Easy, Eco-Friendly Kitchen Swaps!
Everyone knows that home is where the heart is, and the kitchen is the most important part of the home because it is where we spend most of our time on average! And I get it, we want things to be easy and convenient because, after a full day of work, kids, or in my case dogs, or whatever you having going on you just want things to be hassle-free and run smoothly. In this episode, we are going to go over easy eco-friendly kitchen swaps that will drastically reduce your plastic waste and help you to stay healthier while keeping things convenient and efficient. We are going to break the redundancy of spending our time and money buying the same kitchen items every other week, all while reducing the plastic waste that is affecting every part of our environment, even our own health.
Just a reminder that it might not be perfect the first time you make an eco-friendly swap! As with trying anything new or different, you have to keep going until you find things that work for you and your home. So let’s get cooking!
Non-Toxic Cleaning products
We all want a clean, healthy home – and we all have the go-to products that we think we wouldn’t live without. And we’ve probably all sprayed a bottle of Lysol or used a Clorox wipe and been bombarded by the smells of chemicals – and we think, “oh that’s good because it means they’re going to work,” but what if I told you that the cleaning products we typically use are making our air quality and our health much worse, not better. Because they are filled with harmful chemicals like volatile organic compounds or VOCs, our cleaning products can make the air quality much worse in our homes and cause a variety of health problems, including headaches, asthma, chronic respiratory illnesses, and even cancer.
Not to mention all of the plastics involved. This may come as a shock, but did you know that we are all eating and drinking plastic? 90% of the water we drink and 33% of the fish we eat contains microplastics – that’s about a credit card worth of plastic every week! Microplastics are extremely small pieces of plastic, usually not picked up by water filtration systems, and can come from large plastic debris that continues to break down into smaller pieces but never biodegrades, or they start as microbeads that are in our home and beauty products.
We’re talking everything from dish detergent, soaps, sprays – all of the cleaners. Well, the perfect swap to help alleviate some of these problems to our health and the planet includes switching to reusable cleaning bottles with ingredients that are truly clean. Be warned that some companies that say they are “green” or “natural” might not be. To be sure, the EPA has a “Safer Choice” list which includes products that meet their Safe Choice Requirements. These requirements include addressing sustainable packaging guidelines, as well as using Safer Chemical Ingredients that are still effective in cleaning but have reduced toxicity and harm to the environment. You can easily search the products you use to see if they are a Safer Choice, or find something new to try – and I’ll have that linked in the show notes.
The company I use, Blueland, is on this list. I have reusable containers that I just buy tablets for that dissolve in the bottle when I add water and plastic-less tablets that I use for detergents in my dishwasher and laundry. And they’re made without any of the harmful ingredients we usually see like triclosan, parabens, phosphates, ammonia, VOCs, chlorine bleach, or phthalates. So it reduces the plastic being used, the amount of product being shipped. There are more companies coming out with these benefits you can find as well.
If you’re not wanting to buy new products, you can reuse your old plastic sprayers and try to use tried and true mixtures like warm water and soap for most cleaning, baking soda for scrubbing, or a mix of vinegar and water to clean glass. If you’re still finishing out your old chemical-based products, be sure to only use the amount of product you actually need and limit the use of cleaning products and air fresheners that contain pine or citrus oils that intentionally create ozone.
So now you’re equipped with better cleaning products, what’s next?
Swapping out your Paper Towels
One of the best, and frankly easiest, swaps that I made in the kitchen was from paper towels to cloth towels. I didn’t realize this, but paper towel addiction is an especially bad habit that Americans are the poster child for. For example, Americans make up nearly half of the world’s paper towel use. We spend as a country about $5.7 BILLION on paper towels annually, with France coming in second at only $635 million, but even when you take that to a per capita basis, we are still in the lead for spending more than any other country in the world. I did the calculations, and I was spending about $200 per year just for me to use paper towels, and I even used them sparingly. Imagine a multi-person household how much that is adding up to per year.
But it’s not just a money problem, it’s a planet problem. Unicef says that More than 13 billion pounds of paper towels are used each year only in the United States. This means that to support America’s paper towel habit, we are cutting down 110 million trees per year, which is the equivalent to a forest the size of Texas and California combined, using 130 billion gallons of water, the equivalent of a swimming pool the size of Georgia, and using heavy processing methods that are bad for the environment and taking up precious energy, shipping these paper towels out, only using them one time, and throwing them away in a landfill.
And yes paper towels do go to a landfill because of the pulp they are made of, which usually includes dyes, scents, and chemicals, and the fact that they usually have grease, chemicals, and other messes on them that take them out of the recycling game. So this is an instance where you should clearly be able to see the environmental and economic impact one person can make by switching to a reusable, eco-friendly option.
So there are a few options to help you make this switch. The first option is to use plain towels. The towels we use are hassle-free. They’re plain towels I got at the store about a year ago, you may already have towels that you could use for this in your house, which is even better!
But now I don’t have to worry about running out and going to the store to buy more. We just throw them in the wash as they get dirty. We have two colors of towels, white cloths for cleaning that we keep under the sink and gray cloths for eating and cooking that we have folded up nicely on the counter. I recommend just paying attention to what you use your paper towels for and having designated ones for each so you don’t get the ick factor of using one towel to clean your sink and then using it as a napkin.
And you may have seen the other option go viral on social media before, un-paper towels. They are similar to regular towels except they are the size of paper towels and roll up and to fit your paper towel holder. You’d reuse these the same as you would a regular towel – meaning you just wash and reuse!
The third option is Swedish dishcloths. They are made of cellulose and cotton and act like a super paper towel soaking up 20 times their weight – replacing up to 17 rolls of paper towels. They last for a few months and can be composted afterward.
If you haven’t noticed, there is a trend that we are going for – reusable! When we are reusing products it’s less taxing on the environment because it limits the need for natural resources and reduces air, land, and water pollution, as well as saving you freaking money! These sustainable kitchen swaps are all something that is going to reduce the amount of money you’re spending over your lifetime, which means more money for the things you actually want.
So we’ve figured out how to make eco-friendly kitchen swaps to our cleaning products and our paper towels, what’s next?
Reusable bags and containers
Want a super simple and effective swap? Switching from plastic bags to reusable cloth bags for produce and other groceries! You know those microplastics I mentioned? Plastic bags are the WORST for creating microplastics and harming animals in our environment. It takes 60 million barrels of crude oil globally each year to produce these little plastic nuisances, only to be used, on average, for 20 minutes before going into the trash. Using your own cloth reusable bag over and over again to carry goods from the store or farmer’s market to your own home could save the planet from 350-500 plastic bags a year.
I think we all know they are bad, but we just see the convenience, and hey? They’re free right, why wouldn’t I take it? Because that isn’t exactly the case. The price for these bags is factored into the cost of your items, so when more people are using reusable bags, the better it is for everyone. Even some companies like Target, Whole Foods, and Kroger offer discounts if you have your own reusable bags!
As far as reusable containers for keeping your food, a lot of people turn to use aluminum foil, cling wrap, sandwich bags, or plastic Tupperware. I would absolutely encourage using your old plastic Tupperware until the end of its useful life – most of these last 5-10 years depending on how you are treating them. When your plastic Tupperware has bit the bullet – opt for reusing glass storage jars or mason jars, or using infinitely reusable bags made of food-grade silicone. These are free of BPA, BPS, lead, latex, and phthalates that are common in regular plastic containers and that leach into your food. We know that those chemicals can lead to cardiovascular diseases, asthma, cancers, the list keeps going – so it’s better to stay clear if you can. Most of these bags, like the Stasher bags I have, are even better than Tupperware because you can use them for basic items like sandwiches, but also take them from the fridge or freezer straight to the oven!
If you’re thinking, “Well, I can do that for some of my food with aluminum foil” you’d be correct, but I’d still discourage it. The mining and processing of bauxite ore for Aluminum foil is pretty taxing on the environment, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and using up a lot of energy. Surprisingly, it ranks much worse for the environment than plastic wrap even, but we know plastic wrap is not recyclable and just adds to the plastic pollution problem.
And while aluminum is recyclable, most centers won’t take it because it has food residue on it – for instance, my city won’t take any aluminum foil recycling at all. If your city does take it, make sure the aluminum foil is clean, removing all food residue, and put all of it together in a ball so it can easily be picked out. So what’s the alternative other than silicone bags for those other special needs aluminum and plastic wrap seem to satisfy but reusable silicone bags might not? You could DIY your own beeswax wraps, use reusable silicone lids and baking sheets, or even parchment paper.
Looking at your trash is one of the best ways to start making changes in your home. A tip you may have never heard of is to switch from larger trash bags to smaller bags. When you have smaller trash bags, you are a lot more conscious of what you’re filling it up with and how to reduce that amount. Usually, this leads to more eco-friendly practices like composting, more recycling, and reducing your plastic waste in your fridge and otherwise. In my home, we did it in the reverse direction, implementing eco-friendly practices which helped us to cut down to one small bag a week, if even that. For a lot of us, cutting out the bag completely is unavoidable, but cutting the amount of trash you have altogether is going to allow you to use less of them so you can make the eco-friendly swap to trash bags that are made of 100% post-consumer-recycled materials, or BPI certified compostable or biodegradable. Most mainstream trash bags are made of non-renewable fossil fuels and break down to microplastics like we keep talking about happens at the end of a plastic product’s lifecycle.
So that’s it – If you liked this episode, be sure to check out episode 7 where we talk about 5 easy plastic-free bathroom swaps! I am so glad we are on this journey together, and I can’t wait to see you here next week!
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