10 Easy, Money-Saving Changes That Will Make Your Kitchen So Much Greener
I don’t know about you, but spending most of my time at home during the pandemic has made me shift my focus to the kitchen. This wouldn’t be noteworthy on its own — plenty of people cook multiple meals, every day — but it is a marked shift from what one study called the “decline” of cooking: A 2018 study published in Cultural Sociology found that people living in the United States and France were spending around 15 to 20 minutes less on cooking per day in 2010 than in 1985. The main reasons? Smaller households and an increase in eating out. A lot can change in a couple of years — in 2020, many people found themselves back in the kitchen, whether it was cooking, renovating, baking, growing, or coaxing a sourdough starter to do its thing.
As you get more comfortable in the kitchen — or if you already were a pro, attempt more and more complex dishes — there are plenty of ways to revamp your kitchen habits to be more eco-conscious. Here are 10 easy changes you can incorporate into your daily life to have a more sustainable kitchen.
1. Use the whole plant when you cook.
Did you know that broccoli stems make great pesto? Surely you’ve heard about chefs using parmesan cheese rinds to make soup that much more flavorful. The world is your oyster when it comes to using everything an ingredient offers you! Many vegetable stems can actually be used for different recipes, and IKEA even released a cookbook called ScrapsBook that includes many zero-waste recipes. Download it for free here, and get ready to make bacon out of banana peels (really!).
2. Or repurpose your odds and ends to create your own little garden.
3. For everything you don’t repurpose, there’s always composting.
Composting conditions and feeds the soil, and reduces kitchen waste as well as landfill waste. There are a couple of ways to easily compost in your home. If you have a garden or yard, it’s easy to set up an outdoor compost pile, but those who live in small spaces might want to look into whether there’s a communal compost heap in your neighborhood. You can also purchase a composting bin online or keep a compost bag in your freezer to avoid smells. You can also try Bokashi-style composting, which uses a microbe-inoculated Bokashi bran in order to break down food waste.
4. Invest in reusable versions of your go-to disposable plastics.
Did you just run out of plastic sandwich bags? Don’t just re-up on your go-to brand. From Ziploc-style bags made from food-grade silicone to Saran wrap alternatives made with beeswax coating, there are plenty of ways to swap out the disposable everyday items in your kitchen when you run out of the conventional versions. And don’t underestimate the power of using a washable kitchen towel or reusable Swedish dishcloth in place of paper towels. These simple swaps will not only decrease your waste but also decrease your spending on these everyday items.
5. Buy your staples in bulk — and bring your jars to the grocery store with you.
This isn’t possible at every store, but if your local grocer has a wall of bulk bins or canisters, it can be useful to bring mason jars and other food containers with you. Bulk buying is both economical and eco-friendly: According to Green Foot Mama, you’ll reduce your packaging waste, decrease transportation pollution, and use fewer plastic bags. Here’s optimizing your freezer’s capabilities, and freeze food as soon as you can, not only when you remember to.
7. Repurpose cooking water as plant food.
Whether you’re boiling vegetables, eggs, or pasta, you can use the leftover water to hydrate your plants. This way, you can reuse a pot of water and also be able to give your plants some additional nutrients from the phosphorus, nitrogen, and calcium that boil into the water.
8. Build a grocery list.
How many times have you thrown a novel ingredient into your grocery cart, only to ignore it in the back of your fridge until it went bad, simply because you never got around to figuring out what to do with it? Before going grocery shopping, it’s helpful to have a loose plan about what you might be cooking that week. I usually have a general list of things I usually buy that fit into my eating patterns and cravings — and an added bonus is that grocery lists will typically help you save money in the long run, too.
9. Support local markets.
If you can, hit the farmer’s market before you go to the grocery store, and try to get your fill of produce, eggs, and other basics there. Supporting your local farmer’s market is a great way to buy locally-grown food. Not only are you buying delicious food that is in season, but you’re also supporting local farmers and ingredients. Ask the vendors about what they recommend, or what foods are in season to acquaint yourself with natural harvesting patterns — you’ll glean plenty of cooking tips and inspiration that way, and you may sleep easy knowing your food didn’t need to travel thousands of miles to reach your table. Plenty of farmers’ markets take SNAP benefits if that applies to you.
10. Mindfully dispose of used oil.
It can seem plenty convenient to pour used oil or grease down the sink, but doing so can create major blockages, and a hefty plumbing bill down the road. Make sure you let oil cool before scraping it from your pan and into the trash can, or strain it with a coffee filter or cheesecloth if you can reuse it.