Greening your life—reducing your impact on the environment—takes a little research and planning. Because the kitchen is the most waste-producing room in an average house, it's a great place to start. The best way to do it is slowly, by starting with the easy, budget-friendly choices and moving on from there. Here are eight simple ways to green your kitchen.
1. Exile excessive packaging. Oats, popcorn, flour, pasta, dried fruit, beans, and even cereal can be purchased in the bulk section (also called the bag and weigh section) of your local natural foods grocery. Some mainstream supermarkets are even catching on to this eco-friendly trend. You simply scoop what you want out of a large covered bin and then the cashier weighs it when you check out. Although the store usually provides plastic bags, bringing your own reusable containers is a better option. Have a cashier weigh your containers while empty, and then the cashier will subtract that weight from the filled container.
If you can’t find your favorite foods in the bulk section, try to select the largest size that you can reasonably use (white vinegar will last forever, and can be purchased in gallon jugs, for example), or choose the brand that is packaged in cardboard or recyclable plastic, and be sure to recycle it when you’re through.
If you’re packing your lunch, use reusable containers instead of plastic baggies for lunch items, and tote them all to work or school in a reusable lunch bag. Many of these bags are insulated too, so your lunch will stay fresher.
BONUS: Packaging costs money too, so by buying in bulk and portioning out the food yourself, you'll save cash!
2. Consider compost. Onion peels, carrot trimmings, apple cores, and egg shells will all become nutrient-rich dirt in a few months if you toss them in the compost. If they wind up in the landfill however, chances are they’ll stick around for a lot longer. Oxygen is necessary to keep the decomposing process moving along, but landfills are designed to keep air and water out. A carrot stick in a landfill could stick around for over a decade.
To compost, you can buy or build a compost bin, or if you have a big yard, a simple compost pile will work just as well. If you don’t have a yard, check out worm composting, which you can do in your own kitchen. Completed compost can be used to fertilize vegetable or flower gardens, container gardens, and even houseplants, returning nourishment to the soil instead of clogging up the already over-crowded landfills.
BONUS: Kitchens generate a lot of waste, but when you compost, you can significantly reduce the amount of trash in your kitchen and at your curb. But make sure you do it properly, as certain foods should not be composted.
3. Buy organic. Choosing organically grown foods, which aren’t treated with chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, when you have the option helps to reduce the pesticide burden on the earth. Read more about the reasons to choose organic food here, and then learn how to buy organic on a budget.
BONUS: Organic foods are usually richer in nutrients too—they do a body good.
4. Eat locally. Besides tasting fresher, locally-grown food is more ecologically sustainable. It benefits farmers and the local economy, as the profits from what is grown near you stay in your community. Check out your local farmer’s market for the best just-picked fruits and vegetables of the season, and select produce that was grown using organic methods to compound the eco-benefits. Buy large quantities and freeze, can, or dry them to enjoy locally-grown food all winter long. Or start your own organic backyard garden—the ultimate in local food.
BONUS: When you buy food that's been shipped across the globe, you have to "eat" those transportation costs when you buy. Local food is also seasonal, which means it tastes better and is also more affordable.
5. Use greener cleaners. Chlorine-free automatic dishwashing powder, petroleum-free soap, and non-toxic floor cleaner are all easy to find in most grocery stores. These products work just as well as their conventional competition, but leave behind less toxic residue for our bodies and the environment to process. You can also make your own cleaners with common household items like baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and washing soda.
BONUS: "Green" cleaners are usually better for people who have chemical sensitivities. Besides being better for the planet, they're healthier for everyone in your household.
6. Drink filtered, not bottled. If you’re buying bottled water, consider this fact: In the state of California alone, nearly three million used plastic water bottles wind up in the landfill every day. Although you might recycle yours, keep in mind that it takes energy and resources to manufacture and transport these bottles—and to recycle them too. A better option is to buy a water filter that attaches to your kitchen faucet, and fill reusable bottles at the tap.
BONUS: You'll save tons of money by saying no to bottled water and save trips to the grocery store to get it.
7. Mind your appliances. Look for the Energy Star label when buying new appliances, which means that the appliance has met the quality and energy-efficiency guidelines of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. And make sure you use your appliances correctly. Monitor the temperature in your fridge (it shouldn't be so cold that it freezes your milk), only run your dishwasher if it’s completely full (otherwise you’ll waste water and energy), and try to multitask your oven (if you’re firing it up to cook the dinner casserole, throw in a few potatoes too, and you’ll have lunch for tomorrow).
BONUS: Boosting the energy-efficiency of your appliances also keeps money in your wallet by reducing your utility usage.
8. Don’t pre-rinse. If you have a newer model dishwasher equipped with a built-in garbage disposal unit, rinsing your dishes is probably an unnecessary, and wasteful, step. Read the instructions and experiment with a few loads to see how much your machine can handle.
BONUS: Skipping the pre-rinse not only saves water, but it also saves you time and energy!
Here's to a greener kitchen and a healthier planet!