Seasonal recipes, sustainability tips, positive period talk

Education, Sustainability

October 24, 2018

Kitchen Sustainability Tips with Big Impact

Sustainability is a hot topic right now (thankfully) and I’m guessing you feel overwhelmed with where to begin.

In my mind, it makes the most sense to start in the kitchen. This is one of the areas in our homes where we are constantly moving through goods + products and creating a lot of waste.

The goal of this post is to provide a bit of inspiration to get you started towards a more sustainable kitchen. By no means is this an exhaustive list – I am still learning and working to improve every day! We all have to start somewhere, right?

1. Buy less, waste less

This is my #1 tip as nearly 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown away per year around the globe. In North America, 40% of that food is tossed by consumers.

Not only is this a huge waste of water, land, labor, money, and food, but it’s also hard on the environment.

Most of this wasted food is tossed into the trash can, usually trapped inside plastic bags to rot. The problem here is that as food decomposes, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas. Methane is 23 times more potent at trapping heat within our atmosphere than carbon dioxide – we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to combat the negative effects of climate change.

I invite you to think about how much food you throw away throughout the month. The wilted green onions, the moldy cheese at the back of the fridge, or the expired cereal that was haphazardly closed. I know I still occasionally find forgotten soups and moldy fruits despite my best efforts to use everything we have.

According to researcher Timothy Jones, a family of 4 throws out $590 worth of veggies, fruits, meats, and grains per year on average. This number blew me out of the water – think of all the fun things you could do with $600!

In order to waste less, we either have to use up what we have, or simply buy less.

It sounds simple: buy less, waste less. It can be a big adjustment, though. If you’re stuck on where to start, try to:

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it. Many times we leave the store with more than we intended and most of it will end up in the trash.
  • Visit the grocery store more frequently. Of course this does not work for everyone (especially if you live in a food desert, have a very tight schedule, or are differently-abled), but shopping more frequently will prevent produce and other perishables from going bad before you have the chance to use them.
  • Check out the bulk section. Most grocery stores have a bulk section (the area of plastic bins filled with loose nuts, seeds, flours, grains, spices, etc.) and it’s a great place to shop. Grabbing items from these bins allows you to choose exactly how much you want rather than buying a huge bag of flour when you only need one cup. Bonus points if you bring your own reusable bag or glass container!
  • Take inventory of your fridge + pantry.  I used to put food away in our pantry and never look back. Months later I would find that can of soup or snack wayyyy in the back that had long expired. Before shopping, quickly scan through what you have and either find a recipe to use it or donate it to a food bank.

2. Compost

Composting is a method of decomposing organic matter (fruits, veggies, meat scraps, yard debris) into a nutrient-rich soil conditioner that can be used in gardening and agriculture.

Remember how I mentioned all of the rotting food heating up our landfills and our atmosphere? Composting is the solution to that.

My first experience with composting was during college at my job at a salad bar. The Compost Cats (UofA’s compost club) took initiative and got many of the university’s restaurants to compost their food waste.

Before this, my experience with composting was limited. I never had a garden growing up, it wasn’t part of my community’s waste program, and I was unsure of exactly how to do it on my own.

And then I moved to Portland, Oregon, where there is a city-wide composting service. Now, we keep a small bin under our sink, throw ALL of our food scraps into it, and empty it in our apartment-wide compost bin when it’s full.

What if my city doesn’t offer a composting service?

Unfortunately, many cities across the U.S. do not yet have composting programs. But there are options!

At-home composting

I know very little about this, other than it’s possible! I recommend checking out this post if you’d like to start your own home compost system.

Independent services

After a quick google search of “local composting programs”, I stumbled upon Compost Now, a company based out of Raleigh, NC that drops off and picks up compost bins – all you have to do is fill it! They are not operating nationwide, but they do have a contact form where you can request that they come to your city.

Wherever you are, I encourage you to hop on Google and see if there are any local composting services in your area!

3. Ditch the plastic

Plastic is EVERYWHERE, especially in our kitchens. Most of our packaged foods come in some sort of plastic (and even fresh fruits and veggies *Trader Joe’s is the worst when it comes to over-using plastic*). Not only is plastic waste getting out of hand, it is also impacting our health – head over to this post I wrote to learn more about that.

Here are a few ways you can ditch the plastic in your kitchen:

  • Stop buying ziploc bags. Use the ones you already have and then consider switching to reusable options. I like these silicone bags, bee’s wrap, and of course reusable glass containers.
  • BYOB(ags) to the store. Millions and millions of plastic grocery bags are used each year and on average, only for around 15 minutes before they are tossed. Bring your own reusable bags instead! You can find cute canvas totes and sturdy grocery bags at nearly every store now.
  • Pass on the plastic bags for produce. I’ve seriously considered hiding those big rolls of plastic bags in the produce section. I see so many people (no judgment, I used to do it, too) use a bag for one apple or two potatoes. We should all be washing our produce before we eat it anyway – go ahead and just place it in the cart on its own! Plus, storing your fruits and veggies in these plastic bags may actually cause them to spoil faster!
  • Whatever plastic you do end up bringing home, do your best to recycle it! For most of us, it’s unrealistic to avoid plastic and other packaging altogether. Instead, we can send it to recyclers who properly break it down and reuse it!

4. Buy local

Buying local is extra trendy right now and because of that, many people are turned off by the idea. But it’s more than a fad amongst the wellness bloggers. It used to be the norm before the agricultural revolution and it’s one step closer to a more sustainable kitchen.

Did you know that on average, a meal in the U.S. travels roughly 1,500 miles to get from the farm to the plate? Those miles eat up a lot of fossil fuel and spit out carbon dioxide (another greenhouse gas), which contributes to climate change.

Plus, in order for a banana or tomato to be the perfect ripeness when you buy it from the store, it most likely was picked weeks or months before it was ready. Technologies like irradiation, genetic modification, and temperature controlled environments are used to preserve perishable food items.

Finally, buying local supports the local economy. There are people all over the country starting small farms and food product business that need our help to survive and thrive. A great way to see what is local to your area is to find a farmer’s market. You’ll find lots of fresh, seasonal produce and other goods like honey, eggs, jams, chocolates, vinegars, breads, and more!

Check out this national farmer’s market directory to see what your options are.

 

I hope you’re feeling inspired and a bit less overwhelmed when it comes to creating a more sustainable kitchen.

What other changes have you made in your kitchen to reduce waste and support a healthy planet? Let’s help each other brainstorm in the comment section below!

With love,

Jenna Bee

 

 

 

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