In honor of Earth Day, I wanted to share seven steps I’ve taken the past few years to be more environmentally friendly in the kitchen, beyond changing light bulbs and buying organic.
1. Glass storage containers
I made the change from plastic to glass containers partly for health reasons, but it has an environmental benefit, too. The jury’s still out on which material is easier to recycle or costs less energy to produce, according to my research. But I had to regularly buy new plastic containers to replace ones that got warped, scratched, or damaged. My glass storage containers, on the other hand, look as pristine as the day I bought them. They’re oven safe, stack nicely in the fridge (though they don’t nest well when empty), and – most important to me – they’re not leeching chemicals into my food. Yes, the lids of these particular containers are still plastic, but we all make trade-offs somewhere.
2. Reusing plastic zippies
I still like zippered plastic bag for storing certain leftovers, like rolls, sandwich meats, chopped lettuce, and other items. If what I’m storing isn’t messy, I’ll rinse the bags when their original occupants are finished, let them air dry over a whisk or something on the drying rack, and reuse them. This way I get a couple more uses out of each bag and I don’t feel so bad about using something disposable.
Composting is the process of taking food scraps from the kitchen, putting them in a pile in the yard, and eventually they break down into ultra nutritious soil for the garden. So those food scraps stay out of the landfill and enrich my plants. Admittedly, I’m better about composting in the summer, but I try whenever I’m chopping a lot of lettuce or making salads to collect the scraps for the yard. Hubby gave me these biodegradable compost bags for Christmas a couple of years ago, so I can pile the scraps in there and then toss the bag in the compost bin. Shredded paper works great as brown material in the compost bin too. Read more about composting at HowToCompost.org.
4. Expanded recycling
When we first moved here 10 years ago, my only recycling options were paper and soda cans. I was content with that, until I saw the efforts my friend Nicole made to recycle. (Can we say throwaway guilt?) She told me about recycling bins around Greenville that I could use. But I was still limited to metal, glass, and “plastic bottles with a neck”. (I know, why not just say plastics #1, 2 and 4 or whatever?) Then last year my town opened an expanded recycling center, accepting metal, plastic bags, glass, all types of plastic, batteries, and more. So I set up 4 mesh laundry baskets – plus a sturdy trash can for glass – in the dining room as a recycling station, and take them to the center when they’re full. Between this and composting, we’ve reduced what we throw away by 50-70%.
5. Cloth towels instead of paper towels
I used to go through paper towels like nobody’s business. Drying produce, wiping up spills, and I’m not really sure what else, but I did something so that I’d use a roll of paper towels a week. Meanwhile, I’d pull out 2 kitchen towels at a time from my huge stash and use those two for weeks, basically just to dry my hands. I finally realized that was silly. A clean kitchen towel was just as good for drying produce and other tasks. So now I keep more cloth towels in the kitchen and rotate them every few days. Yes, I do kitchen laundry a little more often, but that’s friendlier to the environment than a pile of used paper towels.
6. Cloth instead of paper napkins.
I really thought this would be a tougher switch than it was. But I had all these cloth napkins I wasn’t using, and we were going through a lot of one-and-done paper napkins every week. So I swapped the paper for cloth in the napkin holder, suddenly it was done and not a big deal. Yes, again it means more kitchen laundry, but I can actually do a full load dedicated to kitchen linens instead of the half loads I used to do. Win, win.
7. Reusable grocery bags.
Best. Idea. Ever. At first, I felt awkward carrying bags into the grocery store. (Even more so at Target or the mall.) But once I started bringing my own bags, I’ll never go back. They’re easier to carry, you need fewer bags for the same amount of groceries (which means fewer trips to unload), and they don’t hurt your hands like the plastic bags do. I also have several fabric coolers that I tote along for ice cream, dairy and meats – essential for summers in the South! I started for environmental reasons, but I continue because this switch made my life easier. My biggest problem now is that I have more bags than I could ever possibly use, but retailers are coming out with the cutest new reusable bag designs. Must resist!
Could I do more? You betcha! I could make organic more of a priority, make packaging a consideration when choosing a product, make better use of what’s in my kitchen already so we don’t throw anything away. Maybe areas of improvement could be another post. But what I do now is such an improvement over what I did a few years ago, which was better than what I did a decade ago. Imagine where I might be 5 years from now!