Most of us use a kitchen at least once a day. Even if your cooking looks more like microwaving leftover takeout than whipping up a seven-course meal, we all depend on kitchens. Considering how much most of us use kitchens, it’s worth considering how environmentally friendly our kitchens really are.
Plastic gets a lot of attention, but that’s not the only area of your kitchen that can have an environmental impact. In this article, we’ll review what a sustainable kitchen looks like to help you understand a few easy changes you can make to lower your kitchen’s environmental footprint.
When most people think of kitchen sustainability, they think plastic. From containers to plastic wrap, we do use a lot of plastic in the kitchen. And it’s no wonder why! Plastic is incredibly useful, as it helps keep food fresh and makes it easy to store food for longer periods of time.
Unfortunately, plastic has negative impacts on both the environment and our health. First, plastic production relies on fossil fuels, since plastic is made from oil. Not only do the raw materials of plastic contribute to climate change, but the actual production process is quite carbon-intensive as well. In fact, according to a 2021 study, the global carbon footprint of plastic accounted for about 4.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. Because plastic production and consumption is increasing, this number is forecasted to grow to a whopping 19% by 2040.
Additionally, plastic containers, even reusable ones like Tupperware that you might use over and over, eventually contribute to increasing waste pollution. Out of the seven billion tonnes of plastic waste that we’ve created globally, only around 10% has actually been recycled.
Finally, plastic containers often contain toxic chemicals like BPA or phthalates that can leach into your food, especially when you heat the container. These chemicals also leach out into the environment when they end up in landfills.
Sustainable Food Storage Solutions
So, what does a sustainable kitchen look like when it comes to containers?
Your best bet is to use containers made from other materials like glass or ceramic. Not only are these containers safer, but they produce far less waste than plastic. In order to actually outweigh the impacts of plastic, however, make sure to reuse those containers more than once. For example, in order to be more environmentally friendly than plastic, you need to use a glass container at least six times. Luckily, that’s quite a manageable amount. You can also consider plastic-wrap alternatives like beeswax wraps.
If you must buy plastic, make sure to recycle it properly. It’s also important to take steps to protect your health. For example, try to avoid heating up acidic foods in plastic containers, and try to purchase from companies that undergo food container testing to make sure their products are safe.
The environmental impacts of your kitchen appliances like your fridge, microwave, and even your coffee maker can add up more quickly than you think. For example, not only do fridges use a tremendous amount of energy to keep your food cold, particularly in hot areas, they also use chemicals called “refrigerants” that eventually release heat into the environment after being used in the cooling process. These refrigerants act as greenhouse gasses that warm the atmosphere at a much higher rate than carbon dioxide.
Other electronic appliances can have negative environmental impacts when the item is not recycled. For example, many electronic items such as microwaves or electric coffee makers can contain heavy metals that leach into water or soil when the appliance breaks down in landfill.
If you have the opportunity to purchase a new kitchen appliance such as a fridge, dishwasher, stove, or microwave, keep energy-efficiency in mind. For example, research shows that top-freezers or bottom-freezers are more energy-efficient than fridges with doors that are side-by-side. You can also look out for Energy Star-certified appliances. For example, an Energy Star-certified dishwasher is 12 times more efficient than one that is not certified.
The highest amount of refrigerant emissions occur when the fridge is disposed of, so proper disposal of your old fridge is crucial. It’s also important to properly recycle your old electronic kitchen items (called “e-waste”). Often, your local government’s website will provide information on fridge and e-waste recycling.
And finally, the real meat of the issue (no pun intended): the food. The food you cook and eat is one the biggest determinants of your kitchen’s carbon footprint.
Aside from the massive amounts of food waste we produce, food accounts for around 10-30% of your household’s carbon footprint. This is mainly due to the high carbon emissions that result from agriculture. Meat products are the biggest culprit, with a higher carbon footprint per-calorie compared to plant-based foods. For example, ranching animals like cattle, sheep and goats produced 179 million metric tons of methane, a greenhouse gas, in the U.S. in 2019. Carbon emissions also result from the transport of food over long distances.
Sustainable Food Solutions
If you’re someone who loves meat, it’s unlikely that going vegan will be a good option for you! But there are plenty of steps you can take to push you in the right direction. For example, eating a vegetarian meal one day a week could save the equivalent carbon of driving over 1000 miles (1600km). Even switching away from red meat can have a bigger impact than you might think; beef’s greenhouse gas emissions are 7 times higher than chicken’s.
Other options to make your food consumption a little more sustainable include:
- Buying locally-grown food to help reduce emissions from transport.
- Avoiding food waste through buying only what you need, donating unused food, and composting.
- Buying food that is sustainably growing, such as food grown using regenerative agricultural practices.
While all of these solutions may sound unimportant, even these small changes in how you use your kitchen can make a big difference. So next time you’re buying a new food container or grocery shopping, keep this article in mind.