While going green in the kitchen will save you money on energy costs, eco-friendly products have a reputation for being expensive, frumpy and difficult to find.
The good news: Earth-friendly products are available in a wider range of styles and costs than ever before, letting you go any shade of green you desire.
According to Good Green Kitchens author Jennifer Roberts, when you’re contemplating how to make your kitchen eco-friendly, don’t assume you need to spend big bucks. Ask yourself, “‘What environmental problem am I trying to solve, and what are some easy steps to take for maximum impact?'” Jennifer says. Here are her recommendations:
1. Eat sustainably
“This is easily the most important step,” Jennifer says. “If you grow some of your own food or buy as much locally grown produce as you can, you’re more than halfway there in terms of having a green kitchen.” When you eat from your own garden, you eliminate the need to use fossil fuels to transport vegetables from a faraway farmer’s field to your plate. Even growing your own herbs on the windowsill helps; when you buy fresh herbs at the grocery store, you usually end up wasting leftovers and throwing away the plastic package.
2. Work with what you already have
“People think making a kitchen ‘green’ means you have to go out and buy new stuff and throw out what you’ve got,” Jennifer says, “but the greenest approach is actually to try to work as much as possible with what you already have.” Think “refresh,” not “remodel.” New paint and updated hardware for cabinets can give you a new look without producing the landfill waste that a remodeling project generates.
Most major paint manufacturers now make zero- or low-VOC paint, which means they emit fewer volatile organic compounds. VOCs are linked to health problems and are considered greenhouse gases; the fewer in your home, the better. Paints such as Safecoat color your walls with an eco-safe formula.
3. Remodel with recycled materials
Buy lightly used cabinetry at a building salvage shop, find countertops and backsplashes made of recycled aluminum or glass and purchase locally made new materials. Purchasing local products reaps great environmental savings in fuel and other transportation costs.
4. Choose energy-saving appliances
“At the top of this list is the refrigerator,” Jennifer says. “If it’s more than 10 or 12 years old, it’s time to replace it with an energy-efficient model. These days you can get a really great refrigerator that will consume fewer than 400 kilowatt-hours per year, which is low.” (Older fridges consume as much as 1200 kilowatt-hours per year.)
Dishwashers can also be a great place to save energy. If you’re purchasing a new one, compare labels to find those that use the least energy and water (even appliances that meet government Energy Star requirements vary in energy savings ), and if you already have one with water-miser and heat-free dryer settings, use them. Small households that don’t use many dishes can cut energy use with drawer-sized dishwashers, Jennifer says, “but if you create a lot of dirty dishes, one big model is best. I’ve seen some luxury homes that have two or three of the drawer-sized models, and that’s not saving energy.”
5. When cooking, think small
“Use smaller appliances whenever possible,” Jennifer says. “If you can cook in the microwave rather than the full-size oven, it saves energy. You’re also producing less heat in the kitchen, which is great in the summer because your air conditioner doesn’t have to work as hard.” Even small things make a difference, such as using lids on pots to bring them to a boil faster and using as few burners as possible.