The kitchen is the heart of the home – the central place for family and friends to gather and catch up, gossip, reminisce while breaking bread. It only makes sense that such a room be as green as possible – protecting the health of your family and friends, the environment and, not to mention, your wallet.
Follow these guidelines for a cleaner, healthier, greener kitchen.
The refrigerator is a major guzzler of energy. Keeping your refrigerator between 36 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit saves energy while still keeping food at the proper temperature. Properly maintaining your refrigerator can also help it run more efficiently and last longer. This includes unplugging it and wiping off the condenser coils at least once a year. Check your user's manual for additional specifications on how to keep your fridge running efficiently.
Save on the energy used by your dishwasher by only running full loads and using unheated air to dry dishes. Make sure to use the most appropriate wash setting for each load so you're not using more electricity and water than actually required.
When using the stove top, make sure to match the pot you are using with the right size burner to avoid unnecessary heat loss. Even using a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner can waste over 40% of the burner's heat. Use close-fitting lids on pots whenever possible (always when you're bring something to a boil) to keep heat in and reduce cooking times.
An even more energy-efficient option is to skip the stove altogether and use a low-energy cooking appliance like a pressure cooker, steamer, slow cooker, or even a barbeque grill instead.
Before replacing an appliance check if a repair is a viable alternative. You can save money and avoid throwing out such a large item before it's truly necessary. When the time does come to replace an appliance, look for a new one with a high Energy Star rating and contact your local department of public works for help properly disposing your old appliance.
Finally, remember to swap your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use 70% percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer.
The simplest and least expensive way to save water in the kitchen is to install a tap aerator on your kitchen faucet. For about a dollar you can cut your water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for a 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) model.
Only running the dishwasher when it's full will help save water as well as energy.
Save extra water, like water used for cooking or rinsing, and feed it to your plants rather than pouring it down the drain.
Reducing WasteThe kitchen typically generates more waste than any other room in the house. You can help cut back on waste by being careful with what you bring into your home in the first place. Avoid excessive packaging at the grocery store. Bring your own bags. Opt for fresh, unwrapped produce. Choose products in recyclable or reusable containers, such as cardboard cartons or glass jars. Go even greener and grow your own food in a home garden.
Reuse or recycle as much as you can. This includes using dishtowels and cloth napkins that can be washed and used again instead of disposable paper towels and napkins. Keep a recycling bin in the kitchen if it makes recycling easier to remember.
Go a step beyond recycling and compost your food scraps. Using compost you create from food scraps and yard waste keeps organic materials out of landfills and saves you money on commercial fertilizers.
Instead of plastic trash bags that take years to decompose, purchase biodegradable trash bags (available online). If you can't find biodegradable bags, at least purchase bags made from recycled materials.
Invest in high quality cookware and utensils that last, rather than cheap items that will need to be replaced in short order.
Although there are some health concerns associated with nonstick cookware, it can be difficult to cook certain foods, particularly eggs, on anything else. Nonstick cookware can be safe to use as long as you take care to not heat pans too high or scratch the chemical coating – the two ways harmful chemicals can be released into the air. Add water or oil to nonstick cookware to absorb heat before turning on the stove and then make sure to only use medium heat (350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit) or lower. Wash nonstick cookware by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges and avoid using metal utensils or stacking pots and pans to avoid scratching. If any of your nonstick cookware does become scratched, toss it or (for a slightly more eco-friendly option) bring it to a scrap metal yard.
You can also rotate out any nonstick cookware with pieces made from other materials. Health Canada has a great overview of the benefits and risks of various cookware materials. It's best to have an assortment. Stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, Pyrex, and silicone are all good options for cookware and bakeware.
The list of health problems associated with plastics seems to grow longer by the day. For safer, healthier options, invest in food and beverage containers made of glass, ceramic, porcelain, Pyrex, bamboo, or stainless steel instead of using bags, containers, and bottles made of plastic.
Avoid heating food in plastic containers, especially polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate containers that contain BPA usually have a #7 recycling code on them.
Avoid putting plastic containers in the dishwasher. Yes, the dishwasher uses less water and energy than hand washing, but the heat and harsh detergent may cause may cause plastic to leach chemicals.
If you absolutely must have plastic food containers, opt for those labeled as PETE or recycling codes #2, #4, and #5. Avoid those labeled #3 or #7.
Traditional cleaning products can contain ingredients that are harmful to your health and the environment. Fortunately, the number of green cleaning products available today continues to grow. Check out What to Look For In Green Cleaning Products to learn about what to look for and what to avoid in cleaning products.
Or, you can avoid commercial cleaning products altogether by creating your own simple, inexpensive cleaning solutions right at home. Put distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle to create an all-purpose cleaner you can use on glass, doorknobs, appliances, and counter tops (just avoid using it on marble). Add a little baking soda for extra scrubbing power. Spray your kitchen countertops with undiluted vinegar and then 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect. This combination is as effective as bleach at killing bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, but is safe enough to use on produce without so much as an aftertaste. Click here for more green cleaning tips.