The environment needs our help in every way, but the most close to home way may be no further than our kitchens.
Creating an eco-friendly, green kitchen does not require special skills or expenses. In fact, it may even save you money and help our planet in the process. Here are 11 easy ways to make your kitchen more eco-friendly.
Recycle….the right way
Do you recycle? Great! The bad news is that you’re probably doing it wrong. The good news is that a few small changes can ensure that your recycling actually gets recycled. Recycle the right way. Check your local guidelines to ensure that you’re separating, bundling, and sorting your recycling correctly. Contrary to what we would like to think, recycling plants cannot pick through large streams of recycling to ensure the errant non-recyclable gets tossed. Often, if one item is not recyclable, a whole bunch gets trashed.
Rinse your recycling items. Items coated in grease or lots of food residue cannot always be recycled.
Do not put your recycling in plastic trash bags unless specifically allowed by the waste management in your community. Those bags are not recyclable. Either toss your recycling into your recycling bin loose, or put it in a paper grocery bag and then toss (assuming that your recycling accepts co-mingled paper with your plastics, that is).
Even better, minimize use of disposable items, period
Recycling faces a severe crisis in the United States right now. China used to purchase and accept huge quantities of US recycling. No more.
Further, many common kitchen and dining items cannot be recycled at all. These items include: K-cups, most disposable coffee cups and lids, used paper napkins and paper towels, dirty aluminum foil, cardboard milk and juice containers, greasy takeout containers, plastic straws, plastic utensils, food-covered aluminum and plastic wrap, etc. Their eco-friendly green factor? None.
An eco-friendly kitchen can do this instead:
- Instead of throwing plastic wrap or foil around food, place it in a reusable (glass) container, or cover food with a plate instead of plastic wrap.
- Look for bottle-return dairy products, which are making a comeback in certain areas.
- Enjoy using linen napkins instead of paper. No need to get fancy unless you want to, retailers like Ikea and Target have inexpensive napkins.
- Use washable cotton dish cloths and kitchen towels to cut back on disposable sponges and paper towel usage.
- Instead of takeout, enjoy dining in the restaurant.
Switch to greener cleaning products
Now, more than ever, we all understand the importance of strong virus- and bacteria-killing disinfectants and cleaning products. But for general cleaning, using fewer chemicals often produces the same or even better results.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created an excellent database for searching eco-friendly green products, as well as for checking toxicity of other ones. You can check this out at https://www.ewg.org/consumer-guides.
Use the Dishwasher
Modern dishwashers are highly efficient. Running a full load of dishes in a dishwasher uses far less water than hand washing the same amount. Plus, many do not even require extensive pre-rinsing. This translates into less work for you, which is always a bonus.
Use the right tools
- For cooking: Cook your food in stainless steel and cast iron, not Teflon. Use silicone, metal, or wooden utensils, not plastic. Plastic degrades at high temperatures and can impart particles into your food. Use wood cutting boards, not plastic, they are cleaner and greener.
- For storage: Store food in glass containers, not plastic. There are chemicals used in plastics that are not tightly bound to the material which means they easily leach away and contaminate your food.
- For baking: Reusable silicone mats such as Silpats will last forever, that way you can eliminate the disposable parchment or foil. Most pastry chefs use silicone mats for baking.
Eat a little less meat
Eat less meat and more vegetable-based meals. Cattle has an enormous and well-documented environmental toll: deforestation to create grazing pastures; fertilizer runoff; methane; excessive crop and water usage to raise animals; and more.
A 2009 study found that four-fifths of the deforestation across the Amazon rainforest could be linked to cattle ranching. And the water pollution from factory farms (also called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs) where pigs and other livestock are contained in tight quarters can produce as much sewage as a small city.
Further, the widespread use of antibiotics to keep livestock healthy on those overcrowded CAFOs has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that threaten human health and the environment in their own right.
Even if you aren’t interested in becoming a vegan, or even a vegetarian, we are all able to cut back on the meat products we consume. And even a little bit can make a big impact.
Cut back on food waste
Be conscious of how much food you buy, how much you cook, and how much you waste. Tossed food scraps and food waste cause the release of greenhouse gases when they break down in a landfill.
Food waste also wastes the precious resources (water, transportation, feed) it took to get that food to you in the first place. Getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. Yet 40 percent of all food in the U.S. today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, but also that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills as the single largest component of U.S. solid waste where it accounts for a large portion of U.S. methane emissions. Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year. This number is huge when you consider that one in six Americans lacks a secure supply of food to the kitchen table.
Consider composting. Composting is taking your kitchen scraps and waste and helping them decompose into soil that is incredibly good for your garden. It’s basically controlling and speeds along nature’s decomposition process by recycling organic matter and transforming it into a nutrient-rich soil. Composting is not hard, it just requires a little effort and a few tools. There’s a simple guide to composting in The Kitchn, https://www.thekitchn.com/tips-for-setting-up-a-simple-backyard-compost-system-202160.
Not interested in composting? Many farmer’s markets accept food scraps for composting. Check your local markets.
Get smart on grocery bags
Plastic grocery bags are not generally recyclable. I repeat: plastic grocery bags are not generally recyclable. Cities around the world are banning them for a reason. They clog waterways and streams, kill wildlife, break down into micro-plastics which can then enter the food cycle, and more.
Use washable (and please wash them) fabric or canvas grocery totes for a more eco-friendly, green grocery shopping.
Brighten things up with LEDs
Fossil fuel burning plants still generate most of our electricity. So the more efficiently we can use power the better. Switching to LED lights not only saves electricity, it saves money as well.
Reduce your food packaging
It’s far too easy to choose food that comes prepared in layers of plastic packaging, but you’ll be doing the earth a favor by selecting items in cardboard or compostable materials. Depending on your area, you may be able to shop at bulk food stores, to which you bring your own containers and fill them with dry foods like pasta, rice, and nuts.
Buy local when you can
There are perks to living in a connected world, but the energy it takes to get products from all over the globe onto your plate is not one of them. The fuel required to get an item from where it is made to where it is purchased or consumed has a cost. And the greater the distance, the greater the carbon emissions. Look into local farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA). These vendors are more likely to grow and raise food organically and humanely and the proximity of their farms reduces the cost of transporting it.
Greening up your kitchen is healthier for you and your family, but it’s also less wasteful and more economical. And remember, you do not need to do everything at once. Just incorporating a few tips can make an impact over time.