- Skip the Bag: It’s bad enough that we are the world’s biggest consumers, but must we put every last one of our purchases in a brand new plastic bag? For grocery purchases, consider skipping bags entirely for just a couple items and for big things like pre-packed bags of fruit, laundry detergent and jugs of apple juice. As for produce bags, do you really need one for durable produce items like apples, onions, avocados, etc. Cost to You: $0
- Reuse: For items that really need a bag—reuse! When I lived in Japan, people routinely brought their own bags shopping. Start small by just reusing grocery bags and produce bags that aren’t dirty or damaged (like the ones that just held a bunch of cherries or head of broccoli.) Graduate to rinsing and drying bags that are dirty from a previous use. Cost: $0
- Invest in Cloth: Invest in cloth grocery bags that will last a lifetime. Although stores hand out plastic bags for free, they are anything but. Learn more about the true costs of the estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags consumed worldwide each year at Reusable Bags . Go one step better by buying bags from an environmental organization, bags made from recycled fabrics, or fair trade bags hand crafted in developing nations. Google “canvas grocery bag” for ideas. Cost: $1.00 and up, per bag, less bag credits over the lifetime of the bag.
- Watch Out for Waste:An astounding 14% of the food we buy goes to waste. Of course we don’t like sending our hard-earned cash down the drain with our rotted food, but equally unfortunate are the wasted fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment fuel, transportation fuel, refrigeration and packaging associated with it Cost: $0 (Actually, the meter runs in reverse on this one. Reducing waste to save the planet saves you money, too.)
- Say No to Non-Stick: Non-stick cookware is great for effortless clean-up. But what price the convenience? Producing non-stick surfaces releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a “likely human carcinogen,” into the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Working Group, “PFOA never breaks down in the environment, so every molecule of it produced since the 1950s or earlier will forever be in our air, water and bodies. In animals, PFOA causes cancer, birth defects and other health problems.” The alternative: buy plain metal pans. They aren’t hard to clean. Just rinse and scrape immediately after use, or fill with a little water and boil a couple minutes before scraping. Cost: I got a set of stainless cookware for $50 on sale.
- Buy for Life: Whenever possible, invest in lifelong kitchen gear. It may cost a little more, but buying high quality pans, knives, graters, bowls and other tools eliminates multiple purchases and all the resources required for their production, transport and packaging. Some examples: Non-stick pans which invariably chip, flake and deteriorate, requiring replacement; electric teapots that burn out within a year (just use a pan); and the thousands of zip lock bags and hundreds of disposable plastic containers used in a lifetime (buy a singe TupperwareÂ¨ container that lasts a lifetime.) Cost: Initial investment varies by item, but savings add up over the life of product.
- Go Slow on Gadgets: How many sandwich grillers, snow cone makers, olive pitters and corn butterers are wasting space in cupboards across America? Consider carefully before purchasing the latest trendy gadget: Will you really use it? Will it really save time? If it will be used only occasionally, can its job be accomplished as easily with another tool in your collection? Cost: $0 (Actually saves money)
- Plastic or Paper? How About Neither: With one or more dishwashers in every kitchen, isn’t it curious that we still use disposable tableware for get- togethers. Why not use your regular cups, dishes and silverware? Cost: $0 (Actually saves money) At the very least, buy heavy-duty plastic that can withstand several washings and uses before being tossed. Check out www.recycline.com for recycled and reusable plastic tableware.
- Tree Rescue: Something spills on the floor and you automatically reach for a paper towel. Ditto if your hands are dirty from cutting chicken. Paper towels are a habit we’ve been sold by paper towel manufacturers. Sponges, dish rags and dish towels make perfectly sanitary and capable replacements, with the exception of blotting grease from bacon and water from fish and meats. At the very least, buy unbleached, recycled paper towels. Cost: $3.00 for sponges; $10.00 for dish towels; $5.00 for dish rags, but cost is recouped quickly from savings on paper towels.
- Oven Smarts: While baking today’s dinner, bake tomorrow’s. It takes a little thinking ahead, but planning leads to meals that maximize the oven’s heat. Also, avoid using your oven in summer, especially the oven cleaner, and minimize or just skip preheating time. Cost: $0
Who doesn’t want the benefits and enjoyment of excellent health? It can’t happen without a healthy planet. Day by day, begin building the kitchen habits that protect the air and water that goes in our bodies and the land that produces our food.
Mary Collette Rogers is the author of Take Control of Your Kitchen . In addition to writing, she offers kitchen makeover services, meal planning consultations, and classes on healthy cooking, in the hope of sharing her practical KitchenSmart habits and tools so busy people everywhere can enjoy wonderfully delicious and nourishing meals. Visit her at Everyday Good Eating .