When it comes to sustainability, a little goes a long way. We should ideally all be driving electric cars (or better yet, riding bikes) and eating fruits and vegetables grown in our own backyards, but eco-friendliness just doesn’t come that easy.
Of course, a couple hundred major companies are responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions. But as individuals, we can make a difference by adjusting our habits too. With that in mind, we’ve highlighted eight things to do in your kitchen that will help the environment without disrupting life as you know it.
Whether you pick up one or all of our suggestions, we applaud you: The world is a better place because of your open disposition.
1. Sign up for a CSA program
Let’s start with the basics: Community-supported agriculture (CSA) directly connects you — the consumer — to nearby farmers, giving you access to the crème de la crème of local products, while reducing the carbon footprint involved in the transport of food across the country.
You’ll subscribe to the harvest of a specific farm (or group of farms) and receive a delivery of seasonal products on a weekly (or sometimes monthly) basis. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the model allows the farmer to receive “advance working capital, gain financial security, earn better crop prices and benefit from the direct marketing plan.”
There are usually long waitlists ahead of each season, so we suggest getting in contact with a nearby CSA program as soon as possible. Find a local CSA here by plugging in your zip code.
2. Start composting
Composting sounds more complicated than it is, and saving your food scraps allows you to recycle organic materials that, instead of becoming trash, will function as natural fertilizers used in gardening. By reducing your food waste, you’ll also indirectly help combat climate change.
Not everything can be composted, of course (stay away from meat and dairy products), but the easiest way to kick off the effort is to collect eggshells, coffee grounds, discarded parts of fruits and veggies, and tea bags (among other things); store them in a bin separate from the rest of your trash; and deliver the container to a drop-off site. Google “composting drop-off near [enter your city]” to find the closest one to you.
If you want to do the actual composting yourself and only have space to do so indoors, consider investing in one of these small composters.
3. Say no to disposable utensils
This is pretty straight-forward advice: When ordering takeout or delivery, ask the restaurant to hold the plastic utensils that usually come with your meal. Go a step further and invest in a nice set of utensils that you can leave at work or carry in your bag, allowing you to permanently stay away from single-use plastic, which is a big no-no.
This Shell and Turtle set includes a straw and chopsticks (always useful) and comes in a nice travel container, but if you’re looking for something even simpler, check out this Joseph Joseph option — complete with a silicone carrying case, of course.
4. Invest in biodegradable trash bags
It really doesn’t get any easier than this: If you can’t recycle or compost your waste, you can still do some good by lining your trash can with biodegradable bags, which are decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms. Basically, it’s another way to limit our reliance on single-use plastic products that don’t break down.
There is a slew of good options on Amazon and, if you want to go a step further, try using compostable trash bags, which are considered even greener than their biodegradable counterparts.
5. Consider switching to a French press coffee routine
Yes, drinking coffee is a very personal experience based on a variety of just-as-personal factors. That being said, certain brewing methods are inherently less eco-friendly than others. Take coffee filters, for example: Using a new one for each batch is wasteful, but opting for a reusable one isn’t as green of a choice as using a French press, which requires absolutely no filters or plastic. Easy, peasy. Oh, and don’t forget to add those coffee grounds to the compost bin you started.
6. Use discarded citrus peels to make an all-purpose cleaner
You’ll get double points for this one because you’ll mitigate your waste while using a more natural cleaning product. Although there are a ton of easy-to-follow recipes for homemade natural cleaners online, all more or less share the same steps and ingredients, which are mainly citrus scraps and distilled white vinegar. We’re particularly fond of this step-by-step guide given its simplicity, as well as Good Housekeeping’s recommendation, which makes creative use of rosemary sprigs. (You should feel free to include any aromatic herb in your concoction to play around with its scent.)
No matter which recipe you choose to follow, you’ll need a container to store the stuff and, as the true green citizen of the world that you are, try your best to avoid buying new plastic and either reuse a plastic spray bottle you have, or buy a glass one.
7. Choose greener kitchen gadgets and tools
From eco-friendly sponges made entirely of recycled materials (check this out) to using cloths instead of paper towels, there are a ton of substitutes that you can bring into your kitchen to make it more environmentally friendly.
Start with the aforementioned paper towels: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper is the biggest type of waste produced by U.S. homes, and given that Americans go through 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year, any way to avoid the product goes a long way. Paper towels are recyclable until you use them — but you can actually compost the ones you use to clean up organic material (notably not those covered in grease or cleaning chemicals).
If you can’t imagine living without paper towels but want to swap another kitchen tool, consider investing in cutting boards made of bamboo. The grass (yes, bamboo isn’t wood) is fast-growing and considered a renewable resource. It also happens to be very strong, so you won’t soon have to replace the product.
In general, try to keep in mind that there are always greener and more eco-friendly options out there, so do your research before buying anything.
8. Bring your own reusable tote to the market
Many states and cities now have laws banning plastic bags on the books, so you might already be used to bringing your own totes to the grocery store, but if you aren’t, you should definitely get in the habit. Why? According to Waste Management, Inc., only 1% of used plastic bags are returned for recycling. In the United States, we use over 14 billion plastic shopping bags each year, which means a whole lot of those are ending up in landfills and oceans.
Paper bags are a slightly better option. It takes a plastic bag about a year to biodegrade as litter and it only takes a paper bag one month to do so. Carrying your own reusable bag will reduce the waste of these materials (but of course, even canvas bags have their own environmental downsides).