Aug 24, 2011

"Green" Your Kitchen

Your kitchen can quickly become the largest source of waste in a household. Think of the times you threw away spoiled food or turned on the dishwasher without a full load. Don’t let your kitchen be an eco-offender. A few minutes of evaluating your cooking and cleaning practices will save you energy, water, time, and money.

1) Make it last
  • Buy sturdy cookware, dinnerware, and utensils that will last for decades. Although they may be initial investments, materials such as cast iron, stainless steel, and stoneware will likely last longer than non-stick cookware and plastic. Choose ceramic or glass for baking since they retain and conduct heat better. Brands like Le Creuset - as pictured - are fabulous for generations. CorningWare and Pyrex make the best glass containers for baking and cooking.
  • When shopping for appliances, choose an Energy Star model that displays the bright yellow Energy Guide labels  Become familiar with the energy standards and look for appliances that go over the requirements since they will retain value longer and save money in the long run.  
  • A good cloth napkin can help save waste and money by replacing paper napkins. Cotton and linen are simple to wash and are reusable for years. Pier I Imports has a wonderful selection and fantastic pricing. Check your local discount stores for other bargains.
  • When using paper towels, buy the kind that allow you to tear off  sections for small jobs. Better yet, use terrycloth or microfiber hand towels to dry and clean. I have a collection of older bath colors and toss mine in when washing clothes to have them always ready.
  • Consider using recycled, and sustainable materials when choosing new cabinets, counter tops, and flooring. Veneer over urea-free formaldehyde provides a huge selection of standard and exotic woods for cabinetry, bamboo and poplar strand woven flooring is inexpensive and gorgeous, and quartz counters like Eco from Cosentino are enduring, practical and nearly care-free.
  • Buy Water Sense regulated faucets with flow control to get good force without using extra gallons of water per minute.
  • Bamboo is a renewable source for cutting boards, salad bowls, serving and stirring utensils and more.

2) Size matters
  • Don’t buy a bigger refrigerator than you need and you will reduce your energy bill. For two people, consider a 10 -12 cubic foot refrigerator and a 4 cubic foot freezer. Recycle your old refrigerator rather than using it in the garage. The extra storage space is not worth the energy drain of an old unit.
  • If you can, use a toaster oven or a microwave to cook and heat smaller amounts of food. A bonus is that, since they produce less heat, you can reduce your cooling costs. 
  • When cooking, be sure your pan fits the burner; avoid putting a small pot on a large burner.
  • Control portions. When cooking for two, don’t make enough to feed four unless you plan to eat the leftovers. 
  • If you can’t eat all the product in value-sizes before they go bad or expire, don’t buy them. It seems as though you save money, but if you cannot use it all, it is a waste for your wallet and the earth.
  • Don’t use more water than necessary to boil ingredients.

3) Be clean

  • It IS simple to make natural cleaning products from water, borax, vinegar, baking soda and plant derived soaps. You can now purchase non-toxic, biodegradable, plant-based detergents and cleaners at almost every supermarket.
  • Keep oven burners and reflectors clean so that they can reflect the heat better.
  • Create space for a small recycling station. Most packaging can be recycled (cans, cereal boxes, glass bottles) so use a separate bin that is easily accessible to encourage the practice.
  • Start a compost system from food scraps. Compost can be used in your garden or planter pots as fertilizer.  Do some research before starting a system, and then buy an attractive compost pail for your kitchen so you can easily discard scraps.
  • Make sure your dishwasher is full when starting a cycle. Scrape off dishes well rather than using a rinse cycle. Let your dishes air dry, or use the no-heat setting.
  • Don't run the water while loading the dishwasher.  Scrape food off then turn water off and on as needed.
4) Keep your cool (and heat)
  • Use a lid when cooking (unless a recipe instructs otherwise) to keep the heat where it belongs.
  • Most modern ovens heat quickly, so you don't need to preheat very long. If you are cooking or baking with electricity you can often  turn off the heat 5 to 10 minutes early because your food will finish cooking in the residual heat.
  • Try to avoid making meals that require lots of cook time. Making summer spaghetti, a salad, or a dish that only requires a small amount of cooking will cut down energy costs and will keep your house cool. Invest in an outdoor grill and experiment with different recipes.
  • Keep your kitchen sink’s faucet lever set to “cold” rather than “hot.” It takes more energy to heat water than to provide cold water which is ideal for many tasks.
  • Set your refrigerator and freezer at the correct temperature. The refrigerator should be between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezers should be at 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerators with freezers on the top or bottom are more efficient than side-by-side models. 

5) Eat well
  • Buy local or organic food to minimize the distance your food has traveled and to avoid pesticides. It may be a little more expensive, but it is also healthier for you. Visit a local farmer’s market.
  • Choose food that is in season. If you find yourself eating a vegetable or fruit that is not in season. Buy produce from a farmer’s market to ensure what you are purchasing is indeed in season.
  • Challenge yourself to try eating meat-less dinners.  Start off with one meatless meal a week, then increase every other week or so. Think it’s impossible? There are plenty of options, from baked ziti with veggies to a broccoli cheddar bake. The Mayo Clinic offers a plentiful database of meat-less recipes. 
  • Stop the bottled water habit. Install a filter on your faucet or buy a pitcher with a built in filter so you can have water without the unnecessary plastic waste.