By Kristi Willis
The kitchen is the heart of most homes, and many of us want to make that hub as healthy and safe as possible. Transforming the kitchen into an environmental haven doesn’t necessarily require a remodel, though. It can be as simple as exchanging appliances or adding a few handy pieces of equipment. Following the principle “reduce, reuse, recycle,” a few key changes can help us greatly reduce our carbon footprint.
For Erin Krenek, an associate in the kitchen and dining department at Breed & Co., greening the kitchen is first about preserving food and having less waste. “I want to keep the food fresh as long as I can and throw out as little as possible,” she says.
Erin recommends a few tools that help keep produce fresh longer, like Herb-Savor pods from Prepara. With a refillable water-well base, the pods prevent fresh herbs from drying out in the refrigerator and extend their freshness for up to three weeks.
“Green bags also help maintain the freshness of fruits and vegetables,” she notes. “I was skeptical at first, but I’ve been able to stretch my produce much further using the bags. You can reuse each bag eight to ten times—just rinse them out between uses.”
Food dehydrators let you preserve food before it spoils and enjoy it out of season. Dried fruit is a tasty addition to snack mixes, cereals and baked goods, and dried vegetables can be a healthy substitute for salty, crunchy snacks like potato chips.
Reducing the energy used in the kitchen is another key focus area. Start by switching out old light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and replacing dated appliances with new models that have an Energy Star rating.
Marla Dial, doyenne of kitchenware at Callahan’s General Store, encourages customers to consider other cooking methods. “Using a pressure cooker is a good way to use less energy because the food cooks faster than traditional stove-top cooking.” She also recommends switching out a few electric appliances. “The new hand [operated] can openers work just as well as the electric models, and they don’t waste energy.”
Bottled water is expensive, and the plastic piles up quickly even if recycled. Home filtration systems provide clean, refreshing water from the tap and can range from the basic filtering pitchers, like Brita, to more complex reverse-osmosis systems installed under the sink. A faucet filter is a practical, inexpensive compromise as it can be easily installed without the assistance of a plumber. Stock up on refillable stainless steel or BPA-free plastic bottles as terrific replacements for water on the go.
If you prefer carbonated beverages, make some homemade ones using reusable bottles and gadgets like the SodaStream system. One carbon dioxide cartridge yields 60 liters of carbonated water, fruit juice or soda, and the company offers a canister-exchange program for the empties.
Disposable kitchen tools can be convenient, but they also create a great deal of waste. Simple solutions include switching from paper towels to fabric kitchen towels and replacing plastic storage containers with a glass alternative that can easily go from refrigerator or freezer to microwave.
Silicone food loops are a reusable alternative for trussing or binding food instead of using twine, and Fire Wire can be used in place of bamboo skewers for grilling and provide the added benefit of no splinters in the main course!
Wood cutting boards made from sustainably forested trees are a healthy substitute to plastic boards that have to be replaced with wear. Proteak, based in Wimberley, has reclaimed ranch land on Mexico's Pacific coast and has become one of the largest teak growers in the Western Hemisphere using responsible forestry and harvesting techniques. Their sturdy teak cutting boards are bacteria- and moisture-resistant and perfect for serious chefs or home cooks.
Instead of buying disposable cans of aerosol cooking spray, use an oil mister to lightly coat cookware and food with the oil of your choosing. Misters also help control the amount of oil used for those watching their fat intake.
And don’t forget to evaluate cleaning tools. Patti Faucheaux of Breed & Co.’s cleaning products section recommends swapping out your cleaning brushes and sponges. “Full Circle offers a line of brushes with bamboo handles and replaceable heads,” she says. “They are sturdy, and you only have to replace the bristles or sponge—the part that gets worn out.”
Many of us recycle, but the bulk of too many recyclables can quickly lead to overflowing bins. Tools like the Crusher and Easy Crush reduce the size of aluminum cans safely so that more can fit in the bins.
Composting recycles food scraps for the garden and house plants. Formerly reserved for those with big backyards, new composting receptacles and technology make it easy to compost, even in a small space.
Kitchen compost pails outfitted with charcoal filters eliminate the odor of decomposing kitchen scraps, and the half- or one-gallon bins easily fit under the sink or on the counter of the smallest kitchen.
Bokashi bins offer an alternative indoor-composting method that uses an anaerobic fermentation process to break down food scraps. The compost starter contains microorganisms that decompose the waste quickly without producing a stench. The process creates a liquid fertilizer or “tea,” to be diluted and fed to plants.
Creating a greener kitchen doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. A few small changes can make a big difference.