Want to make an impact with a more environmentally friendly kitchen? These 4 tips will help you take action today for a more sustainable lifestyle!
A great place to start building a more sustainable life is in your kitchen. From getting rid of paper towels to minimizing food waste, these simple tips should help you take a step towards environmentally friendly living.
A note about "perfection" in sustainable living
I’m NOT perfect, and I’m not telling you to be, either. Sure, in a perfect world, we’d all forgo single-use plastic and we’d compost everything. We’d never let produce go to waste and we’d all only buy exactly the amount of groceries we need, every time.
But we all know that’s not how life works. Instead, I challenge you to TRY these swaps and take a step toward an environmentally friendly kitchen and household.
1. Swap paper towels for reusable cloths or houserags
Did you know that the U.S. uses dramatically more paper towels than any other country, accounting for almost HALF of all sales of paper towels globally?
For some reason, Americans have adopted a “use it and discard it” mentality in the past few decades, forgetting the “use it and reuse it” mantra our grandparents and great-grandparents recited.
One of the simplest eco-friendly actions you can take TODAY in your environmentally friendly kitchen (and household) is to ditch the paper towels and start using reusable cloths, rags, and towels.
I’m amazed at how many friends I have who use paper towels for everything. Wash your hands? Dry them with paper towels. Spilled some water on the counter? Wipe it up with paper towels. Drying dishes? Paper towels to the rescue. Dropped some food on the floor? Can’t touch it...better use a paper towel.
All of these things can be done with a kitchen towel or rag, and that's a cornerstone of an environmentally friendly kitchen. Yes, even the dirty jobs. Yes, even cleaning the counters or wiping grease off the stove.
I grew up in a house where we used rags before anything else. My mom would take a scissor to any clothes we had torn or worn through (that couldn’t be donated), cutting them into square-like rags. We had a whole bin full of them, and we’d use them for clean-up jobs inside and outside. Once they got used? We washed them and used them again, until they got so saturated with grime that they weren’t useful.
Somewhere along the way, I’d abandoned that practice. But I’ve since started it up again. I keep a couple rags under each sink, and use them for major clean-up in the kitchen or simple cleaning in the bathroom.
Personally, I have rags that I use for clean-up, a couple of which are specifically devoted to greasy jobs. I use cellulose sponge cloths for the easy-to-wipe-up spills, and hand towels for hand- and dish-drying. And yes, I’ll admit, and I do keep a roll of paper towels on hand for the particularly disgusting stuff, like when one of the cats hacks up a hairball.
Paper Towel Swaps:
- Kitchen towels
Use them for drying hands and dishes, or sopping up spilled water. Basic flour sack towels are some of my favorite kitchen workhorses!
- Cellulose sponge cloths
Great for soaking up spilled liquid and quick clean-ups. They can be washed, but they will wear out more quickly than a towel.
The best part about rags is that you obtain them from what you already have—cost effective AND sustainble! I cut up leggings that had worn through in the thighs for my rags. A couple are designated for the particularly greasy jobs, and the rest get used for simple clean-up. Wash and reuse.
2. Swap plastic bags and produce bags for reusable versions
For a long time, grocery stores provided bags as a service to their customers. But it turns out that all those plastic bags are just plain shit for the environment.
If you haven’t already switched to reusable versions in an effort to have an environmentally friendly kitchen, now's the time!
But let’s face it — you probably already have a bajillion reusable grocery bags and you just forget to use them.
Tips to Ditch Plastic Bags:
Put the reusable bags where you’ll remember them.
I know quite a few people who leave them in the trunk of their car. But guess what: out of sight, out of mind! So you don’t remember your bags until you’re in the checkout line. Whomp whomp.
Instead, store your bags in a spot that actually helps you remember them. In my home, we store the bags in our entry-way closet, where our coats are. Initially, I would see them when grabbing my coat and shoes, so they got pushed front and center in my mind. By the time summer came around and I no longer needed my coat, the habit had cemented so I grab my bags every time I leave for the grocery store.
What if I forget? Well, I always have an extra reusable bag stored in the back seat of my car, so there's a backup (or two) available for those last-minute grocery-store runs. I even have my spouse keep a backup in HIS car, too, in case we’re shopping with his vehicle.
Write “BRING REUSABLE BAGS” in big bold letters at the top of your grocery list.
Start thinking about your bags before you even head outside. When writing your grocery list (which I REALLY hope you do to help prevent food waste!), put a reminder to bring your bags at the top, loud and proud.
Delegate the task.
Do you usually grocery shop with your kids? If you have trouble remembering the reusable bags, try to make a game out of it with your kids. Tell them that their job is to make sure you remember and use the reusable bags.
So while you’re getting ready to go, your child can grab the bags. Once you get to the store, he or she will hopefully remember that they need to come inside.
It may take a few tries, but it may become a fun part of the grocery routine, too!
Quick trip? Don’t use a bag at all.
I sometimes have to make quick trips to the store for a single ingredient that I’d forgotten to pick up for a recipe. And when I do, I don’t worry about bags at all. Why get a bag if you don’t need it?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with walking out of the store carrying a few things without a bag. Why are we so weirdly conditioned to think that we can’t leave a store without whatever we bought secured in a bag?
I should mention that when I opt to not use a bag, I’ll let the cashier know that I’d rather not have a bag. Then I’ll put what I bought in my purse or carry it out. No big deal.
Just hold on to your receipt until you get to your car!
3. Use up “past their prime” produce instead of throwing it away.
Food waste is a problem. A big problem.
Americans trash up to 40% of our food supply each year. And while grocery stores and restaurants are a huge part of the problem, I think most of us can agree that we each waste a lot of food. It’s a small step towards a more environmentally friendly kitchen — and good for your wallet, too!
Did you know “best by” and “use by” dates AREN'T firm expiration dates?
This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine — that so many people take any date printed on packaging to be law.
In reality, “best by” is just an arbitrary guarantee printed by the manufacturer to assure customers that their product should still be fresh by that date. But milk, eggs, yogurt — they all often last days or even weeks longer than that date!
"Best by", "use by", "expires", and similar labels only contribute to food waste and misinformation, leading us to throw out perfectly good food.
Bruised or "ugly" produce is still edible!
We’re conditioned to pick only super-fresh produce that looks a certain way. We turn up our noses at bruised fruit or tomatoes that aren’t perfectly round.
But that’s all usable food that we’re letting go to waste, simply because we think a bruised apple is inherently flawed.
Well, here’s your wake-up call. If you cook with produce that’s a little past its prime, you’re never going to notice that your produce hung out in the fridge a little long.
Brown/spotted bananas? Banana bread. Soft carrots/wilted kale? Soup. Mushy strawberries? Pie or strawberry compote.
Don’t toss leftovers — reuse them!
Another eco-friendly tip for your refrigerator. Don’t toss leftovers!
A few weeks ago, my spouse and I headed over to the in-laws’ to grill out for dinner. As he always does, my father-in-law went a little overboard with the food, grilling burgers, brats, AND chicken thighs for 5 people. We ate heartily, but there were still a couple burgers and a few brats left by the time we were full.
And my mother-in-law just tossed all that food in the trash.
I was horrified. But, really, I don’t think it’s that uncommon for families to scrape what they don’t eat directly into the trash.
That practice is not only a waste of your money, it's a waste of food.
4. Swap chemically-based cleaners for eco-friendly versions.
Did you know there's no federal regulations requiring safety tests or limits to the amount of toxic ingredients or impurities in cleaning supplies?
That makes me think twice about what I'm using to clean the plates I eat off of, cups I drink out of, and counters I prepare food on.
Swapping out standard chemical cleaning supplies for more environmentally friendly versions was one of the easiest decisions I ever made.
A few things I discovered along the way?
- Water on its own is surprisingly efficient for cleaning.
- You don't REALLY need a different type of cleaner for everything (Counter spray! Dishsoap! Handsoap! Glass cleaner! Stainless steel cleaner!)
- There's a non-toxic swap for almost everything.
I use Dr. Bronner's for just about all kitchen cleaning — including dishes, counters, and hand washing. Many more environmentally friendly cleaning brands exist now, though, so try out a few to find your favorite!
Have you enacted any of these tips? Or maybe you have another idea you'd like to add to the list? I'd love to hear it! Tell me in the comments below how you pulled it off.