By Sharon Palmer, R.D.
Are you interested in a lifestyle that's as easy on Planet Earth as it is on your pocketbook? If the answer is yes, just take a stroll into your kitchen and look around. Everyday kitchen items, from appliances and the water faucet to food supplies and cleaning chemicals, have an impact on the environment you live in. Whenever you stock your fridge with groceries, prepare meals or wash the dishes you're engaged in activities that eat up resources -- either directly or indirectly -- such as electricity, fossil fuels and water, as well as contributing greenhouse gas emissions into the ecosystem. Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., columnist, radio host and environmental nutrition expert, believes your kitchen is the perfect starting place to make an environmental impact. She says, "Our practices everywhere, everyday can make a difference -- not only collectively to protect our planet for future generations, but we can also pocket savings from being more resourceful."
Here are 15 eco-conscious kitchen habits:
1. Shop for smarter appliances.
If you're in the market for appliances, choose those labeled Energy Star, which are backed by a government program that helps you identify energy-saving devices. If your refrigerator, the largest consumer of energy among home appliances, is more than 15 years old it's probably time to buy a new one. Efficiency standards make newer refrigerators up to three times more efficient than older ones. Watch out for products that claim to be energy-efficient without the proof; check out www.energystar.gov for verification.
2. Shed light on energy savings.
The next time you change a light bulb, replace it with an Energy Star compact fluorescent light bulb, which uses 75 percent less energy and lasts up to 10 times longer than standard lighting.
3. Be water-wise.
Water is a precious commodity, not an endless supply to squander down the drain. If you're hand-washing dishes, fill up one side of your sink for washing and one side for rinsing, instead of letting the water run. And make sure your dishwasher is full before you run it.
4. Start composting.
"Compost non-meat food scraps to create nutrient-rich garden soil," urges Hemmelgarn. Place a compost bucket by your kitchen sink to make composting easier.
5. Eat organic, seasonal and local.
"Pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers require fossil fuels for production and distribution," says Hemmelgarn. Buy produce from the farmers market (or grow them at home) to save resources all the way along the food chain, from manufacturing and packaging to transporting.
6. Avoid processed, overly packaged foods.
Foods that are highly processed (containing refined ingredients like sugars and oils) and foods that are highly packaged (think individual serving pouches) use up more resources than simple, whole foods like carrots or apples.
7. Put fewer animal products on the menu.
Beef, in particular, creates a high environmental burden because cattle naturally emit the greenhouse gas methane, and require large amounts of resources to get to market.
8. Cook wisely.
"Use the smallest appliance suited for the task," recommends Hemmelgarn. Don't heat up your whole stove to toast garlic bread when a toaster oven will suffice. And try one-pot cooking techniques that use a single pot (or crock pot) to put an entire meal on the table.
9. Want not, waste not.
For every ounce of food that goes into the trash, you're also throwing away water and fossil fuels that went into creating it. Conserve by purchasing only what you need and using up leftovers.
10. Delete "disposable" from your vocab.
Cut back on your use of disposable paper towels, napkins, cups, flatware, wipes, and plates. Buy a set of cloth napkins and recycle your old t-shirts as cleaning rags.
11. Rely on reusable glass.
Instead of falling back on petroleum-based, disposable plastic wrap, bags and containers, use reusable glass storage containers, suggests Hemmelgarn.
12. Bring your own bags.
Say no to plastic or paper, and carry your own reusable shopping bags to cut down on the amount of petroleum-based plastic that ends up in the trash.
13. Give up bottled water.
Since water bottles became a daily part of American life, millions of them have found their way into landfills. Fill a reusable sports bottle with tap water instead.
14. Lighten up your trashcan.
Take a gander at what fills your trashcan (and what will end up in the landfill.) Are there items that could be recycled, reused or composted?
15. Use non-toxic cleaning products.
Using products such as chlorine bleach, ammonia and deodorizers improperly can contribute to poor air quality in your home. Hemmelgarn says, "Choose safer alternatives to hazardous cleaning products." Instead of products that contain harsh chemicals, search for those with ingredients like baking soda, plant oils and vinegar.
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