Continuing our journey towards a more eco-friendly life, we move from the laundry room to the kitchen. Whether you spend hours on end slaving away over the stovetop or just pop in for 90 seconds to nuke your cup-o-noodle, there are ways all of us can reduce waste and improve energy efficiency. Let’s start with the biggest kitchen offenders when it comes to energy usage:
Their purpose is to make everyday kitchen usage easier, but at what cost? Larger appliances use up massive amounts of energy, so we’ll explore ways to improve this energy usage efficiency. And while smaller appliances don’t use nearly as much energy, do you really need an electric can opener? Really?
Food for thought: When doing an energy audit in your kitchen, be aware of the placement of your large appliances. The heat coming off your oven and dishwasher could be making your refrigerator work extra hard to stay cool.
I’ve been without one of these since 2013, and do I even miss it? YES. SO MUCH. What I wouldn’t do for the ease of tossing dirty dishes into a magical box that returns them all clean and sparkly. While dishwashers might seem like a drain for electricity and water, if you have an Energy Star appliance, running the dishwasher will be more efficient than sink washing. Here are some ways to reduce the eco-footprint of dirty dishes:
- Always, always, always WAIT to run your dishwasher until you have a full load.
- Look for green dishwashing detergent. You want to narrow your options down to detergents that don’t use petroleum, bleach, or phosphates.
- Are you one of those people that rinses the food waste off dishes before you put them in the dishwasher? You clean the plates before you put them in the plate cleaner? Stop that. Your dishwasher will wash the dishes.
- Skip the dry cycle, and let them air-dry on the countertop, or just leave the door ajar.
- Most dishwashers’ heat settings are cranked up way higher than necessary; adjust the heat setting to save on your next bill.
- Run the dishwasher at off-peak hours!
Food for Thought: Another easy way to reduce water consumption is to use a faucet aerator. These items are inexpensive, carried in most hardware stores, and have the potential to cut your water usage in half!
The main culprit for energy waste in refrigerators and freezers is empty space. I am guilty of this, big time. I live by myself in a one bedroom apartment, which means my fridge is filled with condiments and cold air. It takes way more energy to keep an empty freezer frozen, than a packed one.
- To increase energy efficiency, try filling the empty space in your fridge/freezer with water bottles, newspapers, bags of ice, or hit Costco or TJ’s and stock up on frozen foods.
- Invest in a simple fridge thermometer. This will let you know if the fridge is running too cold or too warm.
- Clean the coils! Under your refrigerator lies the coils responsible for keeping it cool. Unless you diligently clean under the fridge, you might want to give these guys a scrub. Removing the dust and buildup will make it easier to stay cool.
Food for Thought: Next time you’re using the oven, skip the preheating. Throwing the food into a lukewarm oven a few minutes early won’t spoil the recipe, and will save energy. You can also try turning off the oven a few minutes before cook time is up if you are really looking to save.
Look to use other, smaller appliances whenever possible. Microwaves, toaster ovens, slow/pressure cookers, solar ovens, and even barbecues are all more energy efficient ways to cook. Which ties nicely into the next section…
Eco-friendly Cooking Tips
Although it’s seen as a daunting task by many, cooking is something people have to go through on a fairly regular basis. Use these tricks to help conserve energy and reduce waste:
- If you have to use the oven, really USE it. Try cooking larger amounts and freezing leftovers to minimize your monthly oven use.
- Eat those leftovers! Don’t throw them in the fridge or freezer and forget about them. Reheating food uses far less energy than whipping up meals from scratch every time you’re hungry.
- Invest in a good roasting pan. Quit using disposable foil pans for holidays and family gatherings.
- Cut foods into smaller pieces. Chicken strips cook way faster than whole birds!
- Use Residual Heat! Skip the preheating, cut the oven off early, cover pans on the stovetop while cooking, and try turning off the stovetop a little earlier than you usually do.
- As we said before, avoid the oven and range whenever possible:
- Want bread? Use the bread maker.
- Boiling water? Opt for an electric kettle.
- Cooking Veggies? Try a steamer.
- Broiling Steaks? Give the grill a go.
- Grilled Cheese? Have you seen He Got Game?
Now for the Food
Did you know that around 40 percent of food in the United States gets thrown out? Which is outrageous given the current world hunger problems and our own climbing obesity rates along with the costs of food production. How can you help?
- Cook from scratch. It’s only as hard as you make it, and cooking from scratch will greatly reduce excess waste from prepackaged meals. Plus, Mother Earth isn’t the only one who’ll benefit from cutting back on overly-processed foods (looking at you, waistline).
- Meatless Mondays! Try to reduce your meat intake. The detrimental environmental effects of livestock have been well documented, so try sprucing things up with a salad. Yes, the food your food eats.
- Shop Local and Organic. Skip buying produce from the big name stores, and hit the farmer’s market. Organics are grown without pesticides, and local means less energy used to get the produce from the farm to you.
- Get a Costco Card. Buy in bulk and freeze what you don’t need. Milk, cheese, meat, fruits and veggies can all be frozen, and buying in bulk means less packaging.
- Start a garden. If gardening is your thing, go big and feed the neighborhood! If you struggle to keep your fake plants alive, try a small herb garden. Gardening-curious? Set up a few planters and try growing your favorite veggies.
Food for Thought: So you overdid it on the gardening, and now you have more produce than you (and your neighbors) can eat. No problem, try canning. No time to can? Local food banks are always in need of fresh produce.
And Everything Else
- Ditch Disposables! Our single-use, uber-convenient lifestyles are the main culprit behind our bloated landfills and plastic-filled oceans. This means look for ways to avoid using:
- Disposable cleaning wipes. Use eco-friendly cleaning spray and an old cloth towel or t-shirt.
- Plastic Water Bottles. Get a reusable metal one (w/ a filter if tap isn’t your jam), and refill it throughout the day.
- Paper Napkins/Towels. Opt for reusable cloth. It’ll trim a few dollars off the grocery bill, and the environment will thank you.
- Paper Plates, Bowls, Cups, etc. So convenient! But scrap ’em if you can.
- Paper or Plastic? Do you not have reusable grocery bags yet? Come on, it’s 2017.
- Pack Lunches? Try a nice insulated lunch box, and give the paper-bag-a-day habit a rest.
Food for Thought: Throwing some flowers in a vase is a great way to add some color to any room in your house. Try adding a splash of vodka to the water next time, it’ll make the flowers last longer!
You don’t have to do everything on this list, but implementing even just a couple of these tricks is a great way to start reducing your eco-footprint. Look for our next installment where we’ll be looking at eco-friendly beauty/personal care products.