Obviously there's some green stuff in your kitchen, like lettuce and broccoli. But beyond buying organic food, it's easy to make your kitchen more eco-friendly, whether you're replacing your refrigerator or just banning bottled water from the fridge.
Use Energy-Efficient Appliances
When measuring the greenness of your kitchen, the first thing to look at is your appliances. “Outside of heating and cooling, the refrigerator is the main energy hog in the home,” says Jennifer Powers, media manager of the National Resources Defense Council of New York, NY. “The great thing about today's refrigerators is that automatically, no matter what kind you have, it's probably a good 70 percent more efficient than the old gold or green version from your childhood.”
With any appliance, you'll want to look for two things: the Energy Star and Energy Rating Number. The higher the energy rating number, the more efficient the appliance. Energy Star ranks appliance efficiency - any appliance with the Energy Star label is in the top 25 percent of energy performers.
The next thing to examine is temperature settings. “Set your refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; your freezer should be set between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Powers. “Use the power-save switch if your fridge has one, and make sure the door seals tightly. You can check this by making sure that a dollar bill closed in between the door gaskets is difficult to pull out. If it slides easily between the gaskets, replace them.”
If you're replacing a dishwasher, look for one that's not only energy-efficient but also scrubs dishes well. That way, you can skip the pre-wash to save water, and use low-sudsing detergents, like those from Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyers, which are non-toxic and biodegradable.
Build with Environmentally Friendly Materials
If you're replacing or updating your décor, such as countertops, flooring and tile, look for sustainable materials like bamboo and cork, which come from plants that re-grow quickly from the same source (as opposed to wood; it takes decades to grow back a tree) or recycled content from companies like Green Sage and Green Building Supply.
“Going into a mining operation and mining out granite and marble is extremely energy intensive,” says Dr. Herb Hauser, president of Midtown Technologies, a green builder consulting firm based in New York City. Not only are they re-using materials, but they're also cutting down on the energy required to mine and finish new products. Not everything is synthetic, either. Companies like Vetrazzo of Berkeley, CA, which uses recycled glass for countertops, are finding new ways to use recycled content to create unique looks.
But if marble or granite is the look you've always dreamed of, perform your due diligence and find out where your marble is coming from. Try to look local first. Buying locally means using less energy and fuel to transport the materials to and from the point of origin to the store to you. Added bonus? You're supporting your local economy.
Green Your Food Preparation and Storage
Beyond the permanent features of your kitchen, you can also take a closer look at what you use to prepare, store and eat your food. “Go from plastic containers to glass,” suggests Dr. Hauser. “Glass containers are manufactured once, are used a lot until they break and then they're recycled. Plastic has a much shorter lifespan than glass.”
That also means getting rid of bottled water. According to Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It by Elizabeth Royte, it takes 17 million barrels of oil each year to make plastic water bottles for the U.S. market. To eliminate using bottled water, add a filter to your faucet or get a whole house filter and use a refillable and re-washable water bottle.
Sometimes it's not the kitchen but how we use it that makes it less environmentally friendly. A few small changes can make cooking and preparing food a greener process.
The first place to look is your water consumption. “Most of the water that we waste is not wasted when it's in use,” says Hauser. “It's wasted when it's left on,” like if you're washing something and step away but leave the faucet on. An easy way to rethink how you use water is to switch the faucet controls to your feet. “We have a foot pedal,” says Joaquin. “It forces people to be conscious of how much water you use.” It's also sanitary - no more worrying about contaminating your facet after cutting chicken. You can find residential foot pedals at Pedal Valves.
You can also look for motion-controlled faucets - much like a faucet in a public restroom, they won't turn on unless something is in front of it. Step away from the sink, and it'll stop the water flow, therefore conserving this precious resource, as well as cutting down on your water bill.
Take recycling one step further by composting organic materials from your kitchen. This not only eliminates how much waste goes into landfills - the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 23 percent of the U.S. waste stream is yard and food trimmings - but it also puts nutrients back into your soil. For an easy-to-use guide to composting, check out our Quick Tip: How to Compost or the Compost Guide.
Whether you're changing your appliances or changing the way you think about water usage and your garbage, it's easy to make your kitchen into a greener one.