Easy Ways to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle in the Kitchen
“Green living” is this generation’s phrase for a concept that is rooted in the past. From the Victory Gardens many started during World War II to the milkman who delivered milk in glass bottles to my childhood home, to my mother, who saved and reused everyday items like string and wrapping paper, and mended holes in socks, sweaters, and pants rather than discarding and replacing them, we lived “green” without even knowing it.
Today, we are a nation of increasingly conscientious consumers, many of who also happen to be time-strapped parents juggling the never-ending demands of work and family. So while we may want to reduce our weekly trash and recycling, the reality is we forgot to bring our reusable grocery bags to the store, where we bought juice boxes, individually packaged snacks for the lunch box, and Cryovac-ed organic chicken for dinner. When we got home, we tossed out the paper and plastic grocery bags, as well as the empty juice boxes and Starbucks cup(s) from the car. And so it goes: The waste seems to be an inevitable by-product of our fast-paced 21st century lives.
A little mindfulness can go a long way toward cutting down, even just a bit, on your kitchen-based trash and recycling. Every purchase large and small has an impact on the environment. Here are some suggestions, based on the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” theme, which may inspire you to leave a smaller environmental footprint.
Reduce packaging: Buy meat, fish, and poultry from the butcher counter or fish counter, where it will be wrapped in paper, rather than the shelves, where it’s usually encased in multiple layers of plastic and often Styrofoam. Bonus: The products sold from the counter are usually fresher, and you can get the exact quantity you need. Any product you can avoid buying in individual serving sizes (cookies, crackers, yogurt, cereal) will help reduce trash and recycling, as well.
Reduce trash: Bulk items such as oats, rice, dried fruit, nuts, grains, cereal, and coffee can be purchased and stored in glass jars at home, reducing the number of cardboard boxes, jars, and cans in your recycling bin.
Reduce trips to the store: Planning meals and shopping lists ahead can save you precious time and money by helping you get in and out of the store quickly, while also avoiding impulse buys. In addition, you’ll use less gas making fewer trips to the store.
Reduce bags: Keep your reusable shopping bags in the car (or by the door so you remember to put them in the car). A reusable mesh bag can hold produce rather than using the plastic bags provided.
Reuse cups and bottles: How many paper and plastic cups and water bottles do you throw away each week? A washable, reusable water bottle (and coffee cup) for each member of the family goes a long way toward a greener environment.
Reuse utensils: Keep a set of utensils in your desk drawer or car rather than relying on plastic-ware for meals and snacks on the go.
Reuse cardboard boxes, egg cartons, and paper towel tubes: Check to see if your child’s preschool or local art center can use these items for crafts or projects. You may also want to keep them around the house for rainy day craft projects or make-believe play.
Reuse plastic deli containers: These containers are food-safe and may be reused at home to store food, or brought back to the store for refilling. You don’t have to keep them forever, but even one or two re-uses will help reduce waste.
Recycle food: Keep a small, covered bucket on the counter or under the sink for food scraps that can be turned into compost for your garden, in which you can grow herbs and vegetables. There are numerous websites and books with information on composting.
Recycle kitchen equipment: Just because you don’t need that pizza stone, cookbook or lobster pot anymore doesn’t mean it needs to end up in a landfill. When you decide to de-clutter, there are neighborhood yard sale sites, swap shops and donation centers that may be eager for your “treasures” (see link below).
Recycle leftovers: Maybe you don’t need to order a pizza tonight. Take a look at what’s in the fridge and freezer and get creative with leftovers. You might have the ingredients for a hearty homemade soup, quick pasta dish, or loaded nachos that will hit the spot for dinner.
For more tips on recycling, composting, and donating in your city or town, click here.