Earth Day, every day. Build your eco-friendly green kitchen.
April 22 is Earth Day. 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 nine easy ways to make your kitchen more eco-friendly for Earth Day, and beyond.
1. Recycle — the right way.
Do you recycle? Great! You are probably doing it wrong.
That is the bad news. 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 are 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 batch gets trashed.
- Rinse your recycling. 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 your waste management 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).
2. 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 U.S. recycling. No more. Check out Alana Semuel’s article in The Atlantic for an excellent, detailed read about this.
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, most cardboard milk and juice cartons, greasy takeout containers, plastic straws, plastic utensils, food-covered aluminum, and plastic wrap. Their eco-friendly green factor? Nil.
What to do 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
- Instead of takeout, enjoy dining in the restaurant — when they safely reopen post-pandemic, that is
- If you have a Keurig K-Cup coffee maker or similar, buy a fabulous coffee and swap in a reusable My K-Cup for the disposable pods
- Look for bottle-return dairy products, which are making a trendy comeback
- Enjoy using linen napkins instead of paper. No need to get fancy unless you want to; retailers from Ikea to Target sell inexpensive napkins. Use washable cotton dish cloths and kitchen towels to cut back on disposable sponges and paper towel usage.
3. Switch to greener cleaning products.
We all understand the importance of strong, virus- and bacteria-killing disinfectants and cleaning products, now more than ever. But for general cleaning, fewer chemicals often produce 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 the toxicity of other ones.
But you can make your own products as well, using inexpensive items you probably already have, like lemon, baking soda, and vinegar. This Good Housekeeping article takes you through “recipes” for common household cleaners, from glass cleaner to kitchen degreaser.
You may also like: How to Eat Mindfully and How to Un-Stink and Un-Stain Your Cutting Board
4. Run your dishwasher — when it’s full.
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. You’re welcome.
5. 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 slough particles into your food. Use wooden cutting boards, not plastic. They are cleaner, and greener.
- For storage: Store food in glass containers, not plastic. Plastic can leach, and may not be recyclable anyway.
- For baking: Reusable silicone mats such as Silpats (the gold standard) will last forever. That way, you can nix the disposable parchment or foil. (Pro pastry chefs primarily use silicone mats for baking.)
6. Eat a little (or a lot) 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; crop and water usage to raise animals; and more. According to the Scientific American:
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)—whereby pigs and other livestock are contained in tight quarters—can produce as much sewage waste as a small city, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
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.
7. 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.
Consider composting. Composting is not hard; it just requires a little effort and a few tools to get started. The result is superrich soil to nourish your garden. This article in The Kitchn walks you through the steps and materials.
Not interested in creating your own compost? Many farmers markets accept food scraps for composting. Check your local markets.
8. 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, streams, kill wildlife, break down into microplastics 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 shop. I am a big fan of sustainably-sourced Baggu bags: They fold up to nothing, are incredibly strong and light, wash well, and are super cute. (Psst–They’re also running a 25% discount for Earth Day!)
9. Brighten things up with LEDs.
Fossil fuel-burning power 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.