Sustainability in the Kitchen

Kitchen with off-white cabinets in remodeled by KGA Studio Architects

Hi friends! I’m back today to share some content that’s a little different from what we usually deliver. If you’ve been wondering about ways to live more sustainably, this blog is for you. Over the past few years I’ve committed to small changes here and there and I want to share them with you. It’s amazing how easy it can be to change our habits over time, and watching these changes add up can be pretty rewarding. So, let’s dive into some small habits you can adopt to live more sustainably.

Why Sustainability?

All too often, we fall victim to not realizing the true impact our actions can make. In such a big, fast-paced world, it’s easy to feel like our individual actions are insignificant. I like this article by history teacher, Peter Stranton where he references a saying I’ve seen echoed on several social media platforms. The saying goes a little something like this; ‘When people think about traveling to the past, they worry about radically changing the present by doing something small. But no one in the present thinks they can radically change the future by doing something small’. It’s true. It’s kind of like the butterfly effect. Small changes now can lead to big and meaningful changes down the road. Every little thing you do matters when it comes to sustainability.

Sustainability in the Kitchen

Let’s dive right in and start with things you can do in the kitchen to have a more sustainable household. One small way to make a big difference is proper food storage to avoid food waste. Did you know that in the US alone, we waste 30-40% of our food supply? Basically, one-third of the food we produce in the U.S., we waste. And that takes a big toll on the environment. Let’s put it this way, we all know that flying is bad for the environment, right? Emissions from the aviation industry are staggering. In comparison, emissions from food waste equal three times the global emissions from aviation! If we made food waste its own ‘country’ for the sake of comparing data, it would be the third-largest emitter behind China and the United States. Also putting things in perspective, we need an area the size of China just to grow the food that the world wastes every year. Reducing your food waste is one easy way for you to make a huge difference! If a home remodel is on your horizon, consider talking to your architect about ways your kitchen can help you reduce your food waste. Maybe it’s a pantry design where everything is visible and well-organized. This will help prevent waste from something being ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Another great option is to upgrade your refrigerator with one that is specifically designed to keep food fresher longer. Or, perhaps you make room in your kitchen for a juicer, so you don’t waste fruit and vegetables that aren’t quite fresh enough for a salad. You don’t have to look into remodeling your home just to have a more sustainable kitchen, however. Let’s talk about some other options!

Reduce Waste with These Food Storage Options

One myth I want to dispel is that being sustainable is expensive. False! That is absolutely not true. One of my favorite food storage habits I picked up a few years ago is completely free. The idea is simple: look at the packaging your food comes in and reuse it before sending packaging to the recycle or landfill. For example, I’m from New Mexico, so naturally we consume a lot of tortillas in my household. I mean a lot of tortillas. So many tortillas. But these tortillas all come in a plastic bag that I used to just toss out. Now, I save those bags and others from things like coconut flakes and baby carrots. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to buy plastic zipper bags from the grocery store. And, this way I always have bags on hand if I need to toss together a snack on the go or preserve some leftovers.  Once the bags are empty, I give them a quick scrub with some dish soap, put them on the drying rack to make sure they dry completely, and the bags are ready to go!

I’ve also been able to unlock expert-level, Pinterest-worthy pantry organization by saving jars. Reusing jars from things like salsa, spaghetti sauce, pickles, and olives is a great way to store and organize bulk-goods. Added bonus? It looks great not having a bunch of half-full bags tossed around in the pantry and keeps everything fresh and accessible. I store things like nuts, chia seeds, and quinoa in jars. For an easy how-to on removing pesky labels and glue from jars you want to reuse, check out this article on wikiHow.

I get it, however, sometimes you need a good old fashioned, sturdy, re-sealable zipper storage bag. I received a few Stasher bags as a housewarming gift last year and I have since given them as gifts to all my friends. These things are a great replacement for single-use plastic baggies! They are far more durable, and you can toss them in the dishwasher when they need a refresh.  No elbow-grease required to get them clean!

Reusable Stasher bags are a great way to improve sustainability in the kitchen
Stasher bags are made from platinum silicone, which does not degrade over time, and are freezer, microwave, oven and dishwasher safe.

Safer with Silicone

Moving on to my last tip for sustainable food storage, I’m going to be honest with you. I get really annoyed by plastic wrap. It always sticks to the counter, to me, to itself, really anywhere but to the food or bowl I want to cover! Using plastic wrap always seems to be a two-person job. Plastic wrap also contains DEHA which has been shown to cause liver tumors in mice.  Tests in the late 90’s found that DEHA migrates into plastic wrapped foods exceeding DEHA levels allowable in Europe, but the FDA to this day has yet to establish a limit for how much DEHA is safe in our food due to insufficient data on human health effects.  Knowing that is enough for me to prefer to play it safe.  Fortunately, I recently discovered silicon food and container lids similar to these. I’ll never have to futz with staticky plastic wrap and related chemical concerns again. These things are great! Versatile, effective, and dishwasher friendly. I have two sets and that is enough to meet my needs.  You should know that some studies have indicated low level leaching of siloxanes into foods with higher fat content having long term exposure to silicone.  Always be sure to prioritize food grade or medical grade silicone and do some research when looking to make a purchase.  I finally made the switch to silicone when I saw a statistic on Earth Sider’s website.  If everyone in the United States alone were to ditch plastic wrap, we would save over 100 million tons of plastic from our oceans each month. Each month! That’s 1,200 tons a year. By making one small, easy change. Count me in.

Eco-Clean Your Kitchen

Okay, I could talk about food storage all day. After all, cutting down on food waste is a great way to live more sustainably. But, let’s jump into another important topic, sustainable cleaning! One of the biggest realizations I’ve had recently is that cleaning products are mostly made up of water. This seems pretty obvious, right? What this means, however, is that we’re using a lot of resources to ship water here and there, when it’s a resource we’ve got at our fingertips. A new trend I’m seeing (and loving) are companies shipping cleaning product concentrate. They ship you the good stuff, you add the water, and voila! A more sustainable way to clean. The dish soap I currently use comes from a company called Etee. It’s a small, concentrated tube of dish soap that I empty into a reusable glass jar and add water. An added bonus is that the tube it comes in can be industrially composted! It’s an all-around feel good way to get the products I use every day. I’ve seen a lot of dish soap bars now as well which I’m excited to try out soon.

Consider the Chemicals

Another take on sustainable cleaning is switching to products with safer ingredients that won’t release harmful toxins into your home.  Cleancult is a company founded on the belief that companies have a shared responsibility to make the world a better place.  (Um, hi, you have my attention!)  They realized that many cleaning products contain untested, potentially harmful ingredients all wrapped up in plastic packaging that’s ending up in our landfills and oceans.  As I mentioned in this blog post, bringing toxins into your home can have lasting and dangerous effects.  The fragrance mixture alone in dish soap can contain up to 8,000 chemicals.  Over time, these chemicals coat our dishes and eventually end up being ingested.  You don’t have to tell me twice; I’d rather have dishes that are clean rather than dishes that smell clean.  I’m opting for fragrance free or natural fragrances only.  Other chemicals that hide in dish detergents include SLS and SLES which can cause rashes and allergic reactions, Chlorine, Formaldehyde, and Ammonia which can all be extremely toxic to both humans and marine life, and Triclosan, a synthetic chemical that can be hazardous to our hormones, disrupting our natural thyroid and endocrine system functions.   Cleancult is on a mission to create a ‘green clean’ using none of these harmful chemicals.  A ‘green clean’ that actually cleans and leaves your home much healthier than conventional cleaners.

Cleancult’s coconut based products prove you don’t need harmful chemicals to get a solid clean.

Simplify Sustainable Cleaning

One thing at the top of everyone’s mind right now is cleaning and disinfecting.  We are living in unprecedented times, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we all react differently to stressful situations.  The peace of mind that comes along with knowing that things are clean and disinfected considering our current situation can play a big part in reducing anxiety.  Having a solid all-purpose cleaner on hand is critical.  An all-purpose cleaner is a great one-stop-shop solution to simplify your everyday chores.  I’m looking into trying out this all-purpose cleaner from Force of Nature which is on the EPA’s list of disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of COVID-19).  Talk about stress-relief coming from a powerhouse disinfectant that is natural and family friendly.

Retool Your Cleaning Arsenal

Another way to make cleaning more eco-friendly is this new type of dish sponge. It looks and works just like the sponges we’re all used to, but it’s made of entirely compostable materials! Now when your sponge has seen its last dish, you can compost it instead of sending it to the landfill. Recently, my fiancé and I revived our raised garden bed by mixing in compost with the existing soil. I couldn’t help but think about all the sustainable products we contributed to that compost! It’s rewarding to see things come full circle. The same goes for this amazing, magical, paper-towel like cloth that also comes from Etee. This thing has changed my life. It’s super absorbent, dishwasher safe, lasts for several months, and you guessed it, also compostable!  I usually toss mine into the dishwasher once a week, but that varies depending on what I’ve used it for. If you’re one of those people (guilty!) with a bad paper towel habit, I highly recommend giving this reusable cloth a try. If you aren’t quite ready to switch to something reusable right now, consider switching to tree-less paper towels instead. Made from 100% recycled materials, you can feel good knowing no new trees were used in the making of those single-use paper towels!

That wraps up my biggest pointers for sustainability in the kitchen. For now, I want to leave you with a few thoughts on sustainability. Sustainability doesn’t mean having to buy a lot of new things. It’s a matter of changing the way we look at items we might otherwise discard, and looking for better options when we need to replace the items we use every day. As you start your journey with sustainability, don’t get discouraged! Sustainability isn’t about getting it 100% correct 100% of the time. It’s a practice of thinking critically about the decisions we make every day and making better choices where we can. Remember, big changes can come from a series of small actions!

About the Author

Shannon Ricketts joined KGA in March of 2019. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, she now calls Boulder home and can’t get enough of the Colorado lifestyle. Pretty much any time of the year you can find Shannon and her fiancé enjoying the outdoors with their rescued black lab, Shadow. Some of their favorite activities include backpacking, trail running, gardening, and winter camping. Shannon is passionate about living sustainably both in terms of reducing waste and prioritizing well-being.

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