When setting out to create a greener kitchen and home it’s hard to know where to start. Information overload is definitely a problem. Five minutes on Google and suddenly I have 42 checklists, 700 “green” products to buy, and if I don’t make the changes today I’ll be diagnosed with 6 different cancers within the year. Alright, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar. There is so much info out there it’s hard to know what to do.
Creating a greener kitchen environment
In our home, I focus on making small changes each week to create a greener environment. One week it’s adding more organic produce to the shopping list. The next week we’re taking time to wash and recycle cans and jars.
In order to help you take small steps towards a greener home, I’ve put together this guide to help you create a more sustainable, greener kitchen.
I’m not saying you need to dive in and make every one of these changes today. But pick one thing and implement that. Once you’ve mastered that, move on to something else. The path towards a more sustainable life is taken one step at a time.
For simplicity I’ve broken this list down into the 3 R’s; Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Reducing kitchen waste
Food waste is a major issue facing the world right now. In the U.S., it is estimated that 40% of the food produced is never even consumed.
When you think about all the water, energy, and time that goes into producing food, that’s a ton of wasted resources!
So what can you do to reduce food waste in your home?
We often end up purchasing more food than we need. This may be because we need a certain amount for a recipe and have no choice but to purchase more than we need. Or, maybe we just shop hungry (always a bad idea).
- One way to reduce your food waste is to more carefully plan your cooking. Figure out what recipes you like that share similar ingredients and plan to cook them in the same week. If you don’t enjoy leftovers, learn to cook smaller quantities of food that are better suited for your household’s size.
- Another way to reduce food waste is to store your food properly. When stored properly, food will last longer, giving you the chance to eat it before it spoils.
There’s an app for that
The USDA FoodKeeper app is a great way to learn more about the shelf life of various foods and how to store them properly. The best part about this app is that it goes well beyond produce, covering baby food, baked goods, condiments, and even meat. You should definitely take a minute and download the app. You’ll be amazed at how helpful it is.
If you do end up with extra produce that you know will go bad before you can eat it all, you can always freeze a portion for later. We do this in our home all the time with berries and bananas.
Inevitably you’ll have food that goes bad. At home composting can be a great way to put that spoiled produce to good use.
Earth911 took a tour of Singh Farms to learn the technical details about composting. If you’re interested in learning the science of composting click here.
The greatest benefit to composting is that you end up with nutrient-rich soil that can be used to grow delicious new produce. To help you get started we put together a video on all you need to know about composting.
We all have cleaning chemicals in our kitchen, frequently stuffed under the kitchen sink. Have you ever taken a minute to read through the ingredients? Unless you’re a chemist you probably can’t pronounce most of them.
When wiping down your kitchen, floor, and dishes, these cleaning chemicals often leave behind residue that will later come in contact with your hands and food. We recommend replacing these toxic cleaning products with natural ones that work just as well.
Lemon, baking soda, and vinegar are some of the best natural cleaners out there. Here are a few quick suggestions on how to use them to clean your kitchen.
Cleaning quick tips
- Remove stains from food storage containers: Squeeze the juice from a lemon into the containers, then add a little baking soda. Rub the mixture into the stains. Let sit overnight if necessary.
- Clean your microwave: Slice a lemon, put it in a bowl of water and microwave for 45 seconds. This should make stains easier to wipe away and eliminate unpleasant odors.
- Clean your coffeemaker: Run the machine with equal parts water and vinegar. Halfway through the cycle, turn it off and let it sit for an hour. Then complete the cycle.
- Unclog a drain: Pour 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain. Rinse with water.
- Make glasses sparkle: Put one cup of vinegar in the bottom of your dishwasher before you run the cycle. After you run the dishwasher, your glassware shouldn’t be cloudy.
- Remove stains from coffee and tea mugs: Fill mugs with one part baking soda and two parts water and let sit overnight. Scrub and rinse in the morning.
- Remove burnt food from the bottoms of pots and pans: Sprinkle baking soda over the burnt areas, add hot water and let sit overnight. Scrub in the morning.
- Remove odors from food containers: Simply rinse containers with baking soda and water to remove smells. Let sit overnight if necessary.
- Clean spills in the oven: Scrub the bottom of the oven with steel wool and baking soda. (Note: If you have a self-cleaning oven, don’t use this method.)
Though it doesn’t happen often, when you do need to purchase new appliances be sure to purchase energy-efficient ones.
Energy Star rated products are the go-to choice when it comes to finding the most energy-efficient appliances. They (Energy Star) have put together a great tool that allows you to put together a profile of your whole home. After you’ve created your home profile they’ll give you recommendations on how you can save energy.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, your appliances account for about 13% of your home’s energy use. Purchasing newer, more efficient models can save you a significant amount of money over the lifespan of the appliance. When you do replace your appliances be sure to recycle your old ones properly, but more on that later.
Reuse in the kitchen
When it comes time to store leftovers it’s important to use sustainable food storage, and glass and stainless steel are two good options.
Glass containers such as Pyrex and Glasslock are certainly among the best options available. Glass is a long-lasting material and is microwave and oven safe.
In our home, we use this set of Pyrex storage containers daily. My favorite part about using these glass food storage containers is that you can cook your meal in them and then throw the lid on and stick the leftovers in the fridge for later. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Another great option is stainless steel. Stainless steel has the benefit of not breaking when dropped like glass containers do. (When I was 16 my mom baked my favorite cake in a glass pan. We took it to the park for a party and it got knocked off the table. Glass went everywhere and the cake was ruined. If it had been in a stainless steel pan, we still could have eaten it.)
Stainless steel containers are also completely recyclable. If they get bent out of shape you can take them to your nearest scrap yard and they’ll pay you for the metal.
Another great benefit of stainless steel containers is they can be set right on your stovetop to heat up leftovers.
If you can’t find a glass or stainless steel container for your food, there are plastic options that are better than others. We are big fans of Preserve products which are almost all made from recycled #5 plastic. Preserve products are microwave safe, dishwasher safe, BPA free, and when you’re done with them they can be sent back to Preserve to be recycled.
One last thing before we get to the recycling section. If you aren’t already, start using reusable shopping bags, preferably the canvas or fabric type rather than the plastic ones as there’s no recycling solution available for the large, reusable plastic bags.
I know I just mentioned using reusable shopping bags but inevitably you’re going to have plastic bags around your home that need to be recycled. Fortunately, plastic bags can be recycled at most grocery and retail stores.
While this widespread access to plastic bag recycling is still relatively new, it’s become more and more popular as retailers have set their own sustainability initiatives.
What many people don’t realize is that grocery bags aren’t the only type of plastic bag that can go in these drop-off bins.
Plastic bags are typically made from plastic #2 or #4 and can be recycled together. Here are a few other products made from these plastics that you can drop off in these bins.
- Ziploc-type plastic bags, as long as they are clean and dry.
- Plastic, air-filled, shipping pouches. (Just cut them and let the air out).
- Plastic bread and bagel bags, as long as you empty all the crumbs out.
Find out more about plastic bag recycling and find a location near you by visiting our Plastic Bag Recycling Guide.
Cardboard and cartons
Most city curbside recycling bins accept cardboard. To make things easier on space in your own bin, be sure to break them down so they’re flat. Don’t worry about tape and other paper that’s attached to the cardboard as this will be removed during the recycling process.
Most city curbside programs also accept paperboard which is the cardboard-like box that holds cereal, pasta, and other boxed dry goods.
Unfortunately, frozen food boxes, a.k.a. waxed cardboard, are not as widely accepted. These boxes require more work to recycle so check with your city or county to find out if you can place them in the recycling bin.
Another product to check on with your city is milk and juice cartons. Many cities do accept them though it is best to double-check. Visit the Carton Council to find out if your city accepts cartons in your blue bin.
Large appliances, like washing machines, clothes dryers, water heaters, ovens, stoves, refrigerators, freezers, furnaces, and air conditioners are a big source of waste in the United States. However, they often aren’t that difficult to recycle.
In fact, if you are replacing an appliance with a new one the company delivering it will often take your old one for recycling. This service has made appliance recycling far easier over the last few years.
If you need to recycle an old appliance, be aware that there are often fees to cover the cost of removing and properly disposing of the Freon commonly found in refrigerators, freezers, and A/C units.
Find out more about large appliance recycling and find a recycling location near you by visiting our Large Appliance Recycling Guide.
A homework assignment
As mentioned, cleaning chemicals often contain toxic ingredients that are hazardous to your health. Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group has put together some fantastic resources to help understand what cleaning products are hazardous.
If you’re looking for a first step to greening your kitchen this homework assignment below is perfect. In this assignment, we’re going to figure out just how hazardous your cleaning products are. Here’s what to do:
- Pull out some of the cleaning products you use most frequently.
- Click here to visit EWG’s cleaning product search.
- Using the search bar at the top of the page, or the Product search on the left side of the page, look up your cleaning products.
How do your products rate?
Feature image credit: alexandre zveiger / Shutterstock