6 Easy Switches and Upgrades That Will Help You Save Money and Energy Instantly

updated Apr 19, 2021
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Credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom

No matter how accessible and readily available they may be in your home, the reality is, most of the natural resources you depend on in your daily life — think Mama Eco. “For many of us, it’s the flick of a switch, but the energy and resources that go into bringing these things into our homes are finite, so we have to be mindful of how we use them.”

While the United States currently accounts for only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, it’s responsible for more than 17 percent of the total world primary energy consumption, and nonrenewable resources, such as coal and natural gas, being used at a much faster rate than the earth can naturally replenish them. “In 2019, the world population consumed 85.9 billion tons of natural resources,” says “Sustainable Home” author Christine Liu. “We currently use more natural resources than the earth can regenerate in a given year, which is more than just unsustainable — it’s leading to additional environmental issues such as climate change and ecosystem loss.”

Whether you realize it or not, there are lots of small actionable steps you can take in the kitchen to help conserve the earth’s natural resources. From dishwashing tips to cooking ideas, here are six little things that sustainability experts say can lower your home’s ecological footprint. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Shut off your faucet when you’re washing dishes.

Don’t let your smooth-running kitchen faucets fool you, clean drinking water isn’t an infinite resource and it takes a lot of energy to store, pump, and clean the water that comes into our homes. The average American goes through 80 to 100 gallons of water a day, with up to 27 gallons used for hand-washing dishes alone.

No surprise then that Kenny says turning off the faucet when hand washing dishes is one simple way to conserve freshwater and reduce the amount of runoff and wastewater that will likely end up in the ocean. “When I’m washing my dishes, I make sure that my dish brush gets a drink of water before I start, and sometimes, I give the dishes a quick shower, too,” she says. “However, when I’m physically cleaning those dishes, I turn the tap off because you don’t need all that water—just a  little moisture to start with.”

Upgrade your kitchen faucets.

If you own your home or have a landlord that will allow it, Kenny says you can replace your existing kitchen sink fixtures with WaterSense-certified faucets to reduce the flow rate of your water. “This helps lower the amount of wasted water while providing you with more than enough water pressure for kitchen sink tasks,” she explains. 

For a more affordable alternative to new low-flow fixtures, sustainability coach Anca Novacovici of Eco-Coach recommends installing an aerator on your kitchen faucet. “A faucet aerator is a device with a small metal screen that sits at the end of your faucet and creates a mixture of air and water to make the water flow smoother,” she explains. “Look for one with a flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute or less to save water and money on your utility bills.”

Buy reusable kitchen staples.

If you’re relying on lots of single-use products in your kitchen, including paper towels, coffee filters, dish or hand soap bottles, Liu says there’s a better way to live. “Be wary of products that require natural resources to be created and sold to you, but quickly end up in the waste bin,” she advises. “Consider buying used kitchen goods whenever possible, or do your research to find products made with sustainable materials that are repairable, recyclable, or made to last.” 

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of sustainable kitchen essentials that you can easily swap out with your disposable ones. In addition to purchasing reusable coffee filters, trash (or recycling) bags, and dish and hand soap bars (that eliminate the need for a plastic bottle), Kris Bordessa, author of “Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living,” says cotton towels or rags are an economical and eco-friendly alternative to paper towels. “They can be reused over and over again for cleanups,” she explains.  

Watch your food waste.

When unused food ends up in a landfill, it can release methane gas as it breaks down and creates a greenhouse gas that warms the planet. That’s why Kenny says cutting down food waste at home is an easy way to help the environment. “To reduce your food waste, be mindful when you’re buying your groceries to not buy more than you can reasonably consume before it goes bad,” she advises. “When it comes to cooking, the same applies: try to only cook as much as you can eat in a couple of days.” 

Another great way to preserve the lifespan of your food (and cut down on waste) is to make sure you’re storing it correctly. “Keeping pantry items in sealed jars, in a dark place away from light will help them last longer, as will freezing leftovers you won’t eat in the next couple of days,” says waste educator Lindsay Miles of Treading My Own Path. She also suggests reading up on which fruits and vegetables keep best in the fridge, including apples and bell peppers, or in a fruit bowl on your countertop, like bananas and unripe avocados, as well as which ones should be stored separately (such as onions and potatoes) to stop them from prematurely shriveling or spoiling. 

Compost whenever possible.

Newsflash: You can do more than just reduce the amount of food you waste at home, you can compost certain scraps — including lettuce leaves, banana peels, broccoli stems, coffee grounds, and eggshells — to add to your plant soil. “Compost strengthens the structure and texture of the soil, so your plants can grow strong without the need for chemical fertilizers,” Novacovici explains. “A win-win for you and the environment!”

If you have access to an outdoor space, you can create a compost pile by adding layers of compost material into a designated area of soil. No backyard? No worries. Indoor compost bins are widely available and small enough to store in your kitchen, so you can turn some of your food scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer from inside your apartment. 

Conserve energy where you can.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), electricity is the most common fuel used for cooking, with over 74.9 million American households relying on it to heat their food in an oven or on a stovetop. To help conserve energy in the kitchen while reducing the use of electricity-generating fossil fuels, Bordessa recommends putting a lid on pots and pans when cooking food. “You’ll use less energy with that lid helping to retain heat,” she explains.

You can also conserve energy in your kitchen by setting your fridge temperature between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer no lower than zero degrees. “Refrigerators, especially older ones, can be energy hogs — using up to five times more energy than newer Energy Star-certified styles,” Novacovici explains. “In the average household, refrigerators are second only to air conditioners in terms of energy use, and lowering the temperature by just one degree more can raise electricity use by up to six percent.”