Sustainability at home starts in the kitchen. A lot of waste is created in the kitchen, from food, to packaging (containers, wraps, serving ware), to water and energy usage. Think about how much waste one single household produces every week in the kitchen alone. It can also be a place for toxic cleaning products. There are many things you can do to minimize all of it and also save yourself a small fortune.
Rule of thumb in living sustainably is always to use up what you have first before buying something new. This applies to kitchen wear as well as produce. Let’s say you want to replace your plastic food containers for glass containers, before throwing the plastic ones out maybe consider to reuse them for something else, pass them on or donate them. One of the main goals is to reduce plastic but also reuse and recycle as much as possible to minimize waste.
Here are some adjustments you can make for a more sustainable kitchen:
- Get a refillable water countertop dispenser instead of buying plastic water bottles. Make sure the water container is either made of glass or is BPA-free if made of plastic, otherwise that chemical can leak into the water you drink. Or you can invest into a water filter or a water filtering system for your house.
- To carry water around, use a refillable water bottle. Stainless steal is a great option. For a list of the best reusable water bottles click here.
- Consider a countertop compost bin if you are composting.
- Eat less meat, poultry, and fish. It takes a lot of resources such as food and drinking water to produce meat. If you can’t live without it, try to skip it several days a week. It makes a real difference. Whatever you eat, you can improve the lives of farm animals by purchasing more plant-based products or seeking out brands bearing the welfare certification labels, which represent more humane and transparent farming practices.
- Freeze fresh produce and leftovers if you don’t have the chance to eat them before they go bad. You will save food and money.
- Also leftovers can be stored in the fridge if they don’t need freezing. Make sure warm dishes have cooled before putting them away.
- Expiration dates. Look at them but you decide whether it’s still good or not. Smell it, and if it appears to still be eatable it probably is. ‘Use By’ is for perishable goods, – fish, meat, fresh juices. It indicates the last day you can still consume it safely. If you are going to bake, grill or boil it, it’ll be okay in the fridge for two more days. ‘Best before’ dates are about quality, not safety. When the date is passed, it doesn’t mean that the food will be harmful, it might begin to lose its flavor and texture, but usually it’s still fine to eat.
- Organize your fridge. Put what needs to be eaten first in the front to minimize food waste, especially the ‘best before’ products.
- Plate over bowl. The easiest and most cost-effective food storage solution is to use your dishes as covers and cloches. Slip a plate over a bowl to cover its contents. Soup bowls or even mixing bowls can be set over everything that needs protection from the dry air of the fridge. You can use any that you have on hand.
- Reuse or avoid sealable bags. If you do use sealable bags, use them more than once. The bag that was used to store leftovers can easily be rinsed, turned inside out to dry and used again. If you do it just one time for each bag, you have reduced your landfill contribution by half. Instead of putting lunch items in a plastic sealable bag, use reusable storage bags made out of silicon or fabric.
- Use canning jars. They aren’t just good at taking the heat, they are tough enough to withstand freezing temperatures as well for soups, stocks and other liquids. Just be sure to leave an inch or so of headspace above the liquid to allow for expansion as the food freezes.
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins.
- Use sustainably sourced bamboo or stainless steel straws.
- Don’t preheat the oven. Unless you need a precise baking temperature, start heating your food right when you turn on the oven.
- Turn off heated dry on your dishwasher and air dry instead.
- Don’t rinse. If you use a dishwasher, stop rinsing your plates before you run the machine.
- Use re-usable/washable towels (Unpaper Towels) instead of paper towels.
- Color Coordinate. Instead of drying produce with paper towels, designate a particular print or color of towel as “food towels” and another for “cleaning towels”. It’s an easy and practical system to know that towels used for dirty jobs don’t get used for food stuff.
- Use a dishwashing soap block instead of dishwashing liquid soap in a plastic bottle.
- Use zero-waste cleaning brushes made out of bamboo or wood with natural fibre bristles and plastic-free and plant based sponges.
- Use natural, non-toxic, plant-based cleaning products. For a list of Natural & Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products click here.
- DIY with castile soap. By making cleaning products you can reduce the amount of plastic entering your home and the level of harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds), such as formaldehyde, that are released. Castile soap is a great option. Originating from Spain, it was traditionally made with pure olive oil, but is now more commonly produced by mixing vegetable oils such as jojoba, hemp, avocado and coconut. For a simple, multipurpose kitchen spray, add 50ml/1.6 oz of castile soap to 800ml/27 oz tap water in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of essential oils (tea tree is antibacterial). Spray and wipe with a clean cloth.
- DIY All Purpose Cleaner: Use a funnel to pour 1/2 cup of white vinegar into a spray bottle. Add 2 tbsp of baking soda into the bottle and wait for foam to calm down. Add 10 drops of eucalyptus and/or tea tree essential oil into the bottle, and fill the rest up with water. Shake well and clean away.
- DIY Glass Cleaner: Mix 4 tbsp of lemon juice with 1/2 Gallon of water (2 Liters). You can use it on mirrors, too.
- Garbage: Your kitchen waste system can do without plastic bin liners. Line your trash can with a few sheets of old newspaper to make cleaning easier. Paper bags work, too. Deposit trash directly into the bin and then transfer to your collection containers every day or so. All rinsed recyclables can go directly into a recycling bin. Compostable scraps go into a compost bin and then into your pile, drum, trench or city collection service.
- Recycle: While specific recycling rules vary from city to city, the EPA provides a starter guide with the basics. Look up the rules on your local .gov website and contact your local department of sanitation for more information. Also recycling isn’t just for everyday disposables. When your blender breaks or it’s time for a kitchen upgrade, there are programs that can help haul away your small and large appliances, too. For more detailed information on how, what and where to recycle check out this blog post.