21 Ways to Reuse Leftovers when Composting isn't an Option

Last week, Meredith wrote about outdoor composting in the (very, very cold) winter. But what do you do with leftovers when composting isn’t an option? Kate gives us 21 ways to reuse food scraps instead of sending them straight to the landfill.

In the world of zero waste, composting is generally considered a must. This can be done via a backyard compost pile or bin, vermicomposting, or a municipal organics recycling program.

We know that food waste is a huge problem, and accounts for a massive amount of the total waste and carbon emissions generated in the U.S. This rotting food, which does not compost due to lack of oxygen in a landfill, creates toxic methane gas, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Plus, composting is nature’s perfected way to create rich, nutritious soil to put back on your plants or garden in lieu of toxic chemical fertilizers.

However, I also realize that composting is not always possible or accessible for people, despite their best intentions.

Maybe you’re moving and temporarily don’t have access to a compost bin (I’ve been there).
Maybe you live in a small apartment with no yard or access to an organics recycling service (also been there).
Maybe you’re elderly or disabled and composting just isn’t a physical reality for you.
Or maybe, right now in your zero waste journey, you just haven’t gotten to the composting part yet (been there, too).

Whatever the reason, I understand, and I’m here to give you some alternate ideas to utilize a portion of your food waste in a more eco-friendly way than tossing it all straight in the trash.

I still encourage you to work your way toward composting once you are able, since it really is the most earth-friendly thing to do with your food waste! (Or you could even write to your city or county officials and request that they start a curbside organics recycling service as so many communities have begun to do.)

Save vegetable scraps for soup stock.
This is one of the first zero waste things I started doing many years ago. (I actually started after learning about it from a Paleo book simply because it was healthy and practical!) I save my veggie scraps from chopping and peeling in a container in the freezer, and when it’s full, I put them all in a pot, fill with water, and let it simmer for about an hour. Once done, strain out the chunks, and voila, you have nutritious vegetable stock for your next soup! The base of a great stock is usually onions, carrots, and celery, but here is a complete list of what you can include and what to leave out of your stock.

Use parts of the veggies you might normally toss.
A lot of us, including me, were not taught to eat certain parts of fruits and vegetables that are totally edible and often highly nutritious (think celery leaves, strawberry tops, carrot greens, and kale stalks). Most of these can be thrown into a smoothie or juiced, but I also found a few interesting recipes (see previous links) that use these underappreciated parts.

Regrow fruits and vegetables from scraps.
How cool is this?! I see these tutorials popping up everywhere lately and I’ve been meaning to try it. It won’t work for just anything, but here are 25 foods you can regrow.

Bury banana peels in your garden soil and potted plants.
Banana peels are full of great nutrients that your plants love even if they can’t be fully composted. If you chop them up into small pieces, you can bury them in your garden soil, landscaping, or even in your indoor potted plants. Be sure to bury them in the soil or even dry them first so they don’t attract flies.

Use fruit and veggie scraps in a smoothie.
This one is pretty self-explanatory and you might already be doing it, but things like apple peels/cores, tomato peels, carrot peels, strawberry tops, etc. are delicious in a smoothie and can even boost the nutritional content.

Make jam with fruit peels and scraps.
Why put fruit scraps in the trash when you can make a delicious jam

Pickle your watermelon rinds.
I didn’t know this was a thing until I lived in Texas, but watermelon rinds are fully edible when pickled

Make a fruit scrap air freshener.
I do this, especially in the fall and winter, and it makes my house smell AMAZING and can be used over the course of several days. My favorite is orange peels (or oranges that have gone bad), vanilla, cinnamon, and clove, but there are tons of other options.

Infuse vinegar for cleaning with citrus rinds.
Save citrus rinds in a mason jar in the freezer and when it’s full, use them to make a better smelling cleaning spray for your house. After all, I think we can all agree that plain vinegar does not have the most pleasing smell…

Make apple cider vinegar with apple peels and cores.
So, at this point, I think we’ve learned we should never throw fruit scraps out with the plethora of uses there are for them! Here is a recipe for apple scrap vinegar (also works well with pineapple).

Use cherry pits to make a heating pad.
Did you know that you can make a heating pad with cherry pits instead of rice, corn, or flax? 

Use the pumpkin guts from Halloween instead of tossing them.
Most of us have scraped the ooey-gooey guts from a pumpkin at some point in our lives. There are tons more uses for those innards from your jack-o-lanterns than just roasted pumpkin seeds. (Many of these could probably also be used for the insides of various squashes that you might be cooking with.)

Spread coffee grounds on your plants.
Coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen and other trace minerals, and are perfect to spread on your grass, garden, and plants/landscaping!

Make a coffee ground face scrub.
This is one we have been doing for a long time now and it works super well! See recipes here.

Use leftover pulp from nut milk as flour.
If you make homemade nut milks you know that once the milk is made, you are left with all the fibrous nut pulp. Do not toss this! The pulp can easily be made into nut flour. All you have to do is bake it on a sheet pan in your oven on a low setting as described here.

Feed unwanted seeds and nuts to birds.
If you have extra seeds or nuts that you don’t want, you can put them out for the birds to eat. Just make sure they are not rancid or spoiled as this is not good for the birds and they likely won’t eat them anyway.

Save cracker crumbs or stale pieces of bread to make bread crumbs, croutons, stuffing, bread pudding, etc.
With so many uses for stale bread, you should never have any reason to throw it away! Unless it’s moldy, of course… See how to make croutons and bread crumbs here.

Crush/grind your dried eggshells and spread on plants.
Eggshells contain lots of calcium and can be a great supplement for your garden when prepared properly!

Feed eggshells to the birds.
Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for birds as it is essential for healthy egg-laying. So next time you make eggs, consider saving the shells to feed to the birds. Here’s how!

Make a dietary supplement from crushed eggshells (for yourself and/or your pets).
Research has shown that consuming powdered eggshells is good for you! It’s also good for your pets. Here are instructions how to make an eggshell calcium supplement yourself.

Make bone broth with leftover bones.
Bone broth from quality sources is a great source of essential nutrients and excellent for your digestive health. Obviously, if you’re vegan, this won’t be up your alley, but for all the omnivores out there, here’s a recipe to make your own bone broth at home.

Have you tried any of these? Or do you have more uses for food scraps to share! Let us know in the comments.

Kate Marnach recently moved to the Minneapolis suburbs with her husband and three kids after ten years of city living, and she’s still adjusting. She has a background in biology and a passion for helping the environment, but unexpected health challenges several years ago ultimately set her on a path toward clean eating and zero-waste living. She enjoys spending time outside with her family, hiking, traveling, and staying up way too late (because that’s when the house is finally quiet). In 2018, Kate is hoping to show that even suburbanites can live zeroish waste lifestyles. She also plans to continue her minimalism journey, learn to be a more productive gardener, and join a gym for the free childcare.

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