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COP26 green special: 6 ways to be more environmentally friendly in the kitchen

View profile for Ilaria Giurini
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The eco-friendly kitchen begins with eating green, but it doesn't end there. Energy-efficient food preparation and cleaning habits, using equipment made from sustainable materials, and dodging toxic chemicals are also important if you want to have a truly healthy kitchen.

Fortunately, making the right choices for your well-being is also good for the pocket and the planet. Our straightforward and simple suggestions for preparing earth-friendly meals, from fridge to food to clean-up, will turn you into a greener gourmet in no time.

1. Stop using kitchen roll

Disposable kitchen towels are primarily made of recycled paper, though they may be made from new plant fibres, and the central roll is similarly made of cardboard.

When we talk about leaving behind our throwaway culture and reducing our use of single-use items, we tend to think of plastics. Yet, everything we use has an environmental footprint. Paper tends to be hailed as an environmentally friendly product, with many people choosing paper packaging over plastic when possible.

However, paper requires the cutting down of trees and the harvesting of crops. It also results in the use of large amounts of water and chemicals such as bleach. Large factories manufacture these items, often powered by energy produced using fossil fuels.

Sadly, most of the time, kitchen rolls aren't suitable for recycling. The reason for this is down in part to what we use it for and in part because of what it's made of. For example, you should not throw a kitchen roll in the waste if contaminated with cleaning products or anything not food-related. Yet, don't give up; this isn't the end of your environmental journey! From growing courgette seedlings in the cardboard tube to home composting your used kitchen paper or swapping it all for reusable cloths, there's plenty you can do to clean up your environmental footprint while wiping up a mess.  

2. Don't set your fridge too cold

Overworking your fridge or freezer uses more electricity than necessary and creates more carbon emissions. Fridges should operate at between 3C and 5C and the freezer at minus 18C. Experts recommend keeping both appliances at least three-quarters full, so they don't waste energy- although not too full because it stops air circulating. Let leftovers cool before you refrigerate; otherwise, that means a surge in electricity usage. If your fridge or freezer is more than a decade old, consider retiring it. The difference between a C-rated fridge-freezer and a modern A+++ is eye-popping, not just in electricity consumption but in cold, hard cash: £151 a year running costs compared with £38 a year. There's an incentive for you.

3. Are you recycling properly?

Of all the rooms in the home, the kitchen has to be one of the most frequently used rooms. It's no surprise to learn the kitchen is the most demanding room in the house when it comes to rubbish. When you think of all the packaging that comes with our foods, it's easy to get overwhelmed with it if you don't have a plan to tackle it. With recycling becoming such an essential element nowadays, tackling all that rubbish can be even more complicated still.

The easier it is to recycle every piece of rubbish you come across, the more you will do it. If you are currently struggling to manage your bins and don't have anywhere to put the items that can be recycled, you're probably going to throw away more than you have to when it comes to general rubbish. That's not good for the planet since the landfills only have a finite amount of space available for new trash to go into.

The best place to start is with your local council. If you're not sure what they'll recycle and what they won't, go online and find the latest information. Some councils will require their residents to separate paper, but they'll take a mixed bag of glass, plastic and foil, and other councils might ask people to separate glass and plastic items as well. Once you know what is asked of you, you'll be in a much better position to assess the number of bins your kitchen should have.

It's then a matter of deciding where these bins can go and how big they can be. It seems like a lot of work to put into figuring out how to throw things away, but once your bins are in place, you'll realise it was all worth it. None of us wants our bins to stand out too much in the kitchen, but at the same time, they have to serve the purpose they are intended for. If you buy the wrong ones or buy too many when you could have bought a couple of combination ones instead, you'll find they stand out rather than shrinking into the background.

4. Ban single-use water bottles

The statistics on single-use product waste is overwhelming. In the UK, we use 7.7bn single-use plastic water bottles every year. Of those, over 3.25bn do NOT get recycled. That is enough unrecycled single-use water bottles to wrap around the Earth 19.5times! Additionally, single-use plastics have a massive carbon footprint – every year, the bottled water market in the UK is responsible for adding around 350,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases to the environment.

Why do you need a reusable bottle? The average cost of a 1l bottle of water in the UK is 65p. In contrast, the price of 1l of tap water sits at only 0.1p, making bottled water a whopping 650 times more expensive than its tap alternative. Everyone prefers drinking from a beautiful reusable to a single-use alternative. It feels more pleasurable. For bottle varieties, it is more enjoyable drinking from sleek glass or smooth stainless steel than it is from the standard single-use plastic version. This is amplified for coffee cups, where a well designed reusable far surpasses the typical single-use variety in the quality of experience on offer. Last but not least, you are not limited to a single thirst quencher when you use your own reusable. A first-rate insulated bottle will keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot, allowing for many concoctions. For a steamy hot yoga session, you can take refreshing cold water with you to quench that work-out thirst. For a wintery jaunt about town, you may find a steamy hot tea more appropriate.

5. Reduce your waste

One-third of food produced every year is wasted. Here are some tips for reducing your food waste:

  • Plan your weekly meals to avoid buying more than you need.
  • Check your refrigerator and pantry before you shop. Plan meals to use up what you already have on hand.
  • Avoid buying in bulk if you aren't able to use it all.
  • Store fruits and vegetables properly to keep them fresh longer.
  • Freeze or preserve extra produce before it goes bad.
  • Donate unused food to a food pantry if it would otherwise go to waste.
  • Compost your food scraps to keep them out of the landfill.

6. Save energy

You can save energy when you're cooking with these tips:

  • Use a microwave for small meals. It's more energy-efficient than a gas or electric stove.
  • Only use the amount of water you need in a pot. Heating more than you need takes extra time and energy.
  • Boil water in an electric kettle rather than on the stove. You can pour it into a pan after it's boiled to continue cooking.
  • Cover your pots and pans to boil water faster.
  • Don't open the oven door any more than necessary. Use the glass window to check on your food.
  • Turn off the heat a few minutes before your food is finished cooking. Your stovetop will still be hot for a little while.