Building a Sustainable Kitchen
Blog by Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD.
A major factor in our family’s plant-forward lifestyle is the sustainability factor. In addition to choosing more plant-based foods and locally sourced products to reduce our footprint, we make many decisions on a daily basis related to keeping our environmental impact low. Still, this busy life raising a toddler involves plenty of convenience items – and we don’t have any guilt about it, and still consider ourselves to have a sustainable kitchen. There’s no use trying to be perfect or thinking that perfection is necessary to make a difference!
Stop putting non-recyclable plastics in your recycling bin.
I used to do it, too. Republic Services calls it “wish-cycling” – that wishful thinking of “maybe it’s recyclable, so I’ll just toss it in the bin”. The ignorance of “just store the recyclable items in a plastic grocery bag”. Well, guess what? Including those items in your bin can mean items that should actually be recycled may not be. I now know better, so hopefully now that you know better, we can all recycle and manage waste more responsibly! Keep Republic Services “Know What to Throw” reference guide on your recycling bin as a reminder.
The good news is, most grocery stores have bins for recycling plastic bags when you walk in. While the items accepted vary by location, in addition to grocery store plastic bags, you can also bring plastic produce bags, many chip bags, and even zip lock bags in some places. One type of bag that’s a no? The plastic bags used for frozen fruits and veggies due to the liner.
Recycle 5’s and Plastic Bags at Appropriate Locations
Check your plastics for the recycling symbol and the number inside it. 1’s and 2’s? Recycle them – but only after you clean them. There’s a myth that items don’t have to be cleaned before you can recycle them, but it’s just that, a myth. Cleaning your recyclable items guarantees they’ll be recycled properly!5’s? Those can be recycled at Whole Foods or mailed in to Preserve. We save our 5’s from tofu, hummus, and yogurt containers and bring them to Whole Foods to recycle when we head there for a shopping trip.
- If you don’t want to pay for them, reusable grocery bags are given out at just about every function, health fair and community event these days. If you already have them, but getting them to the grocery store is the problem, just work on building the habit of keeping them in your car. After we put our groceries away, we hang the bags on our door so we remember to return them to the car next time we head outside.
- Ditch the plastic produce bags – for years I’ve just been putting the apples, avocados, etc into my cart without a bag and now I forget that’s even an option.
- Buy less products in plastic packaging by buying less processed veggies and utilizing the bulk section. For example, grab the loose bulk carrots versus the pre-bagged. Get reusable bulk bags so you can buy dry beans and grains without the bulky plastic bags. Keep them in sealed glass containers at home.
Purchase Reusable Glass and Silicone Containers.
We switched from plastic long ago and won’t turn back! Glass storage containers are really sturdy and allow you to freeze leftovers for reheating more easily, too. In addition to the fact that they need to be purchased more often, and usually aren’t recycled, plastic containers often contain chemicals, like BPA and pthalates, that are likely not best for our health.
Bonus tip: when we wind up with a sturdy plastic container from takeout at a local restaurant, we reuse it, too. They’re perfect for when you need to bring something to a function and know you’ll be leaving the container behind (I often bring healthy treats to sports teams I work with in these containers).
Take Inventory to Reduce Food Purchases and Waste
I wrote an entire blog post on this! I love grocery shopping and can very easily over-buy. This is especially true when I don’t have a grocery plan for the week. What ends up happening though? I overspend and wind up throwing away extra leftovers (or having a huge excess in my pantry). Take inventory of your pantry and freezer before you go grocery shopping. You may actually find that you can skip the grocery trip til mid-week when the store is less busy, and have nourishing meals and snacks with what you already have on hand.
Compost if You Can
While this may not be feasible for everyone, in some areas of the country, there are compost drop off centers. If you have a yard, you can also choose to compost on your own, and use it to enhance soil for flower beds or, better yet, veggie gardens. We use this small indoor compost bin (I promise it doesn’t smell) for scraps and then bring it outside in batches.
Use and Freeze What You Can
Some of the food products that end up disposed of the most in our house are stalks (broccoli, kale stems), leftover cabbage, and greens of plants that are often not eaten (think carrot or radish greens). Broccoli stalks and cabbage can make a great slaw and I reserve kale stems to chop up finely and saute into stir fry dishes or even omelets. Carrot tops and other root vegetable greens can be added into basil pesto for added nutrients. Fellow dietitian, Liz Ward, has a great blog post on reducing food waste in other ways, too.
Do you use Republic Services? See what can be recycled in YOUR area!
Read the blog on eatreallivewell.com.
What Happens to My Trash?
Even with these tips, it can be tough to think of all of the trash that winds up in landfills. But, I was SO excited to learn that we’re making progress with landfill waste, too. Republic Services, an industry leader in recycling and solid waste removal, is also a leader in renewable energy through landfill waste. Through their landfill gas-to-energy program, 76 landfills and counting (well over ⅓ of their total landfills), capture landfill gas to be used as a green energy source. While reducing, reusing and recycling come first, knowing Republic puts effort into growing this initiative helps me to not feel guilty about the waste that we do, and inevitably will continue, to create in our imperfect lives.
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