The kitchen is arguably the centre of your home. It’s the modern day hearth; it’s where we ‘break bread.’ Let’s see where we can reduce our impact and save a lot of money to boot.
Reduce Your Use of Disposables
We’ve all been guilty of turning to disposables for convenience, but these items are major contributors to the global plastic pollution problem and the global waste problem. Worse, we’re literally throwing away money every time we use a disposable. Here’s a quick inventory of what you might be using and what you can replace them with:
- Paper towels. These are fine for big spills, but should be used sparingly otherwise. Instead, use washable bar towels, wash down cloths, or even cheap face cloths for regular surface cleaning. We have a big pile of these and a little hamper for them in our laundry room to hold the dirty ones until a load of wash goes through. If you do buy paper towel, try to buy paper towel made of recycled paper, and consider disposing of it in the composter.
- Paper plates and cups. Because these are plastic or wax coated and/or have plastic cores, or worse, made of styrofoam, these are terrible. They use up a lot of resources, and generally aren’t recyclable, even if the packaging says they are, because recycling plants can’t deal with whatever might be stuck on them. Stick with the real stuff.
- Plastic wrap. I shudder to think how much single use plastic wrap is just lying about in dumps around the world. And there’s no need for it! Use sealable containers instead; either stuff you’ve saved from the grocery store and put into use, or specialized containers with lids. Not only are these easier to handle (how many times have you cursed the plastic wrap for sticking to itself?!) they come in a variety of sizes and can be properly washed to stay clean. You can also use beeswax wraps if you want something prettier to cover your dishes with.
Shop Local and Buy In Season
When it comes to shopping for food, look no further than your local farmers market or grocery store. By shopping locally you’re cutting down on carbon emissions produced by transportation along with supporting small business owners in your community. Additionally, try to buy produce that is in season so you can avoid foods imported from other countries and reduce packaging waste.
Water conservation is key if you want an eco-friendly kitchen. Turn off the faucet while washing dishes and use a bowl while washing fruits and vegetables instead of running them under water from the tap. You can also install low-flow aerators on sink faucets which will help conserve water without compromising efficiency or power. This will save on your water bill, and the water taste better too. Washing dishes? Dishwashers are actually more efficient, because they use high pressure jets and insulated heat to make water use more efficient.
Making Your Appliances Greener
The appliances in your kitchen are responsible for a large portion of your energy consumption. This means they have a significant effect on your carbon footprint. To reduce your environmental impact, opt for energy efficient models when replacing or buying new appliances. Look for those with an Energy Star rating which indicates that it is more efficient than other models on the market. Make sure you follow local guidelines for getting rid of old appliances so they are properly recycled.
… and No More Gas Stoves
While some cooks swear by gas-powered stoves, there’s an increasing body of evidence to suggest that they’re big contributors to indoor air pollution. Bad installs, or vents that haven’t been maintained properly, or forgetting to turn on the hood extraction fan when you cook: all of these can mean you may have small methane leaks, increased nitrogen dioxide, and trace quantities of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in your house. These can cause respiratory and other issues. And of course, methane (natural gas) is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. The less we use it, the less we’re likely to release it into the atmosphere. Go electric.
Instant Hot Water Heater
Also known as tankless hot water heaters, these are much more efficient because they heat water as you need it, rather than keeping a large tank of water warm all the time. The upfront costs of these are still on the high side; you might want to see if there’s a government subsidy available to make the switch. The operational cost savings are great, though, and you don’t ever “run out” of hot water either.
Reducing Food Waste
Food waste is another major contributor to our carbon footprints, so reducing food waste should be a priority for anyone looking to make their kitchen more eco-friendly. Start by being mindful about how much food you buy and use — only buy what you need and try to use up all leftovers before they go bad! Composting food scraps is another great way to reduce waste — this helps break down organic material into nutrient-rich soil without releasing harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere like landfills do.
Composting doesn’t have to be complicated or hard work. We have a stainless steel bucket on our kitchen counter which holds our food waste. The lid fits tightly enough that it doesn’t smell; we empty it very two to three days. In our yard we have a simple tumble composter; we fill one side at a time and spin it every time we tip stuff into it. We also use a solar digester for overflow compost. The EPA maintains a list of what can and can’t be composted at home.
Opt For Sustainable Materials
Another way to make your kitchen more eco-friendly is by using sustainable materials when possible. For example, bamboo cutting boards are much better for the environment than plastic ones since they are biodegradable and compostable. Bamboo is also much stronger than wood so it will last longer and won’t require replacement as often. Renovating? You can also consider other sustainable materials such as cork or recycled glass for countertops or backsplashes instead of traditional tile or stone options.
Consider coconut “coir” or loofah scrubbies for dish cleaning, and bamboo handled utensils instead of plastic.
Replace old light bulbs with LEDs: Replacing the traditional incandescent bulbs with energy efficient LED ones can help reduce your eco footprint. LEDs last longer than regular bulbs and use up to 85% less energy while providing the same amount of light. Make sure you dispose of these properly — they don’t go in the garbage.
Not in the room? Turn out the lights! If your family is objectively terrible about this, motion sensor switches might be a good investment. Pro-tip: don’t attempt to install these, or indeed anything electrical, yourself.
Nonstick pans are convenient but there’s evidence to suggest that they do release toxic chemicals into the air and your food when heated. Look for eco-friendly cookware that is free of toxic chemicals like PFOA and non-toxic materials like cast iron, stainless steel, and ceramic.
Use eco-friendly cleaning products: Standard cleaning products often contain chemicals that can be damaging to the environment. Choose eco-friendly alternatives such as baking soda, vinegar, or natural soap instead. If you don’t have the time or patience to make and bottle your own eco friendly cleaners, there are an increasing number of these available at the grocery store. Even better, many of these come in large refill sizes.
Packaging, Packaging, Packaging
I saved this for last, not because it’s the least problematic issue in the kitchen. In fact, it’s the worst! But, it will take a bit of sustained effort on your part to whittle this down.
So much of what we bring home from the grocery store involves plastic these days. It’s disheartening. I’ve seen oranges that have been peeled and then put into plastic containers. I’ve seen cucumbers that are shrink-wrapped. All in the name of convenience, supposedly, although I don’t recall any customer petition asking for pre-peeled oranges. It’s one of those things marketed to us to sell more oranges… at the expense of the environment.
What can you do? Pick a product you regularly buy, and look at it more critically. Pasta, for example, typically comes in either a single use plastic bag, or a cardboard box. The cardboard box is at least recyclable. The plastic, not so much. Find a comparable brand that uses better packaging.
Tea bags… a lot of them now come in plasticized individual pouches, which is completely unnecessary. Once you open the box of tea bags, all you need to do is put them in an air tight tin to keep them fresh! So, pick another brand of tea that does better. (Also avoid those brands that have plastic tea bags!)
And so on, and so on. You get the idea. If you want to take it one step further, send a polite, but firm note to the company’s customer service centre and complain about their wasteful packaging. Tell them you’re not buying their product anymore and why.
Another way to reduce grocery store packaging is to buy in bulk, and buy refillable products. At the moment a lot of this stuff is only available at higher end or boutique style grocery shops. But some of the bigger chains are getting into this, so use it when you can.