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Eco-Friendly Kitchen Habits

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 23, 2021

If you're trying to develop a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, one of the best places to start is in the kitchen. With over 30 million acres of farmland used to produce the amount of food that goes to waste in the US each year, your kitchen habits can have a big impact on the environment. Fortunately, the sustainable choice is usually the frugal one as well, so saving resources will also save you money.

Sustainable Shopping

There are several steps you can take to make sure your food shopping habits are eco-friendly. From what you buy to how you buy it, all of your choices have an impact. Go beyond reusable shopping bags with these tips:

Eat less meat. Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact. Raising livestock is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases. Cows, chickens, and pigs consume a tremendous amount of grain. This leaves less available to feed the hungry.

Avoid processed foods and wasteful packaging. Whenever possible, eat unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Foods that are highly processed, like chicken nuggets, pastries, and sugar-sweetened drinks often contain ingredients that have a negative impact on the environment, such as palm oil. These foods are often high in added salt, sugar, and saturated fat. It’s generally best to avoid highly-processed foods, as they’re unhealthy for both you and the planet.

Even healthy foods are often sold in wasteful packaging. For example, it’s better to buy whole apples than individually wrapped containers of organic applesauce.

Reduce your waste. One third of food produced every year is wasted. Here are some tips for reducing your food waste:

  • Plan your weekly meals to avoid buying more than you need.
  • Check your refrigerator and pantry before you shop. Plan meals to use up what you already have on hand.
  • Avoid buying in bulk if you aren't able to use it all.
  • Store fruits and vegetables properly to keep them fresh longer.
  • Freeze or preserve extra produce before it goes bad.
  • Donate unused food to a food pantry if it would otherwise go to waste.
  • Compost your food scraps to keep them out of the landfill.

Sustainable Cooking

Once you've planned your meals and brought home your groceries, the next step in making your kitchen eco-friendly is cooking. Here are some ways you can reduce the amount of energy you use in your kitchen:

Choose and use your appliances wisely. Energy-efficient appliances can save a significant amount of energy compared to older appliances. Another way to save energy is by avoiding unnecessarily large appliances. Don't buy a full size refrigerator if you will rarely fill it. Another way to save energy is to unplug appliances when they aren't being used.

Save energy when cooking. You can save energy when you're cooking with these tips: 

  • Use a microwave for small meals. It's more energy-efficient than a gas or electric stove.
  • Only use the amount of water you need in a pot. Heating more than you need takes extra time and energy.
  • Boil water in an electric kettle rather than on the stove. You can pour it into a pan after it's boiled to continue cooking.
  • Cover your pots and pans to boil water faster.
  • Don't open the oven door any more than necessary. Use the glass window to check on your food.
  • Turn off the heat a few minutes before your food is finished cooking. Your stovetop will still be hot for a little while.

Save energy after you cook. Make sure you're not wasting energy when you're heating up your leftovers by doing the following:   

  • Let your leftovers cool down before you put them in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Close the door to your refrigerator or freezer as quickly as possible.
  • Defrost your refrigerator or freezer as needed.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. Setting it higher may cause your food to spoil faster.
  • Leave at least 4 inches between the back of your refrigerator and the wall behind it. This will allow heat to flow away more efficiently.

Sustainable Cleaning

To create a more eco-friendly kitchen cleaning routine, you can:

  • Use cloth napkins.
  • Use cloth for cleaning and wiping up spills instead of paper towels.
  • Opt for reusable plates, cups, and silverware instead of disposable alternatives.
  • Buy used kitchen supplies whenever it's practical by shopping at garage sales or thrift stores.
  • Don't buy more cleaning supplies than you need or can use.
  • Switch from plastic storage bags to reusable glass or ceramic containers for storing leftovers.
  • Recycle, but only after you've reduced and reused items.
  • Make your own cleaning supplies when possible to save on packaging.
  • Only run your dishwasher when it's full.
  • Don't rinse your dishes before you load them in the dishwasher.
  • Use cold water when cleaning as much as possible.
  • Use nontoxic cleaners or cleaners that are labeled "Green Certified."
WebMD Expert Column

Sources

SOURCES:

Energy Saving Trust: "Top five tips to save energy in the kitchen."

Global Stewards: "Green Eco Tips for Sustainable Living."

The Lancet: "The neglected environmental impacts of ultra-processed foods."

PLoS One: "Relationship between food waste, diet quality, and environmental sustainability."

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): "Reducing Wasted Food At Home."

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