Going green in the kitchen isn't hard to do. These six small changes can have a big impact once they become habit.
This story originally ran as my column, Eating Niagara, in the Niagara Dailies.
There was a time in my life when I’d have been mortified to be seen at the grocery store without a reusable shopping bag.Turn back the clock 11-ish years or so and I was writing a column with another reporter about environmental issues and how we could all be gentler to the planet. I talked about reusable shopping bags a lot. I wanted everyone to use one.
So to be seen without one, well, it was like being an environmental writer espousing the merits of reusable shopping bags but then shouting from the rooftops — OK, the checkout line — that I’ll take plastic, please.
These days its my five-year-old who motivates me to remember my canvas totes, reminding me of the harm I’m doing to the Earth if I use plastic. I also really hate paying for plastic bags.
But more than 11 years after those eco-friendly story assignments, I’ve taken up other impactful ways to cut waste, especially in the kitchen. Here are few of them:
Start with the good stuffA new set of cookware was top of the registry list when I got married more than a decade ago. I couldn’t wait to replace the mish-mash of hand-me-down pots and pans I was using that were long past their prime.
My mistake was replacing those scratched and warped skillets and saucepans with a non-stick set. Sure, they were ceramic-coated and not Teflon, long denounced for leaching a toxic soup into our mirepoix. But they still scratched and lost that non-stick sheen. Some have since wound up in the garbage because they became unusable.
They’re replacement? Cast iron, some of it nearly 100 years old, that I scored for a bargain at antique or second-hand stores.
With proper care, cast iron doesn’t quit. It can tolerate soap and water, for those wondering. In fact, I highly recommend that’s what you use to clean it, just don’t leave it to soak in the sink.
Stainless steel is another enduring option, too.
Scrap the plastic wrap
We used to go through a lot of plastic food wrap, much of which wasn’t in recyclable condition when I was through with it.
The average family uses 24 rolls of plastic wrap a year. Stateside, Americans consume enough plastic wrap to shrink-wrap the state of Texas, according to National Geographic.
Switching to beeswax food wrap licked my plastic wrap problem and it was a cheaper investment over time, too. It’s cotton fabric coated in protective, antibacterial beeswax and tree resin that can be used over and over. It’s also kept me from buying and using plastic wrap for more than a year and half.
Best part is beeswax wrap goes into the green bin when it wears out after about a year of use.
If single-use zip bags are your environmental Achilles heel, try reusable silicone sacks. Parchment paper’s your problem? There are reusable versions of that to line baking sheets. Even aluminium foil has a more Earth-friendly option that can be used again and again.
Take that, take-out containersThe doggie bag doesn’t have to be the downfall of the planet. It’s true many restaurants offer paperboard boxes that can be composted once last night’s Pad Thai has done its job as today’s lunch.
But many places still send leftover carbonara home in a plastic container. Coloured plastic takeout vessels can’t be recycled, and if they don’t get reused, they contribute to the staggering statistic of 2.8 million tonnes of plastic landing in Canadian landfills every year, according to Ocean Canada, a charity focused on ocean conservation.
Plastic takeout tubs are ideal for storing and transporting foods that don’t need to be reheated when a lunch al desko is on the menu at work.
If you don’t want to be stuck storing the stuff, take a reusable, lidded dish to the restaurant to pack up that last bit of laksa. Leak-proof options are plentiful in lightweight metal or more ubiquitous glass.
Be gone, paper towelsIf I’m coming clean, paper towels are my biggest kitchen waste problem. I always have them on hand and it’s too easy to reach for them. I’m trying hard to train myself to reach for a tea towel, microfibre cloth, or old clothing that can’t be donated but can be repurposed as rags instead.
The new reusable plastic bagNow that my canvas tote is almost always on hand at the grocery store, I’m venturing into the latest frontier: giving up single-use plastic produce bags. Many grocery stores have reusable nylon mesh versions strategically stocked near those bulk apples. They’re inexpensive and add little weight to your order.
Still, nylon comes with its own issues, releasing micro-plastics every time they’re washed. Lightweight cotton or beeswax coated produce bags are also an option.
Skip the straw altogether
Time to give love to that first R — reduce — because part of greening the kitchen is simply forgoing what we don’t need. I won’t lie, I have metal straws in my utensil drawer. Though they’ve become the poster child of the sustainability movement, the most sustainable thing we could do is skip the straw altogether. It’s simply not needed to enjoy what’s in your glass.