4 Eco-Conscious Products for your Kitchen
In our quest for convenience, we have invented many products and gadgets to make our lives easier in the kitchen. With the help of fridges and freezers, we can slow down the degradation of food, allowing us to enjoy food for longer. Microwaves and kettles allow us to heat food and water in minutes, while smart ovens cook our food to perfection.
But our reliance on some products is hard to break, even though we know that they are probably not the most eco-friendly of options. How many times have you reached thoughtlessly for a paper towel to wipe up a spill, or thrown a piece of Cling-film in the bin after just one use? It is estimated that the average American household is responsible for generating more than 200 pounds of waste a year just from their kitchens.
Thankfully, green innovators have come up with sustainable solutions for the most wasteful habits, so check out some of these eco-conscious solutions for your kitchen!
1. Clean up your sponge
From washing dishes, wiping up spills and cleaning your stove and countertops, sponges are in indispensable kitchen item. But the majority of sponges are made from plastics such as polyester (soft side) and polyurethane (scrubbing side), which means that when they reach the end of their useful life, they get tossed in the bin and end up at the landfill, where they will stick around for hundreds, or not thousands of years! In addition, the manufacturing process is far from eco-friendly, as it relies on glues and dyes that leech into and contaminate our water supply.
Sponges are a magnet for bacteria, given that we use them for cleaning up food residue. So, when our sponges start to smell, or look a bit grubby, we end up tossing them, even if there are a few more uses left in them. This means that for most of us, the lifecycle of our sponges is shorter than they could be. Here are some tips on how to make your plastic-based sponges more eco-friendly:
- Rinse – after using your sponge, make sure to rinse it out to get rid of any food and soap residue, as this leads to bacterial growth and smelliness. Then, leave it to dry on the side of your sink.
- Wash – the useful life of our sponge can be extended by disinfecting it in the washing machine in the highest heat setting with some detergent and bleach. Alternatively, you can leave it to soak in a dish of hot water to help get rid of any smell and bacterial build-up.
- Reuse – if your sponge is starting to look a bit sad and used, you can always repurpose it for use in the bathroom to clean the toilet. Make sure to wash your sponge first, to get rid of any greasy residue.
Alternatively, if you want to ditch plastic-based sponges, you have some more eco-friendly options. You can buy cellulose sponges (which are made from wood fibres and will decompose). While these are usually more eco-friendly than plastic-based sponges, the production process of cellulose does contribute to deforestation and uses harmful chemicals which leech into our water supply. In addition, you need to check the labels carefully as many sponges that claim to be made of cellulose are actually a combination of cellulose and plastic, meaning that they will not degrade completely. A better alternative is washable sponges made from natural fibres like cotton, hemp and loofah. These cost a fair bit more than their less eco-friendly counterparts, and may not be available in all supermarkets, but they are a good investment if you are serious about greening up your kitchen.
2. Unravel the Cling-film dependency
Since the introduction of Saran wrap in the late 1940s, using plastic to store food has become a habit for many of us. Due to the sticky and flexible nature of food wrap, it could be used to wrap foods to keep them fresh (as well as prevent food odours permeating our fridge), cover bowls of salads and left-overs, as well as stop chilled dough from drying out. But is there a more eco-friendly alternative to ease and convenience of single-use food wrap?
Most commercially available food wrap comes in two forms: plastic and cellophane. Both have their pros and cons. While plastic food wrap is usually made from polypropylene and is therefore recyclable (depending on where you live) it is not biodegradable. Meanwhile, cellophane (made from cellulose) is biodegradable, but not recyclable and the production process is not completely eco-friendly.
If you want guilt-free alternatives to single-use food wrap, then consider using beeswax wrap. These wraps are just as versatile as traditional plastic and cellophane options, in that they can be used to wrap food and cover bowls, but instead of being single use, they usually last for about a year before they need replacing. Beeswax wraps are usually made from a piece of cotton cloth that comes in various sizes and colourful patterns that has been coated with a mixture of beeswax and oils. Since the wrap is breathable and is made using only natural products, it can help keep certain food fresh for longer than single-use wrap and there is no risk of plastic residue leeching into your food. One downside is that they should not be used to store meats, as it can lead to cross-contamination of other foods, but you can easily store meat in Pyrex or plastic boxes.
In comparison to a few years ago when beeswax wraps were a novelty item, they are becoming easier and cheaper to find, with multiple manufacturers offering products. Or, if you like DIY projects, you can even make your own!
3. Stock up on silicone
Silicone is a highly versatile material that is an excellent alternative to many single-use items. Since it has low toxicity and prevents bacterial growth, it is safe to use for food storage, while its low heat conductivity and ability to withstand high temperatures allows it to be used during cooking as well.
An increasingly popular use for silicone is in the form of bowl covers. These stretchy covers come in various sizes and fun colours to help keep your food fresh. In addition to being washable and multi-use, they have the added benefit of being able to be used on metal bowls as well (to which plastic food wrap tends not to stick too well).
Another option comes in the form of baking cups and cupcake moulds. Instead of buying single-use paper cups, consider moving to multi-use silicone baking cups, or ditch them completely and just bake your cupcakes directly in a silicone cupcake mould. In the same veil, you can purchase silicone oven mats to prevent burnt on food sticking to the bottom of your oven or BBQ. Thanks to its non-stick properties, these handy mats also work as a substitute for grease paper and baking parchment and can simply be wiped clean after use.
4. Ditch the paper towel
Paper towels are often seen as an indispensable item in the kitchen. They are used to wipe up spills, clean counters and stove tops, dry dishes and wipe our hands. AOL estimates that the average American family uses two rolls of paper towel a week, which adds up to over 13 billion pounds of paper being thrown away every year.
There are many alternatives to paper towels that serve the same purpose but are more environmentally friendly:
- Kitchen towels – a buying a pack of cotton kitchen towels can significantly decrease your paper towel usage. Kitchen towels can be used to dry hands and dishes, mop up spills and can even double as oven gloves. If they get dirty, they can be thrown in with your regular load of laundry and will usually last for 1-2 years, depending on how intensively you use them.
- Cloth wipes – microfibre or terry cloths are a reusable alternative to paper towels that arguable do a better job of absorbing spills, cleaning up around the kitchen and even dusting. After use, simply rinse them out and hang them to dry. If they get very dirty or greasy, simply throw them in with your regular wash cycle.
- Bamboo non-paper towels – a more recent innovation to help reduce reliance on single use paper towels multi-use bamboo towels. While not as long lasting as cloth towels, bamboo towels are stronger and more absorbent than traditional paper towels, and can therefore significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in the garbage.