When I think the word “kitchen”, I automatically envision warm, crusty bread, bright yellow paint, and looking out my back window at the birds while I’m doing the dishes.
What I don’t think, however, is “pollution”. And yet, our kitchens are, on average, the biggest energy hogs in the house.
If you’re looking for easy, low-cost ways to green your kitchen, then you’re in luck; I’ve got some eco-friendly strategies you can use.
1. Green Your Dish Routine
According to the California Energy Commission, dishwashers use, on average, 37% less water than handwashing.
If, however, you fill up one sink with wash water and one with rinse water (versus letting the water run), then you’ll use half the water a regular dishwasher uses.
If handwashing doesn’t appeal to you, then purchase an Energy Star dishwasher when your old one goes out. EnergyStar.gov reports that an Energy Star dishwasher uses 41% less energy than regular models, and far less water.
If you want to save energy with the dishwasher you currently have, then take the advice of the California Energy Commission: don’t heat-dry your dishes. If you use the air-dry setting, you’ll save 50% more energy. If your dishwasher doesn’t have an air-dry setting, then simply turn it off after the wash cycle is through and let them air-dry with the door open.
And, fill that baby to the brim; washing a full load is far more efficient.
You can also save energy with your current dishwasher by using the “short wash” cycle for your normal loads. Unless your dishes are insanely dirty, the short cycle or “quick wash” works just as well as the longer wash.
Another way to green your dish routine is to use an eco-friendly dish soap. Regular dish soap, including what goes into your dishwasher, contains petroleum and phosphates. These wind up in our local lakes and rivers and wreak havoc on the environment. The most pressing problem is the algae blooms caused by phosphates, as this great article from the Shannon Fisheries Board explains.
2. Learn To Love Your Microwave
Did you know that using a microwave uses two thirds less energy than using your oven? Yep. If you can cook something in the microwave instead of your big oven, then you’ll save energy.
You can also save energy by using your microwave to defrost frozen foods as much as possible, and then sticking them into the oven. The less time your oven is actually on, the more you save energy.
3. Green Your Cookware
Most of us probably use pots and pans coated with Teflon. But according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Teflon may be far more harmful to us than DuPont (the main manufacturer) would like to admit.
EWG recently conducted a study on Teflon and found that the coating heated up quickly to a temperature that caused the chemicals to begin breaking apart. I know this quote from their study is a bit long, but it’s very sobering and highly worth the read time…here’s what EWG discovered (you can see the full study here):
In new tests conducted by a university food safety professor, a generic non-stick frying pan preheated on a conventional, electric stovetop burner reached 736°F in three minutes and 20 seconds, with temperatures still rising when the tests were terminated. A Teflon pan reached 721°F in just five minutes under the same test conditions, as measured by a commercially available infrared thermometer.
DuPont studies show that the Teflon offgases toxic particulates at 464°F. At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses. At temperatures that DuPont scientists claim are reached on stovetop drip pans (1000°F), non-stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB, and a chemical analog of the WWII nerve gas phosgene.
For the past fifty years DuPont has claimed that their Teflon coatings do not emit hazardous chemicals through normal use. In a recent press release, DuPont wrote that “significant decomposition of the coating will occur only when temperatures exceed about 660 degrees F (340 degrees C). These temperatures alone are well above the normal cooking range.”
These new tests show that cookware exceeds these temperatures and turns toxic through the common act of preheating a pan, on a burner set on high.
I’ve begun shopping around for some eco-friendly pots and pans for myself; my pots and pans are old, and frankly I’m alarmed at the information coming out about Teflon (isn’t it always like that?)
Most of the green pots and pans that are out right now use a hard-anodized aluminum surface. Hard-anodized means that aluminum goes through an electrical-chemical process that hardens it 30% more than stainless steel. It never chips or peels, and won’t leach chemicals into your food because its melting temperature is over 1,220 degrees (versus the 440 degrees of Teflon).
In fact, Calphalon says that anodized aluminum is what they use to protect the satellites from the harsh elements of space. Neat.
If you don’t want to shell out for hard-anodized cookware (which will run you at least $150 for a full set) then use cast iron. You can usually find cast iron pots and pans at any thrift store or garage sale, and they’re very safe to use.
I have a full set of Lodge cast iron, and I love it. It heats evenly, and as long as I rub it down with oil after I’m done cooking it never rusts.
4. Green Your Fridge
Your refrigerator is one of the biggest energy hogs in your home. Want proof? Then check out this enlightening graph from the U.S. Department of Energy:
See the refrigerator? Its energy hog-ness is only topped by the pool and spa hogs. And unlike a pool or spa, we do need our fridge.
So, how can we make our fridge more eco-friendly?
Well, the obvious step is to have an Energy Star fridge. But if you don’t have one, and don’t want to shell out the dough for a brand new one if you don’t need to, then make sure you keep your fridge as full as possible. Sounds a bit backwards, but a fuller refrigerator actually uses less energy than an empty one.
The reason is because the cold food in there helps the refrigerator come back to temperature faster after the door’s been opened.
Another thing you can do is make sure the coils on the back are free of dust. The refrigerator will cool more efficiently if the coils aren’t caked with grime.
5. Stop Using Paper Towels
For years, I never thought about the fact that paper towels are made from trees. I’m chalking that up to the endless commercials on TV that make it seem as if American households would crumble into a bacteria-ladened mess without them
It’s easier than you might think to stop using paper towels. I know because this was one of my New Year’s Resolutions, and I’ve done it!
The key to successfully ditching your paper towels is to have a basket of “clean up rags” right where your paper towels used to be. I used my husband’s old, soft t-shirts that he didn’t want anymore; I simply cut them up into squares and threw them into the basket. After I use them, they go in the wash.
I know the thought of living without Bounty might make you break out into a cold sweat, especially if you have kids, but I promise it can be done. And, you won’t missing shelling out for those bulky paper towels any longer.
So, what’s next on my own “green kitchen” agenda? Well, I’m still slowly accumulating glass and stainless steel containers to replace my plastic (which is a whole other post), and now I’ve decided to send my Teflon to the Goodwill and start using my cast iron much more (while I save up for some of those luscious anodized sets…).
What savvy tricks are you using to green up your kitchen? I’d love to hear about them, and share them with other readers!
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