Are you concerned about your home's impact on the environment? The truth is that every kitchen in America adds to our nation's environmental load. But there are things you can do to make your kitchen more environmentally friendly, more energy efficient, and less wasteful.
It seems that more and more Americans are looking to go green at home these days. I'm seeing more people bringing reusable canvas bags to the grocery store, and almost every home in my city has a recycling can near the driveway. You know you are doing something right when the recycling bin is filled at the end of the week and your garbage can is half empty!
Here are eight ways to go green in your kitchen, starting today.
1. Wash Dishes the Green Way
It's estimated that washing a load of dishes in a dishwasher uses 37% LESS water than washing dishes by hand. However, if you fill one side of your sink with soapy water and the other side with rinse water -- and don't let the faucet run - you can use maybe half as much water as a dishwasher does. (This really only works when you have a small load of dishes to wash.)
When you do use your dishwasher, wait until you have a full load to run it. Running one load with a full dishwasher uses a lot less energy and water than running two loads with a half-full dishwasher.
Many dishwashers now have an "economy" cycle option that is designed to save energy and water. So if your dishwasher has this option, give it a whirl. Short of that, if you can turn off the heat dry option in your dishwasher, do that and let the dishes air-dry instead.
2. Cook Smart
Instead of firing up the full-size oven for cooking small dishes, switch to a toaster oven, small convection oven, microwave, or slow cooker to use 30% less energy, according to the Progress Energy Company, a North Carolina-based energy company.
Progress Energy estimates that microwave ovens use around 50% less energy than conventional ovens. (For heating large meals, however, the stove is usually more efficient.) In the summer, using a microwave brings less heat into the kitchen, which can mean you need less air-conditioning
When you do use the stove top, think about exactly what food you'll be cooking, use the smallest pot or pan to do the job, and match the pan size to the burner size.
And you know how when you boil pasta, you can see the steam coming up from the pot? That means heat is escaping. Cooking without lids can use up to three times more energy, according to the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative. So keep a lid on it; as a bonus, your food will be ready more quickly.
There are also a couple of foods that can finish cooking by themselves. For example, bring a saucepan of water and ears of corn to a rolling boil (with the lid on). After one minute, turn off the stove and let the corn continue cooking in the hot water for about 10 minutes.
You can do the same for a casserole with a cheese topping. Instead of pulling it out of the oven, sprinkling with cheese and then baking for 10 more minutes, just turn off the oven, sprinkle the cheese over the top, and place it back in the still-warm oven for 10 minutes.
Speaking of the oven, you really don't need to preheat it if you're broiling or roasting, or if you're baking something for a long time, according to the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative. When you do need to preheat, try to minimize the time. If you know it takes 10 minutes to preheat your oven to 350 degrees, turn the oven on just 10 minutes before your dish will be ready to bake.
3. Don't Be Fridge Foolish
Don't browse in front of the refrigerator. Keeping the door open for long periods wastes energy.
Also, make sure your fridge door closes securely. To test the rubber-like seal around the door, just close the door on a dollar bill, and then see how easy it is to pull out. If you get your dollar back easily, your refrigerator door is probably leaking cold air. See about getting the seal repaired or replaced.
Is there an old refrigerator or freezer in your garage? Older appliances can be real energy hogs. Think about exactly how much extra fridge or freezer space you need, and get an energy- efficient model that fits your needs. And maybe you don't really need that extra fridge space. Keep in mind that running one large refrigerator is usually more energy-efficient than running two smaller ones.
4. Bring Your Own Shopping Bags
Instead of answering the obligatory question, "Plastic or paper?" why not invest in some reusable canvas bags? The key to this, I've found, is keeping the bags in your car. Once you've unpacked your groceries, leave the empty bags by your front door and the next time you go to your car, take them with you.
Even if you opt for the plastic or paper grocery bags, you can still bring them with you on your next trip for reuse.
5. Buy Products With Less Packaging
The less packaging you buy, the less garbage you create. So look for ways to avoid excess packaging. For example, buy large bottles of juice or frozen juice concentrate instead of juice boxes; get large sizes of products rather than individually wrapped ones (portion them out into reusable containers when needed); and consider buying items like nuts and beans in bulk from a health food store or a market like Whole Foods.
It's difficult to avoid food packaging completely, so when you find yourself with boxes and plastic trays, be sure to recycle them (if your recycler accepts them). Just fold up the boxes so they lie flat in your recycling bin.
The two worst packages in the grocery store, in my opinion, are the cans that cannot be recycled or reused: pressurized whipped cream cans, and cooking-spray cans. Instead, whip up cream fresh with your mixer, or use a product like Cool Whip Light that comes in a recyclable container. And instead of cans of cooking spray, get some refillable metal or plastic oil sprayers from companies like Misto or Pampered Chef.
6. Recycle, Recycle, Recycle
Find out how to recycle in your area -- what the recycler accepts, whether it needs to be sorted, and where you can go to recycle. In many cities, the garbage company picks up your recycle bin on your curb, just like it does your garbage.
You can make it easy to recycle in your kitchen by finding a convenient spot (perhaps under or next to the sink) where you keep a small garbage can to collect recyclables. Every day or two, a family member can bring the recycling from the kitchen to the larger bin or can outside.
7. Plan Ahead to Minimize Trips to the Market
Keep your kitchen well stocked so you don't have those make those last-minute grocery runs that waste both gas and time.
And be open to using ingredient substitutions in your recipes when possible. For example, use the shrimp you have in your freezer instead of chicken, or the reduced-fat cheddar in your dairy drawer instead of the jack cheese called for in the recipe. Dried cranberries work instead of raisins in most recipes. If you're out of baking power, mix 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar to substitute for each teaspoon of baking powder. If you're baking a cake and are short of eggs, substitute 3 tablespoons light or low-fat mayonnaise for each egg.
8. Eat Red Meat Less Often
When you're sitting down to a burger or barbequed steak, you probably aren't thinking about the fact that cattle belch. And when they belch, out comes methane gas, which is 23 times more potent at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide, says Michael Jacobson, PhD, executive director for the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Further, livestock manure is the source of two-thirds of man-made nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that's 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, says Jacobson, author of Six Arguments for a Greener Diet. According to Jacobson, the raising and eating of livestock not only pollutes water, air, and soil, it's responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions -- a higher share than transportation emissions.
So even if you're not ready to cut out red meat completely, cut down on the number of meals that feature meat. Try using meat as an accent instead of the main attraction of your meal. That might mean serving a stir fry, salad, or casserole instead of a steak or chop. And go meatless for one meal a day.