• Priyanka Raj

Thinking of adopting a sustainable lifestyle? Start with your kitchen

Kitchens are the heart of every home but a lesser-known truth about our kitchens is that they can also be the least sustainable part of our homes. This is where most of our trash comes from. When I started my sustainable lifestyle journey and analyzed my trash over a period of three weeks, I was quite surprised to learn how much unnecessary packaging, chemical-filled cleaning supplies and organic waste I was producing.

The impact of food waste

Approximately one third of the food produced worldwide gets wasted. That is about 1.3 billion tonnes a year. Fresh produce tops this list. While in developing countries 40 percent loss occurs post harvesting and at processing levels, in developed countries, up to 40 percent loss happens at retail and consumer levels. Consumers in rich countries waste almost the same amount of food that sub-Saharan Africa produces. This leads to a major squandering of resources, including water, land, energy, labor and capital. And food waste produces greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and climate crisis. 

To offer a different perspective and emphasize just how huge the food waste problem is - Did you know if we just manage to save one-fourth of the amount of food we currently waste, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people across the world? In addition to food waste, your kitchen is where you run the majority of appliances, run water almost constantly, stock and store food creating packaging/plastic waste as well.

So what can you do?

Since you are here and still reading this, it’s safe to assume you’ve decided it’s time to wise up. I understand that finding a good place to start can seem like a daunting task and a complete appliance overhaul is not possible for many of us. To help you sift through the noise, I have compiled this list of practical, inexpensive, easy swaps and habits you can start with today -

1. Save and re-imagine your trimmings and peels:

Photo by Julia Kuzenkov from Pexels

Steep carrots, radish tops, leaf stems, vegetable peels and cheese rind to make a nutritious and flavourful stock. Crisp leftover bread and use it to top pastas or grilled vegetables. Make pesto with carrot greens. Use beetroot leaves to add texture to your salads. Rinse orange peels and sun-dry them to make an orange zest powder in bulk.

2.Eat more foods lower on the food chain:

Photo by Sri Lanka on Unsplash

Living a sustainable life does not mean that we all must turn to veganism. Simply lowering your meat and dairy consumption and eating more foods that are lower on the food chain - dried beans, lentils and legumes reduces your impact profoundly. Legumes are among the most sustainable (and affordable) foods you can choose because they can adapt to climate change and help reduce carbon in the soil. When fed to farm animals, like cattle, it also decreases methane emissions. And, they’re rich in fiber and protein. 

3. Learn to love leftovers:

Photo by S'well on Unsplash

About two-thirds of food wasted worldwide could have been eaten. Yes, just like you, I find eating the same thing repeatedly a little boring. But eating leftovers does not mean repetition. I use leftover stir-fried/sauteed veg to make stuffed flatbreads or patties, make frittata from leftover pasta, add leftover rice to soups or make arancini, make sandwiches or tacos with leftover meat. Using leftovers to make something new not only gives you different flavours but also saves you a ton of time. Think before you bin it.

4. Preserve more fruit and veg:

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Eating seasonally does not mean you have to miss out on flavours. The life of produce can be extended beyond season by freezing, pickling and fermenting. Pickling and fermenting at home not only saves your pennies but also has benefits that stretch beyond food preservation. It’s great for your gut health, is easy to do and serves as a backup when you have no fresh veggies in the fridge. Having kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha or sourdough in your fridge also ensures you don’t reach for packaged noodles when hunger and laziness decide to strike at the same time.

5. Drink loose-leaf tea:

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Fabric or mesh and even paper tea bags are often made with synthetic fibers. When this comes into contact with hot water, nasty chemicals leach into the tea you’re about to consume. Microplastics only render harm to our health and the planet’s. By adopting this seemingly inconvenient habit, you’re not just taking a step towards a healthier life but also reducing the added plastic waste from individual packaging and cartons of tea. 

6. Ban single-use everything:

Photo by Daniel Romero on Unsplash

As a general rule to adopt while trying to live sustainably is to commit to saying a firm NO to anything single use. Whether it’s plastic bags, packaging,  water bottles, paper towels, cling wrap or any other single use item, look for reusable alternatives. This is not to say that you must throw out all the plastic containers you already have. Doing so might be counterproductive. Try to prolong the life of plastic you already own and make efforts to not acquire new plastic. 

7. Add an aerator to your kitchen sink:

Photo from Pexels

Day Zero predictions may be closer than anticipated for many cities across the world. It is imperative that we all reduce your water consumption and wastage.  By adding a low-flow aerator you can make a difference without compromising on water pressure. They’re readily available at multiple online stores, are inexpensive, easy to install and save you a lot of money over time. 

8. Reuse every glass jar:

Photo from Pexels

Living plastic-free and sustainably will definitely increase the need for jars in your life. Glass happens to be the most sustainable material for food storage. I find the idea of rushing to the supermarket to buy glass jars when there are so many ways to get them for a lot cheaper quite ridiculous. All those jars of peanut butter and pickles can be reused to store, ferment, pack and transport food. I personally don’t feel any shame in reusing jars but if aesthetics are important to you, removing labels from jars is actually easier than you think. All you need is a little bit of oil. 

9.Clean with vinegar and baking soda:

Photo by Plush design studio from unsplash.

It is no surprise that most cleaning agents like dishwash, produce wash and surface cleaners contain chemicals that are not just harmful for us but also for soil, water and other living creatures. A combination of vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean greasy pots, remove labels from jars, get rid of pesticide residues from produce and even disinfect surfaces. 

10. Ditch that cleaning sponge and scrub pad:

Photo by Diomari Madulara from unsplash.

Plastic from cleaning sponges begins to fall apart with regular usage. Harsh chemicals and nano-particles linger down the drain and lead to water and soil pollution. Choosing an eco-friendly alternative doesn’t always mean you have to buy an expensive or inaccessible product. To scrub dishes, I use coconut husk, orange peels or cloth pads made with upcycled natural fabric. All these options head to the compost bin after they have lived their lives. I hope that you will find these changes easy to implement. Check back here next week for more tips on making your kitchens and lives more earth-friendly. Let me know in the comments what challenges you are faced with in your journey. 


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