Long before I spent majority of my time at home due to the pandemic, I was spending time finding ways to reduce my waste at home… or at least, maximizing my use of stuff before they saw themselves out.
Through interactions with friends and followers, I’ve realized that there are many things I do in my own little waste-reducing world that others appreciate. I’ve also realized that I haven’t done a lifestyle post in ages. So here we go! I’m happy to present a small collection of tips that you may find helpful and fun to introduce into your own household… and at negligible or no extra costs at all.
For all tips, I highly recommend that you choose organic produce only for optimal health and safety measures.
1. USED / EXPIRED COFFEE GROUNDS
What to do with it: BODY SCRUB
I’m not a coffee person, but my partner is. When he switched from instant coffee to grinding and brewing his own, I started noticing the large volumes of coffee grounds he was tossing out each week. I decided to try making something from them and asked him to start setting his grounds aside in the fridge for me.
I’d leave them out in the sun to dry for a few days, then make a body scrub. I don’t have a recipe as I wasn’t planning to share it, but there are plenty of online resources that have exact measurements for you to try out!
My scrub contains coffee grounds, coarse brown sugar, argan oil and peppermint essential oil stored in an old body scrub jar. The argan oil settles to the bottom over time, so I just top up the scrub with more sugar and coffee.
The packet of coffee in this picture is from a friend who was moving house and clearing out her pantry. I decided to adopt her expired coffee, which would work just as well for scrubs.
And seriously, it’s one of the most effective body scrubs I’ve ever used. It is so invigorating to use in the shower, smells wonderful, and my skin feels so smooth and pampered afterwards.
The caffeine present in coffee has a skin-tightening effect, and may help reduce the appearance of cellulite when used regularly.
2. BANANA PEELS
What to do with them: BANANA PEEL BACON
Yes, you read that right. This trend hit Tiktok in March 2021 and it’s one of the most fun things I’ve tried making during lockdown.
You can either refer to a recipe, or wing it like it did for my Tiktok video series aptly called #cincaikitchen. (Cincai, pronounced ‘chin-chye’, is a Malaysian English slang for ‘no fuss’.) Watch the video here.
3. CITRUS PEELS
What to do with them: a) CITRUS TEA OR b) ENZYME CLEANER
I love buying loose herbs and creating my own tea concoctions to enjoy before bedtime. Adding dried citrus peels lifts the flavour of any herbal tea, and among its many benefits, soothes the digestive system and promotes strong immunity.
Slice peel into slivers and spread across a mesh strainer or any other tool that allows for drying on both sides. Leave out in the Malaysian sun for 5-7 days, depending on the thickness of your peels, until fully dried. Store peels in a glass jar in a cool dry place. Add to a cup of freshly boiled water, on its own or with other herbs, and allow to steep for 5-10 minutes.
They are also a treasured ingredient for making your own multipurpose Enzyme Cleaner. I’ve been making it for years and it is great to clean floors, laundry, toilets, kitchen counters, sprayed onto used yoga mats to refresh them. It is particularly spectacular in removing cat urine odors.
Some years back, a Canadian news site embedded my enzyme-making tutorial into one of their articles. To this day, it remains one of my most popular Youtube videos. I’m so happy it has helped people halfway across the world! I hope it will continue to empower consumers to replace their commercial chemical-based cleaners with natural alternatives that they will barely need to spend any money on.
4. FRESH PUMPKIN SKIN & SEEDS
What to do with them: COOK IT ALL TOGETHER!
Taking the cue from restaurants that was serving me pumpkin with the skin still on, I have started to cook my pumpkin whole at home. I’ve learned that the shells of fresh pumpkin seeds are also soft enough to be eaten whole. My favourite part of the pumpkin are the seeds plus the stringy spiderweb-like flesh that connects them. They take up flavours extremely well, and a tray of whole pumpkin roasted in soy sauce olive oil marinade is divine. The skin and seeds offer extra fibre, and the seeds offer protein, magnesium, zinc and iron.
5. PAPAYA PEELS
What to do with them: RUB IT ON YOUR FACE
I’ve been doing this for years without having done any research on it… so it delighted me to discover that I’m not alone! Browse through various techniques shared by others here, here, here, here and here. Try any that works for the sensitivity of your skin. My method is rinsing my face with water in the morning, patting try with a towel, rubbing the inner side of the peel all over my face (avoiding the eye area), leaving it on for about half an hour, then rinsing it off.
Apparently the more unripe the fruit is, the greater the concentration of papain under the peel. So if you’re making green papaya salad, keep those peels for a facial treatment that could quite possibly rival one you’d spend a few hundred ringgit at the spa for!
6. RICE WATER
What to do with them: a) WATER YOUR PLANTS OR B) RINSE YOUR HAIR
Another practice I’ve been doing without research, watering my plants with the water I use to rinse my rice was to me a simple act of being resourceful. When I had leftover water, I would leave it to ferment and use it the next day. What I didn’t know what that rice water – especially fermented – is a legitimate plant fertilizer!
I don’t practice any elaborate methods like this and this to develop fertilizer, rice water on its own is still nutritious for your leafy friends. The starch content in the water encourages healthy bacterial growth in roots. The water also contains beneficial minerals for plants, like the much sought-after combination of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium).
If you don’t have a garden or plants to tend to, you can also use this humble super-liquid on your scalp and crowning glory to wash and revive. I first heard about this tip from my zero waste advocate friend Melissa Tan. Apparently rice water is beneficial enough to replace shampoo altogether! As with the fertilizer application, fermenting is recommended. It is also seemingly reserved for white rice only.
7. ALL VEGGIE SCRAPS
What to do with them: VEGETABLE STOCK
One of the greatest kitchen hacks I learned 2 years ago was this ingenious way of reducing my fresh kitchen waste AND getting rust-coloured liquid umami dynamite.
Start collecting all your veggie scraps in a large-sized ziplock bag in the freezer. I use the 3 qt / 2.5 litre reusable ziplock bags from IKEA. Scraps include onion and garlic skins, the tops of daikons and and carrots, celery leaves (which are actually edible but if you prefer not to eat them, put them in!), empty corn cobs, roots, old herbs, edamame pods, potato peels, basically EVERYTHING.
Accumulate until the bag is practically bursting at the seal.
Then chuck all of it into a very large cooking pot, boil 4 litres of drinking water in a kettle, add this to your pot and boil it all for 2 hours.
Allow to cool completely, strain the liquid and squeeze out extra liquid from the scraps with your hands. You’ll be left with 1.5- 2 litres of stock that will add an extra dimension of flavour to your soups, stews and gravies.
Pour 1 or 2-cup portions into resealable bags, and store in the freezer. Thaw out in the fridge the night before using them.
8. BROCCOLI STEMS
What to do with them: BROCCOLI RICE
I’ve always cooked broccoli together with the stem. So when I recently found out that some people actually throw out their stalks, I had an existential crisis.
What I normally do with stems is cut away the tough, fibrous outer portion (which I then save for making aforementioned veggie stock), then cook the tender inner parts together with the florets. Another great way to use up a lot of stem at one go is making broccoli rice.
Dice the tender parts of the stem into small pieces and whizz it around in a food processor until fine. That’s it!
I love adding this raw to my salads and stirring in a generous amount of my Ulam Peanut Pesto. You can also steam, bake or stir-fry your rice.
The stems have great nutritional value and have a mild, slightly sweet taste.
Get inspired with other ways of using broccoli stems here, here and here.