If you’re like me, you spend a ton of time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. Between food wrappers, food scraps, and used cleaning products, most of my household waste comes from the kitchen. Hopefully, you’re already aware that you should be recycling and not wasting food, but those are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating an eco-friendly kitchen.
With Earth Day coming up, it’s a perfect time to increase our sustainability quotients. What does that mean? First and foremost, it means taking steps to protect the planet—reducing your carbon footprint, contributing as little as possible to the landfills, and not polluting the environment in and around your home. A sustainable lifestyle is also one that you can afford and which you find enjoyable.
Today we’re going to count down 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 way(s) to be more sustainable in the kitchen. You certainly don’t have to make all these changes overnight. Start with the one that seems the most manageable or that will address your biggest area of concern. Small changes really can make a big difference, and they often cost little to nothing to implement. In fact, being eco-conscious often saves money in the long run.
Six Ways to Avoid Food Waste
Reducing food waste should be a top priority for anyone interesting in protecting the planet. A recent survey found that the average American household wastes almost a third of its food, adding up to an average cost of $1,866 annually.1 Not only is it bad for the wallet, it also squanders the resources used to produce, package, ship, and sell that food. Here are six ways you can reduce food waste:
1. Shop more often. Fewer trips to the store may save time and a little bit of gas, but it’s not worth it if you’re letting food spoil before you get a chance to eat it.
2. Get the most out of your freezer. Freeze leftovers to eat later. Keep a bag in your freezer for vegetable scraps and bones that you can use to make stock. Place minced fresh herbs in an ice cube tray, cover them with water or olive oil, and freeze. Use these herby cubes in soups, stews, stir-fries, and sautés.
3. Learn how to store produce properly so it doesn’t spoil before you get a chance to use it. We provide some helpful tips in the 7 Days, 7 Salads Challenge.
4. Eat the whole plant. Greens from beets, radishes, celery, and even broccoli are edible and delicious. Use the trimmings from almost any vegetable in your next batch of chicken or vegetable broth.
5. Start a compost pile. In addition to vegetable waste and eggshells, you can also throw in coffee grounds and paper filters, yard waste, compostable sponges (more on this later), and even certain packaging material. For example, Primal Kitchen wraps glass containers in compostable kraft paper to protect them during shipping. No yard? No problem! Check out under-sink worm composting, also known as vermicomposting (it sounds better when you say it that way)—a great science experiment for kids!
6. Eat nose-to-tail. Use as much of the animal as possible. Learn to embrace organs both for their excellent nutritional value and so they don’t go to waste during processing.
Five Tips for Reducing Plastic Waste
You already know that plastic waste poses a massive threat to the planet’s health. It’s hard to avoid plastic entirely, but there are ways to reduce your plastic use and the amount you put in the landfills.
1. Use reusable shopping bags and produce bags. Bags made from hemp or organic cotton are ideal, but also reuse whatever plastic bags you already have in your home. When shopping in the bulk food section, bring clean bags or containers from home. Take your glass or metal containers to the customer service counter before filling them. An employee will weigh them so the cashier can subtract the tare weight when you check out. (You can do the same for the hot food bar, by the way.)
2. Stop using plastic baggies and containers to store food. Opt for glass, metal, and silicone instead. Repurpose your clean mayo jars to make salads, store nuts, and more. Stasher brand silicone bags come in different sizes and are freezer and dishwasher safe. When the bags get worn out or damaged, Stasher will provide a mailing label so you can send them back for recycling. Cool, huh?
3. Get biodegradable kitchen garbage bags. They usually cost a bit more per bag, but it’s a small investment in sustainability.
4. Buy loose leaf tea. A 2019 study concluded that tea bags can be a hidden source of microplastic pollution.2 At least check to make sure your favorite tea comes in plastic-free bags.
5. If you’re a Keurig lover, you simply must use reusable or compostable filter cups.
Four Ways to Shop Smart
Reduce your environmental impact and save money!
1. Pay attention to packaging. Opt for products that are minimally packaged, and look for recycled or recyclable paper and glass. Not to toot our own horn, but there’s a reason that 85 percent of Primal Kitchen packaging is glass, and our Frozen Bowls come in PFA-free material made from upcycled sugar cane fiber.
2. Choose seasonal, local produce and animal products when possible to reduce the carbon footprint associated with shipping food around the world.
3. Shop organic if possible. Organic farming reduces the amount of synthetic fertilizer dumped into the environment. Also support farms that use sustainable farming practices even if they aren’t certified organic. The process of becoming certified is arduous and expensive, and many smaller eco-conscious farms can’t afford it.
4. Hit up secondhand stores. Buy used kitchen appliances, silverware, and dishes. Look for cast iron and stainless steel cookware that is durable enough to last for decades.
Three Cleaner Cleaning Products
Ironically, many of the tools we traditionally use to clean the kitchen have a negative environmental impact. Not so clean after all, eh?
1. Ditch traditional scrubbing sponges and dish brushes, which are major sources of plastic waste. Sponges made from cellulose, hemp, cotton fiber, and even walnuts are compostable or biodegradable. These copper scouring pads are recyclable. Look for plastic-free dish brushes made with sustainably harvested wood and natural fiber bristles.
2. Use greener cleaning solutions. Standard cleaning products contain chemicals that can contaminate our home environments and contribute to air, water, and soil pollution. Luckily, it’s possible to clean just about anything in your kitchen, and indeed your whole home, using non-toxic methods. Check out my post, How the Heck Do I Clean That?
3. Cut back on paper towels. Kitchen towels and cloth napkins are all you need, but check out these super cool paperless paper towels, aka “untowels.” For extra eco-friendly points, look for ones made from organic cotton or recycled materials.
Two Ways to Save Water
Reduce the amount of water that goes down the drain with these tips.
1. Use your dishwasher. The dishwasher uses less water than handwashing, provided you run full loads. Scrape plates instead of rinsing them for added savings.
2. Install an aerator on your kitchen faucet. Aerators reduce flow and backsplash while actually increasing water pressure. They’re simple to install and cost just a few dollars. If your faucet isn’t compatible, at least try to avoid running your water at full blast all the time.
One Last Tip: Recycle!
Hopefully you’re already taking advantage of your municipal recycling program, but also, do you know about Terracycle?
Terracycle allows you to order collection boxes for the things you throw away most. When the box is full, ship it back using the free shipping label they provide. They take everything from baby food pouches to plastic bottle caps to used eyeglasses.
You do have to pay for the box, and they aren’t cheap. However, if this is something you can afford, consider it a charitable donation for the planet. For a little more money, you can get a general kitchen box so you don’t have to sort your waste. Maybe your workplace would be willing to put one in the breakroom?
When it comes to sustainability, every little change counts. What’s one thing you could implement in your own kitchen right away that would make a difference?