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How Green is Your Kitchen?

Take steps -- such as buying locally and buying in bulk -- to make your food prep more ecological. Locate farmer's markets near you, consider your cookware, and run your appliances more efficiently.

We’re all more concerned these days about doing our part to take better care of the earth. Some of the easiest and most effective changes you can make start at home. Think about what happens in your kitchen in terms of sustainability. You’re using energy and water all day and creating garbage every time you unwrap, use and dispose of items. Your kitchen probably generates a large portion of your house's total waste. But this also means it might offer great potential for improvement and efficiency.

Let’s consider some easy things you can do now to step up the green quotient in your kitchen. Not only will you be helping the planet, you can keep closer tabs on your budget — and maybe even become a more creative cook.

Shopping smarter is your first step

There are advantages to shopping frequently. If you shop for fresh produce every few days, for example, there's less chance of your fruits and vegetables becoming unusable before you get to them. On the other hand, shopping just once a week saves on gas, if you're driving. Either way, only buy what you know you will eat.

Buy locally when you can. Think about how far your food has travelled and the impact this has had on the environment. Your food, like you, has a carbon footprint! If you start to consider where your food was grown, how it travelled to the store, and how it’s packaged, buying local will soon make more sense.

You can check your local papers to find farmer’s markets, or look online. With the popularity of both buying local and satellite mapping, you’ll find more resources for locating markets all the time.

Buy organically when you can. Many experts believe the environmental toll pesticides take on food crops might cancel out their benefits. A growing number of products are available organically — along with produce, organic staples such as beans, grains, peanut butter, milk, and cheese. (And, of course, you can season your dishes with organic spices.)

Learn about the sustainability factors of how your food is grown and choose those with minimal environmental impact.

Buying bulk is one of the greenest ways to shop. Amazingly, ten cents of every dollar you spend pays for product packaging. If you buy larger quantities, you’re eliminating the need for much of that packaging and saving money. More tips on buying bulk can be found here.

Store your purchases properly so they last longer. If your food is stored properly, it will last longer and taste better. Grocery stores arrange older foods in the front of their coolers and newer items in the back — do the same in your fridge. You won’t forget something you bought, and you’ll be more apt to use it before it expires and you have to throw it away. And wash, dry and store your greens right away, so they stay fresh as long as possible.

Be vigilant about how you dispose of waste. Organize a basic recycling center in your kitchen, after checking with your local center to find out their guidelines. Most of what is normally thrown away can be recycled, so find out what you can do to create less trash.

Make sure you’re recycling the obvious items like paper and cardboard, glass and aluminum. Not all types of plastics can be recycled, so try to purchase accordingly. Many stores are forgoing plastic bags and offering incentives to customers who do the same. Acquire a bag to take with you to every store to use in place of plastic. Soon it’ll become a habit — and you’ll have less plastic to recycle.

We all hear about composting, but too few of us actually do it. You can start small, if you aren’t quite sure of the process,with a bin for scraps like egg shells, coffee grounds, and fruit and vegetable skins. You can fertilize your garden and ornamentals with this compost. Click here for more information on composting.

Your cookware and appliances affect your green quotient. You may not have considered that quality cookware is more efficient in the consumption of energy. But good quality pots and pans distribute and retain heat better, so less energy is used for both. And they last longer, so you’re not contributing to the landfill as often.

Use energy-efficient appliances (with the Energy Star seal of approval) to save energy. Also use conservation settings on your appliances, and unplug smaller ones when they are not in use. (Electricity is used, even when the power isn't on, if an appliance remains plugged in.) Replace standard light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs.

Evaluate how much water you're using. A faucet aerator will make a huge difference in your water consumption, and it's an inexpensive replacement. Also make sure your dishwasher is full when you use it, and air dry at the end of the wash cycle.

Rethink your cleaning products. Much more attention is being paid today to this topic. Most stores offer green products for cleaning. Use safe, natural cleaning products you create yourself with natural and inexpensive ingredients. It's cost-effective, sustainable, and cuts down on damage to the environment since you aren’t introducing chemicals into the air. And you can reuse your own containers so you aren’t adding to the landfill. Follow these links to get more information — including recipes — on natural cleaning using herbs and essential oils.

Finally, consider green solutions when building or remodeling a kitchen. Start by shopping for recycled items at salvaged material stores —you can find tile and stone for countertops and floors, for example. Many new surfaces now are made from recycled glass, paper, or aluminum as well.

When selecting cupboards, be aware that many are made from particleboard, which contains formaldehyde. Solid wood, on the other hand, does not. Consider using recycled wood for flooring. Other sustainable wood options include cork and bamboo. Some linoleums are made of natural materials, too, which is partly why this floor covering is enjoying renewed popularity.

These are some basic ways you can bring green living to your kitchen. The more you think about how you're impacting the environment, the easier sustainability becomes. You’ll begin to think of other ways you can go green in every room — and find endless possibilities for making a difference.

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