1.24.2018

Greening Our Kitchens

Greening Our Kitchens Title Image
In my kitchen (left to right): compost bucket, silicone bowl covers, drying washed zip-top bags, cloth towels, reusable stainless steal straw

Here are three things we can do to make our kitchens more earth friendly by reducing waste, specifically plastic.  Our kitchens are the rooms in our houses that have the biggest trash can because we produce the most waste there.  Let's look at how we can throw away fewer things by composting, buying wisely, and actively recycle.

Composting

Hands down the biggest difference you can make towards greening your kitchen is to compost your organics.  Even folks in high-rise apartments can compost.   Hear me out if you are skeptical.  One of the biggest problems with our modern kitchens is we buy food, then we prepare and eat it (or not) and the peels, scraps and spoiled food gets thrown out with the garbage.  This linear progression has long term consequences.  As much as possible, we should be looking for a circle.  Composting takes the organic portion of trash and gives it back to the earth where it can be used by soil microbes and then by plants  (aka carbon sequestering!).  Instead of sitting in a landfill where food scraps barely break down because dumps have almost no life in them.

Composting bucket
I use a wooden ice-bucket I picked up thrifting as a compost bowl.  We keep it next to the sink, along with the kids' reusable drink bottles and the brewing kombucha.  

If you live in an apartment, find your local community garden, and ask if you can contribute to their compost.  Or find a friend with a compost pile.  Or get a worm box.  When we lived in an apartment, I took our food scraps to the chickens at a local farm.  The kids loved watching the hens greet us and excitedly start pecking the bits. And after feeding the chickens we'd stop in the farm store and buy their eggs. What a nice circle.

It does take some mindfulness to compost, but it's not labor intensive.  You don't even have to empty your compost that often.  Put a container in the freezer and add your food scraps as they accumulate.   Conveniently the freezing will reduce any odor and burst plant cells which will jump-start decomposition so your container won't fill up so fast.  If you don't have enough freezer space you can keep your container under the sink or where ever and empty as needed.

If you have land, start a compost pile.  It doesn't have to be fancy.  Ours is a pile on the grass behind the garage.  It is amazing how little is left after a couple of weeks of warm weather.  It would take five years or more for the pile to get too big.  Then start a second pile and when the first has finished breaking down move the finished compost soil to your garden or spread long the house or under a bush or tree.  And there are many bin composters you can find on the market if you want something more contained. 

Reducing Your Food's Footprint

Buying groceries with less packaging, that has traveled fewer miles, and grown without industrial fertilizers and pesticides will go a long way towards reducing your food's ecological effects.  This is a admittedly a lot of asks.  Sometimes I can't find a food that meets all these requirements.  An easy way to set your priorities is to first grow your own food.  What you can't grow, buy from your local farmer's market or farm stores.  Here's a handy link to find farmers and markets near you.  This is how we get all our greens, most of our veggies, and some of our fruit.  CSAs are another option. Bonus - the farm stores and CSAs, will often take back the egg crates, berry boxes/produce baskets and grocery bags (both their own and from other vendors to reuse).

When I go to the grocery store, I look for organic produce that is package free.  This also means I don't use the produce bags offered at the grocery.  I bring my own canvas bag of bags, which includes the totes to carry my groceries home, as well as, some simple bulk bags and produce bags.  If I buy ten apples, I either let them be loose in the cart or put them in my cloth produce bag.

I also prioritize the store's bulk options if I can bring my own bag.  Our Kroger/Owens stores offer some bulk nuts, beans and dried fruit.  Check out this online locator to find out if there is a store with bulk store near you.  If there is no bulk option, buying the bigger package also reduces the amount of trash generated.  For example, buying yogurt in the big tub instead of individual serving cups.

For dry-goods I can't find in bulk, I research the brand options and chose the product with best practices.  For pasta, I buy Einkorn wheat spaghetti and fusilli from the company Jovial by the case.  I like that their plastic-free packaging is compostable, and the pasta is made from organic whole wheat.  Plus buying by the case cuts down on the energy used for shipping.

Kitchen Trash
This is my kitchen trash.  

Reduce Disposable/Single-use Things

Let's take a moment together and decide to purchase less disposable stuff.  Avoid plastic silverware, water bottles, solo cups, individually packaged convenience food, and takeout/fast food.  Plastic takes 500-1000 years to decompose.  Why use a plastic straw for three minutes that won't degrade for twenty generations?  We can do better.   It takes a little planning to bring our bags and our reusable coffee cups from home. And a little more time to make food from scratch.  We can do that.

When we do eat out and buy convenience foods, look for the no plastic, less waste options.  For instance, order an ice-cream cone that comes with a small, paper wrapper verses an ice-cream Sunday that comes with a plastic spoon in a plastic bowl.  Choose places that use real dishes or paper/cardboard containers over plastic and Styrofoam.  It's an easy upgrade.  If your favorite place is an offender, encourage them to consider more sustainable options or bring your own reusable containers.

We also need to talk about freezer baggies and plastic wrap.  My relationship with zip-top bags is complicated.  We buy from a local farm that sells their greens in zip-top bags so I have a steady stream coming into the house.   They are useful for freezing garden produce and for when my kindergartner wants to take crackers in her bento box for lunch and not have them get soggy from her apple slices.  I have made peace with baggies by washing and reusing them until they aren't functional.  When they are beyond use, they go in the film plastic recycling bag.

Plastic wrap however, can be all but eliminated by using containers with lids.  If you have bowls without lids you can place a plate on top or there are reusable lid covers that you can invest in.  I use silicone lid cover and baking mats, but after reading this article I hesitate to recommend them.

Recycling Food Packaging 

Recycling bin
Here's our single-stream, curb-side recycling bin. 

If you can't find the kind of food you want package free, look for something with recyclable containers.  Then make sure to clean them out and get them to the recycling bins.   I prefer glass bottles for things like mayonnaise, mustard and juices.  Some of those jars can be reused for buying bulk too. Many co-op grocery stores have bulk honey, syrup, oils and even soaps that you can bring your own jar or bottle to refill.

Here it is also important to know what you can recycle.  With single-stream curbside recycling being more common, a list of what the company actually sorts and recycles is important.  Check with your recycling company to make sure you are only putting in the things they recycle, otherwise those non-recyclables gets thrown away at their sorting facility.  You may have to save somethings and take them to be recycled separately.  In my house hold, the thing we have the most of, that the curbside recycling doesn't take, are plastic bags like what cereal, bread, newspapers come in as well as ziptop bags.  We save that plastic separately and take it to a grocery store that has a recycling bin when we are in the area.  Here's how to find a place to recycle film plastic near you: www.plasticfilmrecycling.org. Look in your trash can, how can you reduce or recycle what's in there?

A friend on my FaceBook Page, shared a website called Terra Cycle that has some free programs for recycling packaging from specific companies: such as Tom's of Maine, Britta, and Bear Naked.  However, after making an account, I tried to sign up for several of the programs and got a message that I had been added to a wait list.  Terra Cycle does have options where we can pay between $80-$150 to get a box to fill and send back to them for specific things like plastic bottle caps.   Anyone have leads on other ways to recycle those difficult things?

Maybe we won't get it right 100% of the time, but if we stick with it, and are aware of the trash we generate, we can put less trash out into the world.  Let's lead by example and encourage our friends and children to take up the cause.

What other suggestions do you have?  I'm always looking for ways to create closed loop systems in my kitchen.  Less waste, less worries!

References:

Compost
https://www.thoughtco.com/do-biodegradable-items-really-break-down-1204144
http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/A-sprinkle-of-compost-helps-rangeland-lock-up-5832244.php

Reducing Your Food's Foot Print
https://zerowastehome.com/app/
http://www.coopdirectory.org/directory.htm
https://www.localharvest.org/
https://www.thebalance.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033

Reduce Disposable/Single-use Things
https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/store/is_silicone_a_plastic

Recycling Food Packaging
https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/recycle-one-thing1.htm
http://indianapublicmedia.org/eartheats/5-important-items-recycle/
https://www.terracycle.com

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know I could recycle plastic film! Thanks for posting.

    ReplyDelete