Zero Waste Snacking: Microwave Popcorn

There is no denying that a good snack satisfies the soul sometimes. But there is also no denying that most things that are marketed as “snacks” aren’t all that good for you and come full of odd ingredients and covered in all manner of packaging. I’ve decided to combine my love of food and the planet to create a Zero Waste Snacking series. First up? Microwave popcorn!


Step 1: Go to your local bulk food store, jar in hand, and buy some popcorn.

What you saved: Packaging, money (bulk = cheaper, almost always, because you aren’t paying for packaging)

What you wasted: Gas

How you can prevent that waste: Make your trip worthwhile. If you have to drive, do most of your grocery shopping at the bulk store or hit it up on your way back from other errand running. Otherwise, walk, bike, or take public transportation.

Potential hidden costs to think about: Where did the popcorn come from? How far did it travel? How was it grown? Who grew it? Could you get it locally?

Use the Zero Waste Home Bulk Food Locator App to find a bulk food store near you! Most grocery stores have bulk foods now, and if they have a scale that you can tare, it is likely you can use your own containers. Just ask a sales associate if you aren’t sure!


It ain’t rocket science.

Step 2: Measure out 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels and put them in a glass bowl. Top with a ceramic plate and microwave for 4 minutes. (The website where I found this suggests 2 minutes and 45 seconds. Almost none of my kernels had popped by then. Just keep an eye on it, as microwaves vary.) Make sure you remove the plate when it’s done so the popcorn doesn’t get soggy from steam. Also, USE HOT PADS.

What you saved: Packaging (no thick microwaveable bag), kernels (unpopped ones can be put in the next batch just in case they aren’t duds), oil (for stove popping)

What you wasted: Electricity

How you can prevent that waste: You’re going to have to use some sort of energy to pop the corn, so unless you have your own clean energy source, this is unavoidable. Some electricity companies, like our local Emera Maine, allow you to add a few dollars to your electricity bill a month to support clean energy, so if you have a few extra bucks to spare, you can offset your electricity guilt this way.

Potential hidden costs to think about: Where did your microwave come from? What is the service life of a microwave? How many resources are used in making microwaves each year? Would it be better to pop it on the stovetop, even though you need oil? (I would wager that yes, microwaves should be tossed the way of the television – two birds with one stone? – but I’m not willing to give up the convenience of mine…)

Om nom nom...

Om nom nom…

Step 3: Dress your popcorn with your desired toppings. I recommend olive oil, dried dill weed, nutritional yeast, and a touch of salt – this combination tastes exactly like Little Lad’s herbal corn.

What you saved: Plastic baggies (as much as I LOVE Little Lad’s for its local-ness, it does still come in a plastic bag), yourself a heart attack (olive oil > butter, and there are a lot fewer ingredients in home-popped and -dressed popcorn than there are in the butter-soaked microwave bags)

What you wasted: Olive oil is quite difficult to buy in bulk without paying a mint. Herbs are cheap in bulk, but I recognize that it is far easier to find popcorn in bulk than it is to find herbs.

How you can prevent that waste: Buy glass bottles of olive oil or buy the giant oil-drum cans of it and fill up a smaller, glass dispensing container. Olive oil bottles are likely to be recyclable, and some recycling programs now don’t even require that you rinse containers out. Note: I recommend against buying herbs in large bulk – fill small containers if you can find them loose in a store – because they go bad quite quickly. For an excellent spice buying how-to, check out Aimee’s series on Simple Bites.

Potential hidden costs to think about: Where do your toppings come from? Who grew them? What is in them?

Does anybody else have snacks that they like to eat a lot that they would like to see a Zero Waste version of? I’d love to make this a series.


One thought on “Zero Waste Snacking: Microwave Popcorn

  1. I prefer it that way, too, and I guess I’m not sure which way is more wasteful, especially if you are going to put oil on it anyway like I do. I should look into how long it takes on a stove and how much energy that uses versus how much energy four minutes in a microwave uses. Microwaves are kind of like massive energy sucks, so I bet it’s more.

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