The kitchen is the center of so many daily activities. It’s high use and what goes on there makes the kitchen a catalyst for changes in water use, energy use, clean up, food selection, food preparation and storage. If you want to start greening your home one room at a time, the kitchen would be a good place to start.
- Super efficient dishwashers are available that use as little as 5 gallons per load, and an Energy Star labeled model uses 25% less energy than the federal minimum standard.
- Use the settings your dishwasher provides to your advantage. Select the water-saving cycle for lightly soilded loads, and the no-heat dry setting every time. You’ll save water and energy with every load.
- Only run full loads. If you have a small number of dishes or pans to clean, wash them by hand. You’ll save the most water by filling a basin with just 2 to 3 inches of water, stacking the items as you wash them, then rinsing them quickly under a light stream of water.
- Refrigerators use more energy than any other kitchen appliance. Keeping it close to full will conserve energy because mass retains cold better than air.
- When buying a new fridge, those with a freezer on top are the most energy efficient. The least energy efficient is the side freezer type with through-the-door ice service.
- Keep your refrigerator close to 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have an appliance thermometer, place a weather thermometer inside the compartment to check its temperature and adjust the dials until you achieve the desired temperature.
- For appliances not rated by Energy Star, use EnergyGuide lables to evaluate appliances for energy use and operating costs. Look for the yellow and black EnergyGuide labels to compare the yearly energy cost of operating different models. Kitchen appliances that carry the Energy Guide labels include refrigerators and refrigerator/freezers, freezers and dishwashers.
At The Sink
- If a home’s hot water heater is located far from the kitchen, considerable water will be wasted to draw hot water to the kitchen tap. A point-of-use hot water heater that installs under the kitchen sink can save water when doing kitchen chores.
- Many Americans have abandoned their tap in favor of bottled water, but consuming water from bottles is terribly wasteful. Installing a faucet-mounted or countertop water filter and thereby reclaiming the kitchen tap for drinking water can reduce lots of environmental impacts resulting from the transport and consumption of bottled water. (See Resources in the right margin.)
- Most people turn their kitchen faucet on at full pressure without thinking, and consequently lose lots of water, unnecessarily, down the drain. Unless you are filling a basin, get into the habit of turning the faucet on just enough to get a stream as wide as a straw. At this capacity, you could cut your water use by more than half.
- Washing dishes by hand can either save or waste water depending on how it’s done. To use water efficiently, fill a basin with just 2 to 3 inches of water, stack the items as you wash them, then rinse them quickly under a light stream of water.
- Use a liquid dish soap that is biodegradable and made without petro-chemicals or surfactants.
- Disposable products are so commonplace now that the average person creates over 4 pounds of garbage a day! No place are disposables more present than in our kitchens. Paper towels, napkins and plates; plastic baggies and food wrap; single-use cleaning wipes–even disposable cutting boards! Breaking this reliance on single-use, disposable products will save money and reduce waste. Use cloth rags for spills and cloth napkins for meals. Reuse glass jars and plastic food tubs to store leftovers. And trust in the ability of soap and hot water to clean countertops and cutting boards.
- Kitchens are usually a high use area in the home, and consequently, its light fixtures should be equipped with compact fluorescent bulbs which use about a quarter of the energy of incandescent bulbs.
- If you’re designing a kitchen, put lighting for the sink and island on separate circuits. This will give you the option of lighting work areas without lighting the entire kitchen.
- Buy organic and transitional food products when possible. Organic growing methods protect soil, water supplies, biodiversity and animal health. If organically-certified produce and meats are out of reach–either due to price or availability, buy from farmers markets or a join a Community Supported Agriculture network. You’ll help support small, local farmers that typically practice sustainable agriculture.
- Packaging accounts for a large volume of the trash we generate. Buying brands that use less packaging and buying in bulk will help cut down on packaging waste.
- Use sturdy, reusable carriers to cart home groceries, preferable those made from hemp or organic fibers.
- Plastic produce and bulk food bags generally get overused contributing to unnecessary waste: use them sparingly and reuse them at the market.You could also purchase a set of lightweight reusable cloth bags that can replace plastic produce bags. Ecobags.com sells reusable bags for produce and bulk grains.
- Neither paper nor plastic bags have a good environmental report card, and in the end the choice should always be to avoid both in favor of durable, reusable bags—preferably ones made from eco-fibers like organic cotton or recycled plastic. But if you’re unprepared and forced to choose paper or plastic—choose paper. After reading a life cycle analysis (LCA) of plastic and paper check-out bags, the obvious conclusion to me was that paper has less of an impact on the environment, but the LCA refused to draw any conclusion. What convinced me even more to favor paper was that the results of the analysis are presented at ratios of 1.5:1 and 2:1, i.e. 1.5 plastic sacks fill the same role as 1 paper sack. To me, this ratio is flawed. It’s common to witness baggers using 3, 4 even 5 bags for what could fit into one large paper bag.
- Many fisheries are being overfished or caught or farmed in ways that harm aquatic ecosystems. Consume only those species recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. (See Resources in the right margin.)
- Try to eat less meat. Most of us have grown up on a meat-based diet, and this can be a hard habit to break, but a worthwhile one. All told, meat production is a leading contributor to deforestation, soil erosion and desertification, water scarcity and pollution, loss of biodiversity, depletion of fossil fuels and global warming.
- Use the microwave for cooking and re-heating; a microwave is faster and more efficient than using the oven, thus reducing up to 70 percent of energy use. Or use the toaster oven for small jobs. It uses a third to half as much energy as a full-size oven. When you do use the oven, turn it off 10 to 15 minutes before cooking time runs out; food will continue to cook without using the extra electricity.
- Pressure cookers cook food in a fraction of the time if would take to cook them on the stovetop. The newer generation of pressure cookers are also easy and safe to use.
- Cover liquids and foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
- Food storage bags and plastic wrap are convenient, but not environmentally friendly. The propensity to rely on disposable, plastic storage solutions and the rate at which a typical household can easily go through them contributes to the overproduction of plastics and increased landfill material. Save empty glass jars and plastic food tubs for storing food instead (never reheat foods in these containers in the microwave). Not all storage needs will be met by reusable jars and tubs. For those situations when nothing but a reclosable plastic bag will do, you can now wash them in the dishwasher and reuse them with the help of a dishwasher attachment named Bag-E-Wash. (See Resources in the right margin.)
- When it comes to covering platters and bowls, use aluminum foil which is recyclable if cleaned first. To save it for another use, simply flatten and wipe off any food residue, fold, and store in the fridge. You can also use saucers and plates to cover bowls.
- If reused jars and plastic tubs don’t provide the capacity nor the visibility you want in food storage containers, invest in glass storage systems that you can see through, stack, reheat in, and even serve from! This will eliminate any reliance on plastic and foil for food storage and due to their multi-use qualities, cut down on the number of containers you have to wash. (See Resources in the right margin.)
- Compost food scraps if you have the space to do so. The weight and volume of food scraps in American landfills is a costly and inefficient deposit of material that can degrade into rich compost for one’s garden in relatively little time. Many foods can be composted, including vegetable and fruit trimmings, eggshells, coffee grounds and tea bags.
- Using a garbage disposal requires lots of water and energy. And garbage disposals contribute unnecessary solids to your water-treatment facility, requiring more maintenance and more energy for proper treatment. If on a septic system, the excess solids will mean more frequent pumping, and if you fall short of proper maintenance, septic systems can contaminate ground water and surface water with nutrients and pathogens.
- Packaging that goes beyond what is reasonable or necessary should be avoided to alleviate the glut of packaging in the municipal waste stream (50% by volume!).
- Buy foods in bulk and concentrate.
- All else being equal choose the product with the least packaging.
- Don’t limit your recycling to what is collected at the curb. Contact nearby recycling companies to find out what they accept for recycling. Materials like junk mail (a.k.a mixed waste paper), copy paper (a.k.a. office pack), plastic resins besides just types 1 and 2, aluminum in forms other than beverage cans, and other materials can be recycled through drop-off centers. Stockpile these materials in a basement or garage and make periodic trips to a drop-off center.
- Close the loop on recycling by purchasing containers and packaging that contain a relatively high percentage of recycled material. This would include alumnimum beverage cans, glass, and paperboard that is labeld “recycled”. Plastic containers generally contain no or relatively little recycled content.