetable scraps by Midwest Gardening.jpg

My coworker sat across the lunch table munching a raw broccoli stem. As much as I love my vegetables I somehow did not view the stem as snackable. Apparently when peeled it is quite tasty with a little salt or dressing. Hmm. I know we all think about the ways we can better use the whole food but the plan doesn't always seem to come together. But two days after the broccoli stem thoughts I read a newspape article about how our local chefs are using food scraps and food on the verge of spoiling in ways I had not imagined. Of course in some cases they can use foods in ways that would be largely impractical at home but not entirely. Brewers are making lager with bakery waste. Beef bones and scraps are used to make dog treats. Oranges are used in a restaurant dish, then the rinds used for a spritz and finally fermented into a liqueur.

These two things suddenly confronting me were my cue to further research how I can get closer to zero waste. There a lot of things gardeners do as a matter of habit to improve the soil and out of appreciation for fresh whole foods. We compost, we save those vegetable scraps for soup and stock, we chop up bits to put in tuna salad, we bake with our brown bananas, make croutons from stale bread, and we all but subsist on our fresh grown produce to be sure it doesn't go to waste. But even I was quite astounded at what my research turned up for creative uses. It has inspired me to make a better effort toward zero waste.

And when we don't use the whole food, ideally we should compost all that is left. Food scraps sent out with the garbage will decompose, but without aeration it creates harmful methane gas. If we can't use scraps for compost ourselves, many cities are collecting food scraps for composting. But if not, or if composting is difficult like it sometimes is up in the polar north, we need to do better with leaving nothing to waste.
Here are many of the wonderful ideas I discovered. I would not even be able to begin to credit the many gardeners, bloggers, webmasters, environmentalists, preservationists, chefs, and vegetarian and zero waste enthusiasts who contribute to this list. I do regret not recording for you the source of each idea but I started the search as a personal endeavor, now I feel the need to share. I will mostly limit the ideas to a list, the how to research will be up to you for items of interest:

  • BONES - simmer for stock and freeze; make bone broth in your crock pot.

  • VEGETABLE SCRAPS - simmer with or without bones for stock and freeze. Use everything-onion ends, cores, corn cobs - save in the freezer until you have enough

  • WILTED VEGETABLES - just refresh them in cold water

  • HERBS - preserve leftover herbs chopped with olive oil frozen into ice cube trays

  • JAM - a little leftover from a recipe can be added to vinegar for salad dressing.

  • BEET GREENS - that’s an easy one, steam or lightly saute and season

  • KALE - those tough outer leaves are bitter. Dehydrate and grind into a powder for protein shakes.

  • KALE STEM - chop them up fine to add to soup

  • BROCCOLI STEMS - peel and salt for snacking; peel and slice into medallions for stir fry and soup; shred with cabbage for cole slaw.

  • LEEK TOPS - cut in pieces and cook to make them tender - in stir fry, soup, stew, frittata; use as an onion substitute

  • CARROT GREENS - finely chop to add to rice, salads, or soups; blend with radish nuts and garlic for a great pesto

  • POTATO PEEL - Bake into crispy snacks with a little oil and seasoning; fry in oil with salt and pepper. (the peel is loaded with nutrients)

  • CUCUMBER PEEL - can help moisturize your skin thrown in your bathwater; place peels near home entries to repel ants.

  • ZUCCHINI - there is always excess zucchini, slice them up and grill or stir fry; shred them and add to quick bread, muffins or pancakes; shred them into soup; make fritters.

  • BROWN BANANAS - use for baking; peel and freeze them for a summer treat dipped in chocolate, or freeze them in chunks and blend them with peanut butter for delicious “ice cream”

  • BANANA PEEL - let a few sit in water for a few days to create a potassium and phosphorus compost tea for houseplants or garden; rub on your dry skin as a moisturizer.

  • CELERY STEM - regrow celery stalks

  • TOMATO PEEL CORES AND JUICE - blend and simmer down with spice for sauces

  • APPLE PEEL - make tea; make jam with peel and cores; simmer with water in a cooked on pan so the acid cleans up the pan.

  • CITRUS PEEL - make marmalade; freeze or dehydrate strips to add to tea or summer drinks; dry and add to homeade vinegar cleaners as a grease buster and antibacterial; freshen your garbage disposal by running them through.

  • APRICOT PEEL - make jam.

  • JUICED LEMON HALVES - scrub the stovetop with the spent fruit

  • FRUIT SCRAPS - simmer in a little water to freshen the air; make fruit vinegar; make fruit shrubs for cocktails.

  • STALE BREAD - toast it and top with avocado; grind it for breadcrumbs and seal tight; make croutons; put a crust / heel in dry brown sugar to moisten it.

  • DRIED CHEESE - if it’s not moldy it will still make a nice macaroni and cheese; add to sauces

  • PARMESAN RINDS - any hard cheese rind is great added to soup. Store them sealed in the fridge until you need them.

  • COFFEE - save the strong bottom of the pot for recipes.

  • SOURED MILK - shines your silverware; pour it in the toilet to help clean your septic tank; spray it on plants to repel deer; use with your brown bananas for baking

  • SOURED WINE - it’s not bad it’s just on it’s way to being red wine vinegar, or simmer it into stews

  • BACON GREASE - save cooled grease in a glass jar to make suet.

  • HOME MADE PICKLE BRINE - (don’t use store bought) when the pickles are gone spice up soup with a little brine; add to bland bean dishes; brine meat before grilling; pickle watermelon rinds.

    How do you work toward zero waste? We would love more ideas!

Sharon DwyerComment