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12 Tips to Turn Your Kitchen into A Sustainability Hub

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I have a passion for cooking because it is a good thing mentally, environmentally and it protects your health and that of your family given that you HAVE CONTROL over what you eat. Well, it should be noted that sometimes we cook stuff that aren’t that healthy for our bodies, but at least we cooked it, thus we have the control and we made a choice. Everyday we have to eat and that is a fact that we cannot escape. Any discussion about environmental sustainability that doesn’t capture the scope and impacts of our kitchens’ emissions will be a wrong idea. I am narrowing this discussion to the impacts that our cooking behaviors have on the environment and how we could turn our kitchens into a sustainability hub. This is important because those who cook at home especially those with children know that it could be a learning curve to teach our kids about sustainable practices at home especially our activities in one of the beautiful places in the home….’the kitchen.’

Our kitchens may be one of the least thought about places in our homes compare to our bedrooms, living rooms, etc. Physically, each sector of the home is furnished differently with wide range of household furnitures, appliances, hardwares, etc, which meet different aspects of our aspirations on how our home should be developed over time. Some of us place more emphasis to one or more areas in our homes than others and in mostly instances, when it comes to the kitchen, we grab and drag stuff in there putting little seriousness and thoughtfulness in the process. However, it is a very important area in the home.

Sustainability can be defined differently and over the years continues to be a debated term along several fronts. The term sustainability has now emerged and continue to emerge with a more complex interdisciplinary scope, which encompasses several theoretical and practical ideologies. For the purpose of this post, sustainability within the context of the kitchen environment is being defined as any practice or practices, which conserves resources (natural or man-made) now for the use of others in the future, thus saving us money, time, energy, and keeping us healthy. You can expand on this definition to include anything that promotes the judicious use of resources, while making the most important meals for your families. A kitchen as a sustainability hub is a system in which energy can be reuse, recycle, redistributed and reallocated throughout the natural systems, while supporting a family unit.

Given this scope, allow me to suggest few practical and resource conserving tips that could turn your kitchen into a sustainability hub, which doesn’t only protect your bank accounts or pockets monies in this hard economic times, but also teach your kids at home behaviors that could transform their lives, if they choose to remain to those paths, keep them healthy from indoor air pollution, protects and conserves resources, while limiting our ecological footprints and transforming our kitchen into a living and life-supporting system. Here are the tips along with some reasons why we should act.

1. Buy energy efficient appliances

With the gas or oil prices increasing and our reliance on fossil fuel driven energy production, distribution and consumption, it makes a lot of sense to not only buy fuel efficient hybrid cars, but also energy efficient kitchen and other households appliances. The initial cost to transform your kitchen into an energy efficient consuming appliance hub would be high given the cost of these appliances, but the long term benefits are amazing. Most of us the in US, loves to have a television set in our kitchen, if that is totally necessary in your individual case, purchase energy efficient flat screen instead. I would rather use my laptop or an iPad if you have one to avoid the extra cost, since most homes in the US has more the one television set. Change the light bulbs in your kitchen and elsewhere in your home from CFL to LEDs. LEDs saves you big time! Installing motion detectors with your lighting systems allow you to add another energy savings feature to the existing energy efficiencies capacities of LED lights.

2. Use water wisely

The tap water use in the kitchen and dishwasher kills our pockets when we receive the water bills from the city. It would do your savings and the health of the environment best if we limit our kitchen water use. Installing tap water flow regulators not only allow you to monitor your water use, but also keeps you inform how tap water is been used in the kitchen and throughout your home allows you to match demand with supply and budget accordingly. It saves the city at the larger end a lot of resources, which provides water to individual homes and this has a longer positive impacts on the natural systems, which includes surface and groundwater resources where some of our household water supplies are processed and distributed from. Take few days out of your weekly dishes washing adventures to hand wash your dishes instead of putting those into the dishes washer. This allows you to complete a win-win-win-win solution, by saving you money for water, electricity, saves water and keeps our environment clean from GHG. Air drying your dishes after hand washing allows you to save further dollars. Also, this could be a training exercise for your kids by allowing them to wash and stock the dishes themselves, off-course with less parental supervision.

3. Don’t only compost kitchen residues, biochar them as well.

We all know that recycling our kitchen organic waste is a great thing not only for the soils in our gardens, our neighbors’ or community’s gardens, but also reducing the total waste that ends up in landfills or waste processing plants, which release significant amount of pollution when processing these wastes. At the household level, this trend could be reverted significantly, if we all not only turn our wastes into compost, but also biochar them. Composting is a green thing; however, it also has its own short falls just like other recycling green processes. Composting helps improves the soil organic matter, which also improves soil nutrient status along with other parameters. However, compost decomposes naturally and when this happens, it releases CO2 back into the atmosphere contributing to more warming, but at a lesser scale than other sources of pollution. Also, the stability period of compost reduces in the soil as the years progress meaning we always have to add compost to stabilize the balance soil nutrients, organic matter, etc, thus contributing to the same old cycle.

Unlike compost, biomasses used to make compost could be turned into char [biochar] and apply back to the soil. The biomass after going through pyrolysis captures the CO2 that were to be released if they were to be applied naturally [compost/manure,etc] into carbonaceous material that is called ‘biochar.’ The biochar is carbon in black and when applied in soils has lots of environmental benefits. There are lots of homemade pyrolysis systems that can be used to produce biochar at home to convert kitchen wastes into biochar for your gardens and flowers. Youtube has some great videos on how to make your own mini-pyrolysis system at home. However, be caution that if you would like to build a bigger pyrolysis system and produce biochar for a larger garden-scape, you might want to contact the Department of Parks and Recreation and or Public Works for the necessary licenses to control the fire if there should be an incident. If you build a good system and monitor the process effectively, this shouldn’t be the case. But make sure first if you need one. Safety first at all times. You could also use green kitchen wastes as green manure and apply those to your potted flowers or hanging gardens. You could also add egg shells as well.

4. Buy or make green kitchen/household products

There are lots of green kitchen products out there in grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the country and they come in several brands too! You could also look for green products at a local cooperative store in your neighborhood. If there are none available, there are several options online you could sort from. I would rather prefer buying locally than online to reduce emissions associated with transportation and also it would be a great idea to support a local economy by buying and staying local. The issue of control of what you eat and use is very important in this world where everything at the shelves of a typical Wal-Mart store are imported from thousands miles away and that could also potentially be from abroad.

Alternatively, you could make your own cleaning products yourself. There are several DIY approaches from experts that you could try to fit your own need. I love DIY stuff, because it allows you to show your own engineering spirit that is in you and when you do it yourself, you feel it and that feeling is good and inspires you. Goodhousekeeping.com provides some useful tips and alternatives to make your own household or kitchen cleaning products. You can access more information at: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning-organizing/how-to-make-your-own-cleaning-products.

WARNING: Never combine ammonia-based cleaners with chlorine bleach or products containing bleach, such as powdered dishwasher detergent. The fumes they’ll create are extremely dangerous. Before doing any mixing, read the product labels first (http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/cleaning-organizing/how-to-make-your-own-cleaning-products. Accessed: 07/15/2014).

An other excellent source for DIY approaches for all household needs is http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/20-diy-green-cleaning-recipes-141129. I hope you like these. There are many more out there!

5. Connect your kitchen to a household/kitchen garden

I wrote a previous post about survival gardens a concept that could also be used to connect your kitchen to a garden in your backyard or somewhere in or around your home. Your garden could take several shapes or forms and size doesn’t really matter. It could be small or big or medium and it all depends on how well you utilize your available spaces, your design and time. But the most important point here is that, having a garden that connects to your kitchen allows you to transfer your compost, green manure, biochar or other forms of yard waste to support ecosystems services in your garden or at your household level. These when processed by the soil and taken in by the plants produces organic vegetables, which can be used in your kitchen to prepare great meals to continue to keep your family healthy, strong and reduce your emissions at the household level. This is what I meant by connecting your kitchen to a household/kitchen garden. Your household/kitchen garden can also be used as a learning adventure for your children or children in your neighborhood! Children loves gardens and they also love getting dirty too, which reinforces learning at a significant scale.

6. Do ‘green things’ when in your kitchen

Since this post is about kitchen, it would be right to say that whenever you are in the kitchen especially with your kids, do green things. Well, you may ask, but what do you mean by doing green things? This is exactly what the post is about. Do all of the above and those not mention here as well as those you already know. Don’t limit yourself to what is written here. Some of the green things that you should do while in your kitchens are: don’t leave the light bulbs and kitchen fans on when no one is there. If visibility is best, turn off the lights likewise with the fan, if there is enough fresh air circulating. Open the windows (not during winter though) to allow fresh air to circulate in your kitchen when you’re cooking. Turn off your kitchen television set if not in use, use your laptop instead if you feel the need to browse while cooking as I sometimes do. Hand washing your dishes after use is necessary and could reduce your overall kitchen water and electric use. This list could go on and we could write an entire post on these aspects, but you know what’s up to here.

7. Buy in large quantity and cook in bulk (as needed!)

This may seem unrealistic to some; however, it makes perfect sense. Buying in large quantities doesn’t mean buying the entire supermarket or grocery store and not to mention ‘unnecessary stuff.’ Look at it this way. The less you buy, the more you spend. You spend time driving, pays a lot for gasoline to drive to and fro each time you shop/week, you could be doing something meaningful and prices increase as well. Depending on your family’s budget and needs, buying your kitchen supplies in large quantities save you a lot. It would be unjust to your pockets and nature to buy something that you can’t consume within the required time or before they expire. This is why before you buy make a comprehensive list of your needs and make sure that those can be consumed within the budget timeframe or before they expire. Cooking in bulk also saves you in the long run. Just as much as you have to plan on buying how much you can eat within the budgeted time, it is also wise to decide how much you and your family can eat if you cook in bulk. Planning efficiency at the kitchen also means purchasing and cooking efficiencies. If done well, you could be saving money, quality time, labor, reducing your impacts on the environment and most of all significant stress reduction.

8. Use re-washable kitchen towels instead of paper towels.

You can see the economies of scale in this point. A re-washable kitchen towel as the name depicts last longer, because when dirty it can be rewashed and reused several times. You can get several good and high quality re-washable kitchen towels at affordable prices in almost every supermarket or grocery store across the country. Unlike re-washable kitchen towels, paper towels take a lot of energy, trees and other recycling paper materials to produce and are not reusable at least at the household levels. They can be recycled though, but in no way is that making any significant difference in the pockets unless some kind of micro-level recycling arrangements is made with a recycling company in which case you must have a lot of paper waste to make this fruitful. This point is you will always keep buying paper towels and will always have to budget to them. So, changing that paradigm could make your kitchen headed towards a green kitchen, saves waste from ending to a landfill or processing plant, saves the environment and leaves you with extra money, because using reusable kitchen towels you don’t have to purchase paper towels anymore. Makes sense? I think so too!

9. A green kitchen also means a kitchen that is literally clean

This point is as simple as following these steps along with other good clean behaviors you already know and have used for years. Keeping your kitchen clean of dirty is a clear indication of your kitchen cooking behavior and your respect for the space that you use to cook your family’s meals……everyday! It also keeps your family healthy.

10. Reused empty jugs and containers that can be reused.

One good habit in a green kitchen is your ability to reuse used jugs and containers for storage needs of your kitchen. I love washing up used jam jugs and ice-cream containers, which can be used as appropriate storage containers for some kitchen products and they come handy too! Especially ice-cream containers could be used for your homemade lunch at work and comes ready to package leftovers after a meal or household parties.

11. Buy locally for your family kitchen

Buying locally is a great way to save money and reduce our emissions. What we eat is important and knowing where it comes from and how it is grown/produced is as important as other aspects of our homes. Look around in the local newspapers and magazines for community gardens and farmers’ markets where you and your family can go and buy freshly grown vegetables and herbs for your kitchen. Having control of what you eat involves knowing where it was produced, how it was produced and who the producers are? Answers to these kinds of questions are lacking or rarely available when you decide you buy from Price Choppers or Wal-Mart for example, even if their products are organically grown or labelled as such.

12. Use a piece of charcoal/biochar in your refrigerator

This one of several environmental benefits of biochar …aka charcoal. The list of some of the benefits of biochar keeps growing as researchers from several disciplines continue to investigate the worth of biochar. Biochar has performs several wonders, which people of long benefited from for centuries in the Amazon, Africa Japan and other parts of the world. If the air in your refrigerator is smelly and contaminated having a piece of biochar/charcoal in an appropriate corner of your refrigerator can decontaminate the air in your refrigerator (http://www.ithaka-journal.net/55-anwendungen-von-pflanzenkohle?lang=en).
Do you wonder why your fresh fruits and vegetables spoiled as soon as you stored them in the refrigerator thinking they would last longer? Well, don’t blame yourself because that is not your problem. However, you could work on keeping your stored fruits to last much longer and fresh instead of they ending up in your compost pile or the worst case….your garbage. Your fruits when store emits ethylene gas, which makes things like fruits (bananas, tomatoes, eggplants, etc) aged faster. So, sucking out the ethylene gas from the refrigerator allows these precious consumable fruits to last much longer than just few days before they spoil. How do you do this instead of just stocking your fruits in the plastic store bags or fruit bowls or baskets? If place in the refrigerator alone with fruits and other food items, while biochar decontaminates the air in the refrigerator, it also absorbs the ethylene gas that makes your fruits and vegetable aged faster. This reinforces your food preservation needs allowing your fruits and vegetables to last much longer than usual.

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