Green living: kitchen edition
The kitchen is likely to be one of the most used areas of your home, even if you don’t regularly cook. This centralised room may be the gathering place of your dinner parties, your kids’ homework area or your favourite place to enjoy a glass of wine. It is where the majority of your home’s energy is used and where you use many of your cleaning chemicals. That being said, if you’re looking for ways to make your home greener, a great place to start is the kitchen.
An eco-friendly kitchen begins with eating green, but it doesn't end there. Energy-efficient food preparation and cleaning habits, using equipment made from sustainable materials, and dodging toxic chemicals are also important if you want to have a truly healthy kitchen. Fortunately, making the right choices for your well-being is also good for the pocket and the planet.
Here are our tips to be more sustainable in the kitchen.
1. Choose sustainable cookware and utensils
Choose cookware and utensils that stand the test of time. Go for stainless steel or cast iron instead of Teflon. Though a bit of an investment, a good cast iron skillet will last for generations. 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.
It’s also time to say bye-bye to plastic cooking tools and switch to the wooden ones. But not merely wooden, find the ones which are made from reclaimed-wood products such as the utensils made from logging scraps. Wood products are often sleek, rustic, and stylish without draining your pocket.
Heavy wooden chopping boards are also great, because they don’t spread bacteria as easily as the plastic ones and you can flip it for different purposes. Also, start to stack a lot of recycled glass cups, metal plates and bowls. Combine it with your wooden spoon and your kitchen look much nicer.
2. Choose your cooking energy wisely
Electric stoves are a healthier option than gas stoves, which can add between 25 and 39 percent more NO2 and CO to the air in the house.
But from a straight-up cooking perspective however, many cooks prefer gas because it's easier to control temperatures; it also offers instant-on heat, and doesn't waste much heat when the cooking is done. If you're a gas devotee shopping for a new stove, know that the lower the BTU output (British Thermal Unit), the more energy-efficient your stove will be.
With electricity, the most efficient stoves are those that use induction elements, which transfer electromagnetic energy directly to the pan, leaving the cook-top itself relatively cool and using less than half the energy of standard coil elements. One drawback is that induction-element cook-tops require the use of metal cookware such stainless steel, cast iron, or enamelled iron -- aluminium and glass pots won't work.
The same goes for units with ceramic-glass surfaces, which use halogen elements as the heat source, making them the next best choice from an efficiency standpoint. These deliver heat instantly and respond quickly to changes in temperature settings. They're also very easy to clean, which is always a bonus. But they only work efficiently when there is good contact between the pan and the hot glass surface; energy will go to waste if pan bottoms are even slightly rounded (which is why our first tip about choosing the right cookware is essential).
3. Choose and use appliances efficiently
The first thing to might be to upgrade your refrigerator to the latest, energy-efficient model. Try not to loiter in the fridge; get what you need, then close the door as quickly as possible. Every time a fridge or freezer becomes too warm, more energy is needed to bring it back down to temperature.
The “Dishwasher vs. Hand-washing” debate has been raging for years, but studies have finally found out which is more eco-friendly: the latest water and energy-efficient dishwashers use around a third less water than washing and rinsing dishes by hand. But you will only get the full benefit if you wait until your machine is full before running a cycle. Most machines have an economy setting these days, so make sure you use yours.
If the time has come to get rid of an old appliance, note that many local authorities have recycling programs, helping you to properly dispose of these items, which likely contain hazardous chemicals and materials. When you replace an appliance, look for the energy labels, available for kitchen appliances including stoves, refrigerators, freezers, and dishwashers. Then choose a sturdy model that will last.
4. Change your cooking habits
Cooking with traditional appliances such as conventional ovens and gas hobs uses an enormous amount of energy. Wherever possible, use grills, convection ovens, convection hobs, microwaves and slow cookers for all your culinary requirements.
When using an oven, bear in mind that preheating is almost prehistoric. Many newer ovens come to temperature so rapidly, they make preheating almost obsolete. If you're roasting or baking something that's a little flexible when it comes to cooking time, you can put it in right away, then turn the oven off five or ten minutes early, and let dishes finish cooking in the residual heat (the same goes for anything cooked on an electric stove top).
Making as best use of the oven as possible -- cooking more than one thing at once, for instance -- is also wise.
When cooking on the stove, using a properly sized pot for each of the stove burners also makes a difference; on an electric stove, for example, a 15 cm pot used on an 20 cm burner wastes more than 40 percent of the burner's heat. Fill pans with water from the hot tap before boiling food, and never use more water than is absolutely necessary. Finally, always try to cook food in pans with the lid on — which catches heat and cooks food faster.
5. Buy and cook fresh
Avoid purchasing pre-prepared, frozen foods, and make them yourself, at home; many meals are made to be frozen and reheated without any loss in taste or quality, so there's no reason to thaw and rehydrate frozen and dehydrated foods when you can skip these steps and buy and cook fresh. As an added bonus, you also know exactly what is going into your food, and, if you're diligent about sourcing it, where it came from. This option also cuts out steps of your food's lifecycle (and the associated energy in processing and transportation that comes from each step). And instead of shelling out for bottled water, get a filter pitcher or tap filter.
6. 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. Organic grapes from Chile might taste good in the dead of winter, but consider the pollution caused by flying them to wherever you are. In addition, since they're bereft of preservatives, biocides and many other nasties that inhabit conventional foods, organic foods can spoil more quickly, meaning that the longer your bunch of grapes is in transit, the less pristine its condition is likely to be.
7. Bulk Up
Buy in bulk and cook in bulk; just make sure you can consume what you purchase. Every time you go shopping, you’re probably using fuel to get to the store and back. So try to go shopping once or twice a week, and keep your cupboards stocked up. It’s also a good idea to substitute missing ingredients for things you have lying around in the kitchen.
Bulk cooking is a more efficient use of appliance energy and of your time, so cook up a nice big pot of soup and anticipate saving (and eating) lots of leftovers. And plan ahead; planning meals that can feed you and your family for a few days is a great way to shop efficiently and free up your precious leisure time.
8. Cut back on waste
On average, the kitchen generates the most waste of any room in your house; for one of the main reasons, look no further at the excessive packaging on supermarket shelves. But it's not as hard as it may seem to cut back on waste:
- Refuse excessive packaging by taking your own bags, buying fresh, unwrapped produce, and thinking carefully about how the purchases you're making are wrapped up. Keeping a bunch of reusable shopping bags in your kitchen not only stops plastic from needlessly ending up in the oceans, it saves you money.
- Avoid over-sized portions; if you are regularly throwing food away then you are buying, and cooking, too much.
- Reuse what you can, like old glass jars or bottles, grocery bags, and packaging you can't avoid.
- Be sure to swing by the recycle bin before tossing anything in the trash.
9. Clean with natural products
The list of what goes into regular petrochemical-based dishwashing liquids, detergents, floor and surface cleaners and other household cleaning products is enough to turn anyone's stomach. Fortunately there are plenty of natural cleaning companies out there producing non-toxic, biodegradable, plant-based detergents
You can clean your kitchen using natural, toxic-free substances like vinegar and baking soda. Vinegar kills bacteria, mould, and mildew. You can use them to clean shower heads, sinks, and kitchen appliances (read more about natural cleaning products here).
10. Be mindful of your lights
Lighting is a big necessity in a kitchen. Whether you’re prepping food or your kids are studying around the kitchen table, you need light. However, this doesn’t mean your fixtures need to be switched on all the time. In addition to reminding your family to turn off the lights when they leave the room, consider installing timers or motion sensors. This will ensure the lights are never on when no one is using the space. You may also want to replace your current bulbs with LEDs for more savings. These bulbs can create the same amount of light while reducing your energy usage and electricity bill.
11. Ditch the paper
Some kitchen rolls are made from recycled paper while the other are made from virgin pulp. The former is sustainable but include a lot of binding ingredients and the latter is safer but not eco-friendly. The best solution is to not use them at all and opt for alternatives.
You can use washable viscose cloths made from sustainable bamboo. They can soak up many times their weight in liquid, a lot more absorbent and durable than conventional paper towels. Consider using reusable paper (which is also made from bamboo) or napkins. But if you must use paper towel, choose the recycled materials which doesn’t contain chlorine or other toxic substances.
12. Declutter and organise
No: clutter is never energy efficient. If you want to be able to cook with what you have instead of always buying more (and creating waste as well as spending way too much), and to use the freshest ingredients, your fridge and kitchen have to be perfectly organised. Same goes for your pans and utensils: if you want them to be sustainable, you have to properly care for them, which means that your whole kitchen (not just the pantry) has to be organised. Homefulness professional organisers are here to help: don’t hesitate to reach out !