9 Things You Didn’t Know About…Greening Your Kitchen
It’s that time of year again — Earth Day — the one day a year we look around, take stock of the collective impact we’re having on the planet and, well, generally get bummed out.
It’s easy, too, in an age of gleaming new hybrid cars, sleek (expensive) eco-friendly kitchen makeovers and other high-priced “earthy” alternatives to feel like you’re not doing enough. What’s rinsing out your soup cans and recycling them compared to installing a five-figure array of solar panels on your roof?
But the truth is, little changes in our everyday habits can add up to big differences, even if you can’t always see them. And since so many of our everyday habits revolve around how we shop for and prepare food, there’s no better place to start than the kitchen.
Several years ago, guilt triumphed over complacency, and I grudgingly started to bring my own reusable bags to the grocery store. It was awkward at first (not a lot of people were doing it, and the baggers often eyed my bags with a mix of befuddlement and what I took as a glimmer of outright hostility). But after a few weeks, it became a habit. Just as I thoughtlessly used to answer the question “paper or plastic?,” now I just as thoughtlessly grab my bags out of my car and haul them into the store with me. (Even better, I actually find my reusable bags easier to haul.)
Am I changing the world? Well, maybe just one bag at a time.
Almost a third of the timber consumed in the United States is used to make paper towels and other disposable paper products. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, if every household kitchen in the U.S. replaced just one roll with a 100-percent recycled one, we’d save more than half a million trees.
Speaking of trees, about 14 million of them are cut down each year to make the estimated 10 billion paper grocery bags we use in the United States. As far a plastic bags go, we use far more of them (about 100 billion), which consumes 12 million barrels of oil. I haul my groceries home in these compact and easy-to-carry ChicoBags, and I’ve grown to love them.
Your hamburger has been linked to global warming. Collectively, cows emit millions of tons of methane (mostly from belching, by the way, and not the other end), which in terms of climate change, is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s one reason eco-conscious folks are getting behind the whole “Meatless Mondays” phenomenon.
There are a host of easy things you can do to save energy when you cook, like always covering the pot when you’re bringing water to boil. Energy Hawk has compiled a handy list of simple eco-friendly cooking tips.
You can increase the life of your dish sponge (and thus keep it out of a landfill longer) by simply throwing it in the dishwasher every once in a while.
The air pollution inside your home is likely twice as bad as the pollution outside — maybe up to 10 times worse, according to federal studies. Many household cleaning products contain chemicals that contribute to poor indoor air quality.
It’s surprisingly easy (not to mention much cheaper) to make your own effective cleaning products that don’t contain a bunch of industrial chemicals you can’t pronounce. For example, to make a good all-purpose kitchen cleaner, simply mix ½ tsp. washing soda (found in the laundry aisle), ½ tsp. liquid dish soap and 2 cups hot water, then pour it into a spray bottle. Green-living maven Annie Berthold-Bond has dozens of similarly simple, nontoxic recipes.
Recycling just one 20-oz. plastic bottle can save enough energy to power your laptop for 2.5 hours. Sadly, U.S. consumers still toss nearly three out of four of their recyclable bottles and other plastic containers in the trash.
Rinsing your fruits and veggies under a running tap wastes upward of two gallons of water a minute. You can get them just as clean by giving them a bath in a couple inches of water and scrubbing them with a vegetable brush.
Looking to go meatless on Mondays? Explore all our vegetarian recipes!