Simple Swaps for a Sustainable Kitchen
I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time in my kitchen. Eating, prepping, cooking, making tea, hauling in groceries, putting food away, and getting scream meow-ed at by my cats 3 times per day during their meal times. They don't like to be kept waiting for food (they take after their mom).
On my own sustainable journey, I have found that there are a lot of easy swaps to be made in the kitchen that support a more Earth-friendly lifestyle. I'm a sucker for simple swaps a.k.a. practicing conscious convenience. Can I get a WHAT WHAT?! <cue dead silence as I look around awkwardly>
When I first started to look at my kitchen, the biggest thing I noticed was the amount of un-recyclable plastic that was being voraciously consumed on a weekly basis, mostly in my food purchasing habits. Berry and salad containers, pre-chopped or frozen vegetables in plastic bags, cereal bags, veggie burgers, snacks, chocolate, etc. I would finish a container of blueberries in a day and have to throw out all of this barely used plastic. Anyone else use one whole carton of berries just for their morning oatmeal? I decided that was going to be one of the first places to start:Reducing Plastic Consumption Through Food Purchasing
This one is kinda tough- because, convenience, right? I used to always buy the pre-washed salad greens, broccoli slaw, and coleslaw to make big salads. No chopping of anything, yay! I have slowly converted to trying to find produce that's not wrapped in plastic. Unfortunately, it's harder than you might think. I personally use Misfits Market for half of my produce consumption for the week, and then supplement with grocery store shopping. I usually purchase spinach or other loose greens, broccoli, peppers, carrots, and other random produce from the store that is package free. If you want to try Misfits Market, I have had a great experience with their produce. I get the smaller size box delivered on Fridays and it's a lot of stuff! It usually lasts me from Friday-Tuesday or Wednesday and then I will shop again. Here's a code if you want 25% off of your first box and I would also get 25% off one of my boxes. We both save money, woo hoooooo!!! Code: COOKWME-XD6ISG
I have talked about this a lot in Instagram posts and things, but one thing I have really changed is shopping in the bulk section of the grocery store. I get things like oatmeal, rice, snacks, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds in the bulk section. If I go to Kroger, I just keep and reuse their designated bulk section plastic bags over and over. When I get home, I put the goods in large containers in the pantry, and deposit the plastic bags back with my reusable bags. That way, they are together and I won't forget to bring them the next time I use the bulk section. If I bulk shop at Whole Foods, they are cool with you using the brown bags normally used to grind coffee for the bulk section. Can we just talk about why is it that the only options for containers in bulk sections are plastic? Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of shopping in bulk?! Therefore, I was forced to invent my own hacks to bypass so much unnecessary plastic. Forced, people!
One honest note: I noticed myself not eating quite as healthfully or getting as many vegetables in when I stopped buying prepped stuff. Mostly because I am a lazy kitchen person and was not setting aside enough time to prep. I 100% understand if you rely on pre-prepped food to get your healthy eating in. If I know I will be really busy or don't have time to prep, I will buy salad stuff in the containers so I know I can easily throw together a healthy, fast, lunch or dinner. On the flip side, being mindful of my plastic consumption has led me to greatly cutting down on my purchases of packaged food and snacks, which is a big plus! If you find yourself wasting food or not eating well because of lack of prep, I would continue to purchase the stuff that's ready to go, and see where else you can green up your habits in the kitchen. Like....Plastic Free Cleaning and Dishwashing
Besides food prep, the other large time suck in my kitchen is cleaning up and doing dishes. Ew. I don't buy all purpose cleaner anymore. I just make it myself- it is crazy easy and crazy inexpensive, with the added benefit of not having to purchase multiple plastic bottles. Find the recipe for the easiest DIY cleaner in a previous blog post . Hint- it's vinegar and water with a couple other things thrown in if you wanna be fancy.
I have been making my way through a ginormous tub of Kirkland dishwashing liquid, but I have been researching dishwashing blocks to replace dish soap in a plastic bottle. What's a dishwashing block? It's a large, solid block of soap that you can use to wash your dishes (see what I mean here). What do you use to scrub? Well, your new, plastic free wood natural hair bristle dish brush, of course!
Current dish soap. Still in plastic :/ but it is an eco friendly formula and the container is huge, which cuts down on buying multiple, smaller bottles.
I don't use plastic sponges anymore- I use a wooden dish brush and a Skoy scrubber! They will both last forever, and you can clean by spraying with alcohol and letting them dry out. Next level scrubbing power, lemma tell ya. Sorry my Skoy looks crusty as hell in this pic, but that's reality!
As far as plastic free dishwashing detergent, you can find several brands of loose dishwashing powder in cardboard boxes, from Seventh Generation to Kroger brand. Try to find eco-friendly formulas to prevent waterway pollution! There is also a company called Dropps that is doing some very cool things surrounding laundry and dishwashing pods. I have never tried them, but their mission is right up my alley.
Moving on in our sustainable kitchen tour, we have to talk about Ditching Paper Towels. Once you commit to not buying paper towels, you will become creative and easily adapt to not needing them. Dish towels, rags, cut up t-shirts, wash cloths or even actual reusable paper towels all work just fine! Honesty moment- because I make body products and deal with a lot of oils and butters, I do use paper towels to clean out bowls, jars, and other things. I use these recycled, unbleached paper towels from Amazon. Insider tip- you can take the plastic wrap surrounding your paper towels (and toilet paper) and recycle it at the grocery store in their plastic bag recycling bins! Speaking of recycling plastic grocery bags, check out this link to find out other things you can recycle at your grocery store drop off locations! Even though it is nice to be able to recycle plastic bags, remember that the goal is to always reduce, then reuse, THEN recycle. So don't forget to bring your own bags!!!
As the central theme of the kitchen revolves around food, I would be remiss if I did not touch on the topic of Combating Food Waste. This is an enormous problem in America. Here is a very informative graphic from pingree.house.gov that shows the mind-blowing statistics of how much food is wasted in the U.S. alone.
We have all been there- cringing as we throw whole bags of produce or meat straight into the trash. It's easy to be optimistic at the grocery store. We really want to believe we will eat all of that produce! I listened to a great NPR Life Kit podcast episode from December 12, 2019 on food waste, and it gave some great tips. (Click here to listen on Spotify. It's only 20 minutes long, I highly recommend you play it all the way through). I will run through their top 5 suggestions, and again, you should give it a listen to hear more details!
1.) Plan ahead- make shopping lists, know what you are going to make for the week, and take your main meal and repurpose it into other meals. Also, start writing down everything you are tossing out. It will give you a good idea of what you are buying too much of.
2.) Get creative- learn to repurpose food!
3.) The freezer is your friend- utilize the freezer before your food goes bad.
4.) Realize that "sell by" dates do not mean the food is spoiled.
5.) Start composting!
Great segue! Because I looooove composting! I do it the really easy and cushy way and have a composting service that I pay for that provides a compost bin for me and picks it up every Saturday, while delivering me an empty bin. I'm so spoiled. If you live in Cincinnati, please please please please check out Better Bin Compost to see if they service your area. They rule! Did you know that 30% of household waste could be diverted from the landfill just by composting? That's huge! If you do not have a cool service like me, consider a countertop or small composter. You can use the end result for your grass, flowerbeds, or home garden. There are some very cool options from Uncommon Goods as well as from Earth Hero (they also have other cool compostable options like dog poo bags and cutlery!)
My cool compost bin from Better Bin Compost
Whew! This post is getting long! So many great kitchen tips, amiright!? The last thing I am going to touch on for kitchen sustainability is Packing and Storing Food. Plastic wrap, aluminum foil, ziplock baggies, and plastic Tupperware all have more sustainable counterparts. BUT, like I mentioned before, the goal is to reduce, then reuse, then recycle, so use that plastic Tupperware and wash and reuse your ziplock baggies until you can't use 'em anymore! Use what you have, and then you can invest in the more sustainable option like beeswax wraps, glass food storage containers, silicone bowl covers, or reusable ziplock baggies. I personally have and use all of the above and love them! I have never missed plastic wrap once!
I hope this blog post gave you some good insight on how to start converting your kitchen into a more sustainable one. If it all seems overwhelming to do at once, start on one piece at a time, like I did. In this whole process, I feel like it is a snowball effect. Mastering one small part of sustainability will lead into the next and the next. Believe me, I am not perfect by any means, but even putting down all of my kitchen changes into writing makes me feel pretty good of how far I have come. And who doesn't love a good old fashioned pat on your own back?
What sustainability practices happen in your kitchen? Are you going to try out any of my tips? (please for the love of cats say yes). Let me know in the comments below!