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Green Kitchen

The kitchen is one area of your home where you can make a positive, lasting impact on the environment quickly, easily and fairly inexpensively.

These tips and techniques will help you get started on making your kitchen greener and more environmentally friendly.


Composting is a natural way to recycle much of the waste generated during food preparation—think of it as a green version of a garbage disposal!

If every family composted just one gallon of kitchen scraps a day, 300,000 tons of waste per day would be left out of landfills. Transportation costs and carbon emissions would be reduced, and you, the composter, would be left with humus, a rich soil enhancement for your plants, yard and garden.

Get Started: To get your compost started, find an inconspicuous yet accessible area in your yard (preferably close to both your garden, if you have one, and your kitchen door) to keep a bin for your kitchen scraps. Check online sources and home improvement stores for composting bins, choosing a size and style that will be easy to manage given your space and lifestyle. You might also want to buy a small receptacle for cooking scraps for your kitchen to keep a meal’s worth of scraps hidden from view. Kitchen supply stores carry them.

What to Compost: Like a good recipe, good compost is a balance of “ingredients.” From the kitchen, try composting peels (avoid banana peels, though, because they take a long time to break down) and rinds from fruits and vegetables, tea bags, coffee grounds and eggshells. And don’t forget outdoor waste: grass clippings, leaves, even garden weeds are prime composting material. Shredded paper is okay in small amounts.

Avoid composting any dairy products, meat bones or fats and trimmings—they’re slow to break down and can attract unwanted critters. Keep ashes from your barbecue out of the composting pile as well.

How to Compost: This is probably the easiest part of the whole composting process! Simply layer materials in the bin, turning the mixture with a pitch fork or shovel every few days to expose everything to air to ensure even decomposition. Compost also needs water to break down properly, so moisten it if it starts to get dry.

When is it Ready? A few factors will determine how quickly you can use your compost: how much is in the pile, how often you turn it, and the ambient air temperatures (the warmer it is, the more quickly things decompose). Depending on those three things, you could have usable compost in as little as one month—young compost is best used for mulching plants. If you intend to use the compost for planting or working into existing soil, it could take up to 12 months for proper decomposition.

You’ll know your compost is good to go when:

  • The pile has shrunk to half its original size.
  • You can no longer tell what is in the compost—orange peels and eggshells can’t be seen in the mix.
  • The compost smells earthy and has a dark, crumbly appearance.
Greener Cleaners

Environmentally friendly cleaners made from natural products are available in most grocery stores, but you can save some money by concocting your own blends—most are made from basic items that you probably already have on hand.

  • Drain opener: add a tablespoon of baking soda to a slow-running drain then pour in some white vinegar. Prepare for some furious bubbling! When the bubbling stops, flush the drain with water.
  • Baking soda acts as a deodorant when sprinkled onto carpet before vacuuming. It can also be used as a nonabrasive cleaner for scouring sinks, tubs and countertops.
  • Glass cleaner: mix one cup of isopropyl alcohol with one cup water and one tablespoon white vinegar in a spray bottle.
  • Vinegar is a natural cleaning agent, disinfectant and deodorizer. Combine one part vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle and use on countertops, shower walls and sinks.
  • Lemon juice not only removes soap scum and hard water deposits but is also a great brass and copper cleanser. To clean copper pots or bowls, sprinkle a teaspoon of kosher salt over the copper area, squeeze with lemon juice (fresh or bottled) and scrub away the tarnish. As an added benefit, it smells terrific!
Around the House

It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money remodeling your kitchen or other areas of your home to make a lasting, positive impact on the planet. Get started with these simple steps:

Avoid Paper Products: Give up napkins in favor of fabric, and try using durable microfiber cloths instead of paper towels to clean your kitchen and other parts of the house. If you can’t give up paper completely, consider buying recycled paper products.

Shed New Light: Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) produce light with greater efficiency and last much longer than standard light bulbs so it’s recommended that you replace bulbs with CFLs. Keep in mind, though, that CFLs contain small amounts of mercury and must be recycled—to keep mercury from leaching into landfills, never dispose of them in the trash.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are the next generation of lighting and are another option to consider. They’re even more energy-efficient than CFLs, last nearly 10 times as long and contain no mercury. However, they’re quite expensive. But because their life expectancy is high, the money you may save over time could top hundreds of dollars.

Watch Your Water: The easiest way to cut back on water consumption is to avoid letting the faucet run while doing the dishes or washing produce. But to cut back even more, think about installing aerators on faucets. Aerators push air through the water flow, thus reducing gallons per minute (gpm) output.
If you need to replace a faucet, think about installing a low-flow model which can reduce water consumption by as much as one-third. Some designs feature a choice of settings, allowing you control of water flow for various purposes. For example, a setting for hand-washing will have a lower gpm than one for filling a kettle with water.
Finally, eliminate the need for bottled water by simply drinking from the tap. If you must filter it, use a pitcher-style filter or install a filter directly onto the kitchen’s faucet. Find them online or at home improvement stores.

Greener Goods: As you replace some of your kitchen tools like wooden spoons and spatulas, think about those made from bamboo. Because it’s so dense, durable and odor-resistant (bamboo is harder than maple!), it’s an ideal material for cooking utensils, cutting boards, bowls and plates. Plus, since bamboo is botanically a grass, it’s 100% renewable, replenishing itself every five years without requiring replanting.

Rethink Renovations: If you do have a kitchen remodel planned, keep a few green ideas in mind for long-term improvements.

  • Energy-efficient appliances meet specifications set by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. Also consider the size of the appliance—if you can manage with a smaller oven or refrigerator, you’ll automatically save money from an efficiency standpoint.
  • Consider using sustainable, salvaged or reclaimed materials for cabinets, countertops and floors (bamboo is a popular flooring option!).
  • If painting is part of your remodel, use a nontoxic paint, or at least one with low VOC (volatile organic compounds) emissions. VOCs are what you smell when using some paints, finishes, adhesives and manufactured building materials, and can affect your health as well as the environment.

Recycle & Reuse: If your community has a recycling center or picks up items curb-side with the trash, set up an in-home sorting system to make it easy for everyone to pitch in and do their part for the environment. Buy large plastic bins or baskets, label them (paper, plastic, cans, light bulbs and batteries, etc.) and designate a spot in the house as the recycling “center.” Get the kids involved by teaching them what can and can’t be recycled according to your community’s guidelines; explain the recycle symbol on food packaging (milk cartons, yogurt containers, etc.); show them how to break down cereal boxes and explain which types of paper can and can’t be recycled. Small, simple tasks will be easy for them to grasp and instill good recycling habits early!

Also, think about how things can be reused for other kitchen jobs. Peanut butter containers or empty olive jars, especially smaller ones, are perfect for making homemade vinaigrette or marinades: simply measure ingredients into the jar, secure the lid tightly and shake to blend! Label the jar with masking tape and the name of the vinaigrette then just store in the refrigerator.

Keep reusable tote bags stashed in the trunk of your car for grocery shopping trips. If you forget to bring them, opt for paper bags if given the choice. However, if plastic is the only option, recycle them at grocery stores—many chains have bins in the front of the store in which to collect them.