Our kitchens generate the most waste combining food, plastic, paper and steel. Imagine if each household did their small part in being a little more conscious of how they choose products and dispose of their waste, we can all contribute to diverting and reducing landfill pollution.
Here are some simple tips you can adopt and practice as you begin your journey to a more sustainable lifestyle.
1. Sponges are one of the basic cleaning items that we use to hand wash dishes, pots and pans. Many may not be aware that every day sponges are derived from petroleum-based polyurethane or polyester which is a form of plastic. These sponges not only shed microplastics as you wash, but they are also non-biodegradable, non-recyclable and end up in landfills.
Tip: Replace man-made synthetic sponges with organic veggie based materials like loofahs or cotton cloths. You can also consider using brushes with wood handles and castor oil (veggie based) bristles that are fully biodegradable. This option is healthier for you and the environment
2. Cleaning Solutions is a major source of pollutants. They may be effective in getting your kitchen sparkling clean or unplugging your drain, but those toxic chemicals end up in our waterways with some remnants infiltrating into the food chain. These chemicals can also be harmful to our health causing eye, skin or respiratory irritation and long term exposure causing more serious health issues.
3. Paper towels and paper waste, though biodegradable, still contribute to the growing landfill pollution. They made up 12% or 17 million tonnes of municipal solid waste in the US in 2018. Many have grown accustomed to single use paper towels and napkins to wipe down counters and surfaces because it is convenient and we know it is compostable. However, when combined with other non biodegradable waste, paper towels add just as much garbage to our landfills.
Tip: Instead of using paper towels, use dish clothes that can be washed and reused to wipe down surfaces. Use a tea cloth for wiping your hands or dishes dry. This encourages reuse and helps reduce waste materials.
4. Disposable Floor Wipes, like the swiffer, is a convenient, hassle-free way to clean your kitchen floor without the labor that’s involved in traditional floor mopping. It’s quick and easy but unfortunately, the cleaning chemicals in the pad are toxic and the swiffer pads themselves are made of polypropylene which is a form of non biodegradable plastic along with other materials.
Tip: Consider using a mop. It seems cumbersome to have to fill a pale with soap and water and push and squeeze a mop to clean a floor but the single-use disposable swiffer option contributes to our waste problem.
Wraps, Bags and Enclosures
5. Saran Wrap is a convenient way to store food especially when used as a seal to cover food in a dish or just generally to store food safely. It is a thin plastic film made of Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE). Plastic wrap is not safe to use in ovens and personally, I don’t trust that it is safe in a microwave either because untreated plastic wrap can release chemicals and melt when heated. Aside from the health risks it poses in high temperature, it is also non biodegradable when disposed in the garbage.
Tip: Instead of using plastic wrap, consider using glass containers with a cover or use a plate to cover the top of an open dish if you are storing food in the fridge.
6. Ziploc bags are common items found in the kitchen that conveniently stores and packs sandwiches and other items. Plastic food bags, made of polyethylene, are widely used as packaging to store meat in a freezer because they are space savers and also used for packing lunches. Unfortunately, after we use them, we discard them and they end up in landfills.
Tip: Consider using glass containers when storing and packing food that will be consumed in the short term. Instead of buying in bulk, buy and consume just what you will eat to prevent the need to store food.
7. Plastic Food Containers are kitchen essentials and commonly used for storing larger amounts of food. Many refrigerate their left overs and then later warm them up in a microwave. These food containers are made of low-density polyethylene or polypropylene and have a high temperature tolerance before it reaches its melting point. Whether it is safe to microwave with food is debatable because researchers claim there are still gaps in their understanding of how plastics affect our health and development. Polypropylene is known to be non biodegradable and will reach our landfills at end of life.
TIP: Substitute plastic food containers with reusable glass containers for safe microwave use and ultimately generate less reliance and demand for plastic products in general.
8. Garbage Bags are made of polyethylene (petroleum-based resin) or in the case of Glad garbage bags, they are made of butene polymer with ethene (or polythene). While some say there are polythenes that are biodegradable over a very long period of time, others claim that polythenes are not biodegradable. Many of us buy whatever garbage bags are available on store shelves but, we may not be aware that our choices will leave a legacy in our landfills.
TIP: Instead of garbage bags, consider finding bioplastic bags or just using paper bags for your garbage and put them out in your trash can to be ready for pick up.
9. Aluminum based products including tin cans, aluminum foils and packaging contribute about 8.8% of the total municipal solid waste in the US in 2018. This is approximately 26.3 million tonnes with 52% that is landfilled. Foils are convenient ways to store food in shelves and fridges. But, unfortunately, they are easily discarded and unless they are not soiled, they can’t be recycled.
TIP: Using aluminum foil is convenient for lining pans when baking and storing leftover food however, to reduce aluminum waste, consider these three things: 1) using simply the non-stick pan without the foil lining 2) eliminating tin foil baking sheets from your kitchen supplies and 3) instead of accumulating leftovers, buy exactly what you will need and consume.
Kitchen Cooking Tools
10. Plastic Utensils are what we commonly use for cooking. Plastic utensils are made of Acrylonitrile–butadiene–styrene resin (ABS) and acrylonitrile–styrene resin (AS) which contain volatile substances that are potentially carcinogenic and toxic. Both ABS and AS are not biodegradable. In fact, many may not know that these utensils are made from recycled computer parts (especially the black plastic utensils) and over time, they chip and fray with microplastics landing in your food. Because plastics can’t biodegrade, they end up in landfills.
TIP: Consider wooden bamboo utensils for health and safety reasons. Bamboo, in particular, are biodegradable so they are one of the safest cooking tools you can have in your kitchen. They are antibacterial, organic and don’t scratch the surface of your pots and pans.
These are simple ways to start your journey to sustainable living. You may find many more opportunities to become more sustainable at home. Share your experience and tips with us here.