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7 Steps to Go Green: In the Kitchen
Lifestyle

7 Steps to Go Green: In the Kitchen

If we want to create a more sustainable and equitable world, we need to pressure governments and companies to adopt greener policies, AND ALSO challenge ourselves to take individual action. There’s no better way to do that than by breaking down our lives and examining each aspect of our consumption!

Let’s start in one of our favorite places: the kitchen! Here are a few easy steps to lower your carbon footprint, reduce the waste that ends up in landfills, and protect precious natural resources like freshwater.

7 Ways to Reduce your Footprint in the Kitchen

1. Start at the Store

Reduce your food packaging waste, particularly plastic waste, by tackling it at its source. Shop for your grains, spices, and dried goods at bulk food stores, and find produce at your local farmer’s market.

Grab your glass mason jars and reusable cloth tote bags and head over to this Green Philly article here for all the ends and outs of zero waste shopping in Philadelphia.

2. Ditch Single-Use Disposables

Single-use items, particularly single-use plastics, are crowding our landfills and polluting our oceans. Sacrificing long-term durability for cheapness and short-term convenience, these disposables are common in kitchens across the country.

Even plastics labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable” are not as innocent as they seem (check out this article for more information). The best strategy to combat single-use items is to take a reduce and eventually replace mentality.

Here’s where to start:

  • Replace paper towels with cloth rags. You can make your own by cutting up old sheets, pillowcases, towels, or clothes, or find some online or at your nearest zero waste or thrift store. For drying your hands or dishes, you can hang the cloth to dry and reuse it. For dirtier tasks or after several days of use, throw the cloth in the wash and reuse it once it’s clean. Make sure you store them in a convenient place to make the transition easier!
  • Trade paper napkins for cloth napkins. You can sew them yourself using old bedsheets or pillowcases or buy a set of them.
  • Reduce or eliminate your use of plastic wrap, zip-lock bags, and other single-use plastic. Invest in glass or metal containers, or upcycle old pasta sauce, salsa, pickle, or other jars to use as food storage. Instead of cling wrap, use beeswax wrap or stretchable silicone lids.
  • Do you like to enjoy your drinks with straws? Find an alternative to plastic straws by using straws made of stainless steel, bamboo, glass, silicone, or paper.

3. Be Mindful of Appliances

Did you know that seemingly small adjustment to where you place and how you use your kitchen appliances can have an impact on your energy usage?

Take these tips into consideration:

  • Move your refrigerator to the shade, away from the wall, and decide what you want before you open it. Having it in the sunlight makes it work harder to keep cool, which uses more energy. Keep the fridge two to three inches away from the wall for proper airflow. Opening the fridge door and gazing at its contents releases the cool air and replaces it with warmer air. This means the appliance’s compressor needs to drive the warmer air back out and bring the inside temperature down again, driving up your energy bill and using more fossil fuels.
  • Use the microwave. 50% less energy is used by a microwave oven compared to a conventional oven. Keep an eye on your food without opening the door.
  • Keep your oven closed! Did you know your oven’s temperature can drop by sixty-five degrees when you open the door for thirty seconds?
  • Looking to replace old appliances? Consider purchasing low-energy appliances. “Energy Star-qualified” use 10%-50% less energy than standard models.

4. Cut Down on Animal Products

In environmentalist Paul Hawken’s Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, reducing meat and dairy consumption is ranked #4 out of 100 solutions to address climate change.

Around one-fifth of global emissions come from animal agriculture, and if cattle were their own nation, they would be the planet’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Raising animals for food also strains our freshwater supplies and leads to deforestation when farmers clear forest to grow feed crops like soy or corn.

This doesn’t mean you need to immediately go vegan or vegetarian (although props to you if you take that route!). Start with these tips:

  • Try Meatless Mondays or, if that’s too easy, make one or two meals a day meat-free and dairy-free.
  • Find a plant-based milk you enjoy, like soy, almond, oat, rice, coconut, or one of the many others. You can even make your own at home!
  • Experiment with meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein (TVP), or seitan. You’ll be surprised at the variety of faux meats or alternative proteins available to you!

5. Keep an Eye on Food Waste

Here’s an eye-opening statistic for you: One-third of the food grown or raised around the world is thrown away. This wastes an enormous amount of resources: water, land, energy, seeds, human labor, packaging materials, fertilizer, and pesticides – as well as consumers’ money! Around eight percent of global emissions come from throwing away food.

  • Only buy what you need. To help with this goal, make a grocery list before you leave for your shopping trip to avoid impulse purchases that might end up forgotten. Meal prepping can also help since you can check recipes and compare the ingredients to what you do or don’t have in your pantry.
  • Opt for frozen vegetables or fruit if you have a habit of letting produce go to waste before you use it.
  • Dedicate a night or two a week to leftovers, or enjoy them as your lunch the following day.
  • Cook with every part of the food. Vegetable scraps, even corn cobs, can be made into veggie broth. Bits and pieces like broccoli stems or carrot greens can be incorporated into homemade pesto, frittatas, or salads. Turn leftover bread into croutons, and use brown bananas in banana bread or freeze them for smoothies.

6. Compost

Separating organic waste, particularly food scraps, and composting it reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It’s estimated that nearly half of all solid waste produced globally is organic or biodegradable. When this waste lands in a landfill, it decomposes without the presence of oxygen, leading to the production of the greenhouse gas methane.

According to Drawdown, methane is up to thirty-four times more powerful when it comes to heat-trapping than carbon dioxide over a century. Composting, along with the environmental benefits, has an added bonus: you can use it in your garden to help your plants flourish.

If you’re a Philadelphia resident, we have a great guide on the various composting options open to you! Check it out here.

7. Consider Trying DIY Cleaners

Most store-bought kitchen cleaners come in plastic bottles, and some contain chemicals that can harm the environment. Thankfully, Do-It-Yourself cleaning solutions can be ridiculously easy.

  • Mix equal parts vinegar and warm water in a spray bottle for an all-purpose cleaner.
  • Make a paste using baking soda and water to scrub your oven or sink.
  • Want your kitchen to smell like citrus, peppermint, lavender, or another scent? You can find almost any scent as an essential oil in a glass bottle. Add a couple of drops to your DIY cleaners to have your kitchen smelling fresh.

Want additional ways to be more sustainable? Check these sources (also used for this article.)

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Madeleine Jones, who goes by her last name, is the Editorial Intern at Green Philly. She is new to Philadelphia and recently graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, with a bachelor's in Environmental Studies and International Studies. Jones spends her free time with her nose buried in books, sampling Philly's vegan restaurants, fawning over her pet mouse, and filling out job applications. View all posts by Jones

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