Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Table Talk: 22 Green Fixes For Your Kitchen

The eco-friendly kitchen begins with eating green, but it doesn’t end there. Incorporating energy-efficient food preparation and cleaning habits, using equipment made from sustainable materials, and dodging toxic chemicals are also important. Here are some tips I’ve found that anyone can utilize.

1. Use your dishwasher: Repeated studies show that modern dishwashers (those made since 1994) get dishes cleaner than hand-washing and use less water, but only if you run them when they're full. You get bonus eco-points when you skip rinsing your dishes in the sink, use a Phosphate and Chlorine free detergent and let your dishes air dry instead of opting for the heated drying cycle.

2. Buy a fridge thermometer: A fridge thermometer lets you set the temperature just right and avoid using too much electricity. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the thermometer should read between 36˚F and 38˚F for the fridge and 0˚F and 5˚F for the freezer.

3. Stop buying bottled water:  Surprisingly, bottled water is subject to far fewer federal safety regulations than what comes out of your faucet. Not to mention, Americans throw away an estimated 24 billion empty water bottles into the trash each year. To reduce this waste, first switch to good old tap water. If you don’t like the taste, invest in an inexpensive carbon filtration system, such as those made by Brita or Pur. Secondly, buy a reusable water bottle. There are hundreds of models to pick from that are BPA-free, spill-proof, durable, stylish, and easy to clean.

4. Reuse your sponge: There are many ways you can reuse your kitchen sponge. The benefits are saving you money, and keeping fewer sponges out of landfills longer. 1. Toss it in a small pot of boiling water for five minutes, 2. Place the very wet sponge in the microwave for one minute on the highest setting, 3. Place the sponge on the top rack in your dishwasher. Run the dishwasher as usual for a complete washing, rinsing and drying cycle. *Warning, sponge will be hot! Use caution.

5. Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL): The secret to switching to CLFs is to pick the right bulb for the job. Color for CFL bulbs is measured in Kelvins; the number is often on the package. The cool, white light in the 3500K–4100K range is bright enough to mince garlic by but not so glaring to make your feel like you're working in a hospital cafeteria. Look for "instant-on" bulbs, too, which reduce the annoying amount of time it can take for them to reach their full brightness. And whenever possible, use natural light to brighten up your kitchen and bring down your electrical bill.

6. Adopt Meatless Monday: Scads of health studies show that the less meat we eat, the lower our risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers. What most consumers don't know is that the worldwide production of meat contributes to a host of environmental ills, from habitat destruction to global warming. Try incorporating a Meatless Monday into your household. Find recipes online at http://www.vegetariantimes.com/, http://www.epicurious.com/, and http://www.foodnetwork.com/.

7. Buy organic when possible: In a perfect world everything we ate would be sustainably grown and pesticide free. But practically speaking, few of us can afford to go all organic, all the time. If you've got to pick and choose, start with the Environmental Working Group's list of produce that typically are laden with the most pesticides and buy the organic versions of those fruits and veggies. Download the full guide at http://www.foodnews.org/.

8. A green kitchen is a clean kitchen: Generations of TV ads have convinced us that unless it smells like pine trees or lemons, it's not clean. But synthetic fragrances are just one of the dozens of chemical hazards found in commercial cleaners. For a greener alternative to your conventional all-purpose spray cleaner, try this instead: Mix 1/2 teaspoon washing soda (find it in the laundry aisle), 1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap and 2 cups hot water, and pour into a spray bottle. You can also clean your counters and hand-wash dishes with white vinegar and baking soda. If you’re not up for making your own concoction, invest in eco-friendly cleaners such as Seventh Generation, Begley's Best, and Ecover.

9. Don't bug out: Keeping a clean kitchen is, of course, the best way to avoid ever having to reach for a can of toxic bug killer, but even the most diligent of us have had the occasional encounter with the stray cockroach or ant. Before you go scurrying for the spray, check out Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold-Bond, which is chockfull of eco-friendly pest control alternatives. For example, sprinkling natural diatomaceous earth, available at many local garden-supply stores, in nooks and crannies can kill and repel roaches.

10. Recycle! I know you've heard this one before, but according to the EPA, Americans still send 75 % of trash that could be recycled into landfills. It's ridiculously easy to figure out just what you can put into your curbside recycling bin or what the other recycling options are in your area -- just go to http://www.earth911.com/ and enter your zip code.

11. B.Y.O.B: Bags that is....Don't contribute to the estimated 100 billion plastic grocery bags that end up in garbage dumps and oceans annually. Acquiring a reusable grocery bag is simple! Many grocery stores are now selling their own and you can find super chic styles on the internet.

12. Save the trees: Whole forests are mowed down in the name of super absorbency. Instead of using paper towels, tackle everyday spills with washable rags or sponges instead, and switch to cloth napkins on the table. Then keep a roll of 100-percent recycled paper towels on hand for emergencies. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, if every household kitchen in the U.S. replaced just one roll with a 100-percent recycled one, we'd save more than half a million trees. Find NRDC's list of forest-friendly towels at http://www.nrdc.org/land/forests/gtissue.asp.

13. Cook smart: No matter whether you're cooking on an old gas stove or a brand-new induction range, there are a few simple ways you can use less energy. Always cover pots when you're bringing water to boil and when you're cooking (unless the recipe specifically states otherwise), match the size of your pan to the size of the heating coil, and reheat leftovers on the stovetop or in the microwave (as opposed to in the oven).

14. Give your veggies a bath, not a shower: Instead of rinsing your produce under a running faucet (at two or more gallons of water down the drain per minute), just fill a bowl with a couple inches of water and use a vegetable brush.

15. Buy local: The food you bring in to your kitchen is just as important as the gadgets and appliances you have there, so buy local whenever you can. Food miles have risen near the top of eco-friendly food considerations, and the fewer miles from farm to table the better. Whenever possible, join a community supported agriculture (CSA) co-op, or purchase your produce directly from farmers themselves.

16. Bulk up: Buy in bulk and cook in bulk; just make sure you can consume what you purchase and produce! (See Waste Not, Want Not below for more details on that). Purchasing from the bulk bins mean less packaging and fewer trips to the store. Bulk cooking is a more efficient use of appliance energy and your time, and in many circumstances it saves you money!

17. Curb the waste: On average, the kitchen generates the most waste of any room in your house, but fear not, it’s not as hard as it may seem to cut back on waste. Step one: refuse excessive packaging by taking your own bags (see above), buying fresh, unwrapped produce, and thinking carefully about how the purchases you're making are wrapped up. Step two: avoid over-sized portions; if you are regularly throwing food away then you are buying and cooking too much. Step three: reuse what you can, like old glass jars or bottles, grocery bags, and packaging you can't avoid. Step four: compost any uncooked organic waste (including cardboard and paper). Don't worry if you dont have a garden, there are many options to compost indoors.

18. Grow your own herbs: Popular herbs such as parsley, basil and rosemary are pretty easy to grow. All you need are a few pots and some potting soil. Starting with plants instead of seeds makes it even easier, and you can often pick up starter plants at your local nursery for less than what the same fresh herbs would cost at the grocery store. No yard or window box? There are many indoor garden kits available.

Bonus eco-points for growing your own fruits and vegetables too!

19. Think small: Small appliances use less energy for specialized cooking jobs than big electric appliances. Rice cookers, toaster ovens, electric slow cookers, and pressure cookers all consume less energy than your stove or oven.

20. Get creative: There's no need to waste gas on an entire trip to the store just to pick up that one ingredient you forgot. Find a list of emergency ingredient substitutions at Joy of Baking.com

21. Make It Last: Choose cookware and utensils that stand the test of time and won’t have to be thrown away with your leftover casserole. That means you gotta ditch the Teflon. While the debate about the health hazards of non-stick surfaces continues, there is no doubt that it has a limited useful life. Go for stainless steel, cast iron, or GreenPans instead. GreenPans are PFOA- and PTFE-free, and release 50% less greenhouse gases during production.

Likewise, choose sturdy utensils rather than cheap ones; low-quality wooden spoons, for example, can rot, and plastic will melt if you leave it on the stove too long. Buy high-quality knives that you can sharpen by hand, and use long-lasting cloth towels instead of paper.

22. Love Your Appliances: Even the greenest folks need to upgrade or replace. If you are in the market for a new kitchen, first try to salvage antiques, such as kitchen fittings, floors, paneling, and cabinets. Also try and repair some of your appliances before throwing them away. If you’re trading things out, be sure to offer them on Freecycle or Craigslist before kicking them to the curb.

If reclaimed materials won't do the job for you, there are plenty of green options for new materials too. Green countertops made of recycled paper, to bamboo and cork flooring -- be sure to do your homework about the options available and their environmental impact since energy-efficiency upgrades are coming fast and furious to many new appliances. Do your research at EnergyStar to find a sturdy model that will last the test of time.

Have a low budget for that new kitchen? The best appliances you can buy are ultimately ones you plan on living with for at least a decade or more, which will save on materials and resources from a manufacturing standpoint.

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