In most households, the kitchen is the hub of the home. From preparing meals to snacking between them, washing pans to dishing with friends, this is where a serious amount of stuff gets done. No surprise then, the kitchen offers so much potential for reducing your household carbon footprint.
Consider that household appliances alone account for up to 13.6 percent of the energy used in the average Canadian home. And where are most appliances located? Yep, you got it. But there’s so much more you can do to green your kitchen than update appliances (that won’t cost you a cent, either).
From reducing the amount of energy your kitchen generates, to being more mindful of what you put in your mouth and what you toss in the trash, there are ample opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint. Simply put, any steps you take that help reduce the production of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) help combat the effects of climate change.
Ready to heat up your commitment to tackling climate change? Here are suggestions on how to adapt your kitchen routines to reduce your household carbon footprint.
Stock your kitchen mindfully
There’s no place in the home that we replenish as frequently as the kitchen. What products you purchase, as well as how you use them, can really up your eco-friendly game.
1. Consider Buying (and eating) less meat
One of the most impactful ways you can affect climate change is by considering ways to reduce how much meat you eat and adding more plant-based options to your diet. Livestock production accounts for approximately 70 percent of all agricultural land use, occupies 30 percent of the planet’s land surface, and is responsible for 18 percent of GHG. If you despair at the thought of giving up your weekly steak dinner, there’s some good news: you can still make a difference by simply moderating your meat intake.
2. Buy groceries with minimal packaging
Who doesn’t love the convenience of pre-washed lettuce and “instant” dishes that are ready to eat with a zap in the microwave? But all that packaging comes at a price to the environment. Did you know about 10 percent of all waste generated from humans is plastic?
In 2019, the production and incineration of plastic added an estimated 850 million metric tons of GHGs to the atmosphere. We all know where single-use plastics end up: the landfill, where they can take up to 1,000 years to degrade while emitting even more GHGs. A simple mindshift can help change these statistics.
When grocery shopping, refrain from adding products wrapped in single-use plastics to your cart, and opt for minimally packaged dry goods and fresh produce. It’s even better if you invest in reusable mesh produce bags and shun the grab-and-go plastic bags next to those brussel sprouts.
3. Know the difference between best-before dates and expiry dates
Almost two-thirds of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten, according to the National Zero Waste Council, based on its research in 2017.
This means the resources used to grow, produce and transport that food goes to waste, too. One way to reduce food waste is to understand that just because a food is past its ‘best-before date,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s garbage. Unlike expiry dates, foods that pass their best-before dates may lose freshness, but are still good to eat for up to 10 days. Their shelf life will vary depending on the type of food, and when it was opened.
Eco-friendly ways to prepare your food
Anyway you dice it, our appliances are essential to food preparation, and limiting their use is not really practical. You can, however, use these coveted kitchen-helpers more efficiently to reduce your carbon footprint.
4. Conserve the heat
Ever told someone to close the door on a wintry day to keep the heat in? The same line of reasoning can be used to conserve the energy your stove uses to generate heat. When you open the oven door to flip your food, consider pulling the entire pan out and shutting the door as you do it. An oven can lose up to 20 percent of its heat when its door is open.
For stovetop cooking, match the pot size to the element and use lids to prevent heat from escaping. If you’re in the market for a new pot, consider one made of high-conductivity and natural materials, such as cast iron. They’re long lasting, can be used in both the stove and oven, and are excellent at retaining heat.
5. Match the size of the appliance to the size of the job
When possible, use a countertop appliance in lieu of a large appliance to prep your food. An easy rule of thumb to remember”: the smaller the appliance, the less energy it tends to use. Choose the microwave over the stove to heat a bowl of soup, and a toaster oven rather than conventional oven for a pizza slice (bonus points if you eat leftover pizza cold!).
Love your morning java? It’s easy to green your brewing routine. You can cut back on waste with reusable filters or use a filter-free brewing method, such as a French press. If you can’t live without your coffee pods, you don’t have to. Pod coffee makers are less environmentally harmful than most traditional coffee brewing methods—and if the pods are recyclable, even better.
How you store food matters
There’s a reason why our kitchens are made mostly of cupboard space. We store a lot of stuff in there—a good portion of it, food. Easy storage hacks can help reduce your carbon footprint and keep your perishables fresher, longer.
7. Choose reusable containers
Got leftovers? We already know that wasting food isn’t planet-friendly, which makes saving leftovers a no brainer. Ditch the plastic wrap and store your favorite homemade curry in a reusable container. If you’re running low, consider reusing glass jars once they’re empty, rather than tossing them in the recycle bin. If you love the convenience of plastic wrap, alternatives such as beeswax wrap or silicone lids do the same job without the waste.
8. Store food in your fridge the right way
We all know how frustrating it is to see your day-old leafy greens wilt before you have a chance to use them. By making proper use of your refrigerator’s crisper drawers, you can prolong the freshness of your produce and cut back on waste.
If you have two crisper drawers, set one at high humidity (with the lever closed to allow less air) to store most vegetables. The other drawer can be set to low humidity (with the lever open) to maintain the freshness of all fruits, as well as vegetables that are not sensitive to moisture loss, like avocados. The ideal temperature for your refrigerator is 1.5–3.3°C (35–38°F) to keep all its contents fresher longer.
9. Upgrade your ancient refrigerator
Our refrigerators whirr 24/7 to keep food fresh and contaminant-free, making it especially impactful when we replace an older model with a more energy efficient one. If your fridge goes on the fritz, look for a replacement that is Energy Star certified, as they use 10 percent less energy than standard models. Energy Star certified models are also available for dishwashers. You can check with your local waste management facility to learn how to dispose of your old appliance responsibly.
Green kitchen cleanup
Not many of us put much thought into cleaning the kitchen, other than how to get it done as quickly as possible. Nonetheless, you can feel a greater sense of accomplishment when your routine helps combat climate change.
10. Hand washing vs. dishwasher
When comparing hand washing dishes vs. using a dishwasher, studies show that homes with a dishwasher use much less water and energy than homes without one. While there is some room for debate over which method is the clear winner, using a dishwasher is hard to beat if you have a newer energy efficient model and stick to running full loads. That said, if you need to hand wash, keep in mind that the most efficient method is to use the two-basin method: wash in one sink, and rinse in another.
11. Switch to natural cleaning solutions
Making the switch to refillable natural cleaning solutions is easier than ever, thanks to an increasing supply of eco-friendly brands that provide refill options. This can help eliminate the habit of tossing single-use plastic spray bottles into the recycle bin. You’ll also enjoy the benefit of fresher air inside your home. A recent Canadian study found levels of volatile organic compounds (a group of chemicals linked to health issues like asthma) increased with the use of conventional household cleaners. You may not even have to search for a new favorite cleaning brand— instead, you can use household products you already have, such as baking soda and vinegar.
Simple changes can make a big difference
The recipe for a green kitchen combines simple routine changes and a mindset shift you can accomplish gradually or all at once. By making mindful choices when it comes to grocery shopping, preparing food, and operating your culinary space, this hub of the home can become central to your personal fight against climate change.
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Ventures Inc., or its affiliates.