The kitchen is your first step in developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It can also be a first step in becoming more eco-friendly. Here are 5 easy things you can do to reduce waste in your kitchen.
Avoid disposable, one-use, or non-recyclable products. Ditch the paper towels. Cloth kitchen towels or rags from old bath towels or clothing are great replacements for paper towels, and can be superior in absorbency and durability. Say NO to plastic wrap and plastic sandwich bags. Replace them with reusable (and more eco-friendly), washable containers made from foil, glass, or plastic. For sandwich bags, try waxed paper bags and/or beeswax wraps. Waxed paper bags (found in the grocery store next to the brown paper bags) can be reused numerous times for dry snacks and are biodegradable (so you can toss them into your compost after using them for messy food). Beeswax cloth wraps are self-adhesive and can be used to cover a container of food or wrap a sandwich or snack. After use, hand-wash in cold water and hang to dry. These wraps can be re-used for at least a year and then can go into the compost.
Cook your own stuff. Learn how to make your own condiments, juices, breadcrumbs, salad dressings, baked goods, pickles, and jams. This will keep a lot of packaging waste from going into the landfill, and you can be more selective over the quality of ingredients by using whole foods and controlling salt and sugar content. Plus it’s a fun activity for parents and kids to do together.
Buy local. Visit your local farmer’s market to buy fresh eggs, milk, breads, jams, meats, vegetables, fruits, even soaps and oils, instead of buying them from large food store chains. Small farms are not only good for the local economy, they reportedly make more efficient use of land and promote greater biodiversity than large commercial farms.2 Additionally, the vendors at farmer’s markets don’t typically use much disposable packaging, if any at all, for their food, and are happy to use or reuse whatever packaging you bring with you, such as cloth grocery bags, egg cartons, berry crates, and milk bottles. And finally, vitamins begin to deteriorate as soon as a fruit or vegetable is harvested, so the fresher they are, the more nutritious they are, and the food from small, local farms will be fresher than what you buy from the large food chains. For more information on buying local, article on adjacent page (p14).
Start a compost. Kitchen scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peels, seeds, and cores; coffee grounds; egg shells; and even shrimp shells (only plain boiled) are easy to collect for composting. Food scraps and yard waste together currently make up about 30 percent of what we throw away, and should be composted instead.4 Keep a bucket or bin, preferably one with a lid, in your kitchen to deposit food scraps while you cook, and then just dump it in the compost pile when you clean the kitchen. The resultant material created through composting encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material that you can use to fertilize your garden. Compost matter retains moisture in your garden soil and suppresses plant diseases and pests, which in turn reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.4
Eat leftovers. Dig around in the fridge for leftovers before cooking a new meal. If there aren’t enough leftovers to feed everyone, get creative and use them in a new dish (Ever pretend you are on the show Chopped?). Homemade soup is probably the easiest way to use a random assortment of leftovers….practically anything can go in the pot.
Can/jar your home-grown vegetables. Growing your own food is a cheap, healthy, and eco-friendly way to feed your family. But if you aren’t able to eat all of those veggies before they spoil, try canning (aka jarring) them! Canning is an easy, cost-efficient way to enjoy the bounty from your summer garden year-round, without wasting any surplus yields. You can reuse the empty mason jars for years, which is cost-efficient. And jarred pickles, jams, salsas, and tomato sauces are great Christmas/birthday/housewarming gifts.
ECO-HINT: Many of the new plastic soda bottles are made of plastic thin enough to cut through with a knife. Cut the bottom from a bottle (about 3 inches from the bottom). Poke small holes in the bottom, fill with soil, and use it to start plants from seeds (before transplant). Use the top, with or without the cap on, to make a small greenhouse over the plants when just starting out.
SOURCES: Adapted from McLeod J. 8 Zero- Waste Tips for the Kitchen. 20 Apr 2011. Farmers Almanac site. https://www.farmersalmanac. com/8-zero-waste-tips-for-the-kitchen-12096. Accessed 16 Jan 2019.
Additional sources: 1) Martinez, Steve, et
al. Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, ERR 97, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, May 2010. 2)Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems site. Research Bibliography. University of California, Santa Cruz. https://casfs.ucsc.edu/research/ research-bibliography.html. Accessed 22 Jan 2019. 3) eXtension.org. How Long Do Fruits and Vegetables Retain Their Nutrients? 18 Nov 2009
The United States Cooperative Extension Systems. https://articles.extension.org/pages/19885/how-long-do- fruits-and-vegetables-retain-their-nutrients. Accessed 22 Jan 2019. 4) United States Environmental Protection Agency site. Composting At Home. https://www.epa.gov/recycle/ composting-home. Accessed 22 Jan 2019. NHR