The Environmentally Friendly Kitchen: Painless Changes You Can Make Today

Trying to embrace an environmentally friendly lifestyle that doesn’t smack of waste? It’s easier said than done when we’re dealing with long ingrained habits. These green living tips will get you started!

real silverware on green cloth napkin -- green living tips!


15+ Easy green living tips

The good news is, there are a lot of changes you can make on your way to a ‘green’ kitchen that will take zero effort on your part. All you’ve got to do is remember to implement these tips for green living.

1. Ditch plastic

Make a set of these beeswax wraps to replace cling wrap or tin foil. These reusable snack bags can replace your favorite zip-top bag for dry snacks. Plus, they’re cute. And consider these alternatives for freezing foods without plastic containers.

2. Put a lid on it

When you’re cooking on the stove top you can cut your cooking time and your energy usage by up to 75 percent just by using a tight fitting lid says Richard Ehrlich, author of The Green Kitchen. Boiling water? Warming soup? Put a lid on it! I use a lid on almost everything I cook to save energy, but it also helps to save time – and who couldn’t use more of that? (These green living tips are easy and smart!)

3. Save your cooking water

Instead of pouring the water that you’ve used to cook hard boiled eggs, vegetables, or pasta down the drain, allow it to cool and then use it to water some of your outdoor plants. Alternatively, you can use the boiling water to kill weeds. Just pour the hot water onto driveway cracks or other weedy areas (NOT near plants you’d like to keep!) for a chemical free weed killer.

4. Switch paper towels

Giving up the convenience of paper towels is a green living tip many people won’t even consider. If you’re one of those people, there is something you can do to make your paper towel use just a bit more environmentally friendly. Instead of buying bleached white paper towels, switch to those that are unbleached and made from 100% recycled material. It’s not the best option, but it’s definitely a better option, and we’re all about small changes around here.

Ready to ditch paper towels entirely in your green kitchen? Try these.

Duck eggs in a basket with straw

5. Choose your egg cartons wisely

If you don’t raise chickens for eggs, you can make a greener, more environmentally friendly choice at the grocery store. For goodness sake, stop buying eggs in Styrofoam! You may pay slightly more for eggs in fiber cartons but those cartons can eventually be composted!

Before that, though, you’ll want to pass your empty egg cartons on to your local backyard farmer. Reuse, baby. Reuse. If your neighborhood egg sellers are offering you eggs in plastic, let them know that you’d prefer yours in a basket or your own container. (And tip them off about the idea of green living!)

6. Consider a toaster oven

We don’t use a microwave, so all of our baking and food warming happens in our oven. My son cooks himself a hot lunch daily, so it’s not unusual for the oven to be warmed up to 350 degrees a couple of times a day. Even though I usually try to combine dinner preparation with a round of baking, it seemed like we weren’t exactly being efficient.

After pondering it for six months or so, I finally forked out for a toaster oven to tip the scales toward greener living. Yes, it came packaged with a couple of slabs of Styrofoam (cringe).

My son uses the toaster oven for making lunch, I’ve cooked many dinners in it (casserole dishes actually fit), and even baked a loaf of bread. It’s convenient and takes less time to warm up than the full sized oven, but I’ve been waiting to see if it would actually make any difference in my utility bill. The answer: absolutely! Household energy usage in the first month was down by about 75 kilowatt hours, netting a $30 savings.

In just two months, I recouped what I spent on the oven. After that, it’s pure savings for my checkbook, plus I’m using less of the diesel-powered energy provided by my local utility company. In the long run, I think I can be forgiven for that Styrofoam, yes?

7. Use a spatula

Don’t count on a butter knife or spoon to get the last little bits of food (think: peanut butter and applesauce) out of the container. When you think you’ve gleaned the last of the tasty goodness from the jar, grab a spatula and give it another go. Surprise! You’ve stretched that jar of peanut butter one sandwich further.

8. Choose unbleached flour

This is one of the easiest green tips to implement! The difference between bleached and unbleached flour in the final product (and cost) is negligible, but by purchasing the unbleached version you will eliminate chemicals and toxins from your food and our environment. Using chlorine, bromates, and peroxides in processing our food seems crazy, doesn’t it?

Especially when there is a better alternative sitting right next to the bleached flour on the store shelf.

9. Make it a clean sweep

When it’s time to replace your broom, reconsider the modern day plastic option and choose a straw broom with a wooden handle. If you’re looking for something really different (what a cool gift!), check out these hale (house) brooms made in Hawaii using traditional methods. Or if you’re super handy, you might consider making your own broom.

fresh fruit stand with bananas, oranges, apples, and pears in wooden boxes

10. Choose local

Even if you use just one locally produced ingredient at least once a day, you’ll be making a small impact on your local farm community and also increasing your awareness of the issue. If you already include at least one local or home grown ingredient in your diet each day (see green living tip #15) push yourself further – aim for something local at every meal. Besides locally grown fruits and veggies, your ingredients might include pasture raised meats, eggs, local dairy products, honey, herb teas, baked goods, or fresh caught fish.

11. Lose the sponge

Not only do kitchen sponges come wrapped in plastic, but the process of making a synthetic sponge requires the use of chemical softeners and bleaching agents. Dish cloths are the obvious replacement choice, since they can be washed regularly and will last for a long time. Plus, dishcloths generally come with less packaging than sponges and there are even organic cotton options available.

That said, this is hard for me. I prefer to use a sponge. I’m still working out an ideal replacement. My friend Jane sent me some crocheted “scrubbies” made of (get this) recycled tutus and they are just the right size and thickness. I may have to get back to crocheting.

12. Choose compostable picnic ware

If you’re gearing up to entertain a houseful of guests, you might have disposable plates and cups on your shopping list. (Because you don’t have enough dishes, we get it. Not because you’re shirking dishwasher duties.) Instead of Styrofoam or plastic that will end up in the landfill for a long, long time, consider actual paper plates.

13. Start using napkin rings

Napkin rings? What, am I Martha? Actually, no. Martha would be quite horrified at the table I set each night. And yet, I do use napkin rings.

Once upon a time, it occurred to me that the cloth napkins we use daily probably don’t need to be washed daily. I mean, after ribs or pizza yes, certainly – we’re not gross – but some meals just don’t leave much beyond a crumb on our napkins. Those, I figured, we could use another night.

Each night after dinner, decide if your napkin needs to be washed or if it can be reused. If it can be reused without drawing the ire of the health department, roll it up and tuck it into a personalized napkin ring and store in a basket for the next night.

girl in blue dress holding overripe bananas

14. Love those brown bananas

If you’ve got overripe bananas but no time to whip up a batch of banana bread, stick them directly in the freezer. No need to peel them and put them in a plastic bag. When you’re ready to bake, put the frozen bananas – which will have turned an ugly dark brown – on a plate to thaw. Once thawed, simply cut off one end of the banana and squeeze the fruit out of the skin. The texture will be a bit runny but it’s perfect for blending into a batch of bread. No waste, no plastic.

15. Set goals for your meals

Even though our garden is a work in progress, I’ve set a goal of including at least one ingredient from our yard/garden in every dinner I prepare. If that’s just not possible, I try to include something that’s been grown or made locally. It’s a small step, but one worth taking as we adopt tips and habits for green living.

My family has come to expect my dinnertime report:

  • Taco night: “The green onions and avocados came from the garden, the tomatoes are from the farmers market, and the beef is local and grass fed.”
  • Pizza night: “The arugula, green onions, and basil came from the garden. The mushrooms are locally grown, from the farmers market.”
  • Breakfast for dinner night: “The eggs are from our chickens and the sweet bread for the French toast is from Punalu‘u Bake Shop.”

It’s casual, not a boardroom style report. But it’s enough to make my family think regularly about where our food is coming from. In fact, when I served a vegetable stir fry last night, my eldest son beat me to the punch: “Are these snow peas from the garden?” Why, yes dear. Yes they are.

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14 comments… add one
  • Olga Aug 24, 2021 @ 2:46

    If you cut the plastic tube of toothpaste, conditioner, face cream, etc after you have squeezed to the end, you will find enough for 2-4 more applications.

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 25, 2021 @ 16:35

      Good tip!

  • Judith Broadhurst Jun 3, 2021 @ 13:54

    Alternative to sponges: Swedish dishcloths made from cotton and cellulose. Reuse, recycle.

  • Carol Saylor Mar 3, 2018 @ 12:46

    I found a company a few years back that makes wood pulp based recyclable sponge clothes called Skoy Cloth. I had hopes of getting my grandchildrens’ school interested in selling them as a fundraiser. I got like 10 as samples to show and use. i gave away three, and finally just threw out the last one last week. 5 years of use.

  • Georgia Nov 11, 2017 @ 9:24

    Wash and dry zip lock bags. I haven’t purchased any for years. Use flour sack dish towels–the best for drying dishes, among other uses. Put food scraps into a reused zip lock bag, freeze them and use for making soup stocks. If you are able to (I can’t) compost what’s left after stock is made. Use plastic grocery bags for trash bags instead of purchasing them. Since I recycle almost everything I end up with only one grocery bag-full of garbage/trash per week–sometimes less. Use a spatula to get every bit of food our of whatever you are using–bowl, jar, pot, pan, etc. Use a citrus reamer to extract every last drop of juice from the fruit. I have a collection of paper napkins from various places that I use instead of paper towels. I use them very infrequently. Use plastic elasticized container covers and ditch the plastic wrap. They last for years.

  • Kathryn Grace Jan 1, 2017 @ 6:52

    Excellent suggestions all! We’ve employed all of these in our kitchen for years. In fact, we gave up our paper towels completely some time ago and rarely (like once a year or two) wish we had a hidden roll. It took a little planning and figuring out how to have handy substitutes, but eventually it worked. I even wrote a web article about it!

    As for replacing the kitchen sponge with dish cloths, once I got used to it, I found the dishcloths much handier. I also never need worry that I’m laying down more germs than I’m picking up. Thanks for sharing your tips. I’m passing them along on my social media.

  • STEFANIE Jun 6, 2016 @ 18:39

    Marvelous ideas!!! Thank you!

  • Ashley Jun 4, 2016 @ 3:09

    Great ideas, thanks! The picture shows it, but it’s not actually mentioned…compost! This has reduced our garbage significantly,and provided a free, high quality fertilizer for our garden as well as better quality soil.

  • Linda Trefts Jun 3, 2016 @ 1:48

    I do many of these already. I switched to dishcloths, cloth napkins and unpaper towels years ago. I use veggie water and egg water on my plants. I didn’t know pasta water was okay. I thought it might draw varmints. I’ll definitely give it a try. Thank you for all your tips and information. You are an invaluable resource and mentor. ❤️

  • Wendy Wren Jun 1, 2016 @ 6:59

    Great suggestions, Also I love being about small changes as well and have noticed that with my husband and son i get greater more effective cooperation that way. Loved your post.

  • Sonia May 31, 2016 @ 8:55

    We already do a lot of your suggested ideas…
    I use lids when cooking
    Use the water from cooking eggs or veggies for the house and lanai plants
    I use cloth towels and cloth napkins – paper towel roll kept for when I do cooking demos only and it is unbleached. Don’t use napkin rings, although I have them, because there is only two of us and we each fold or tie our napkins a different way.
    We buy our eggs from a friend in Hilo and she only uses the recyclable cartons…I save them to give back to her
    My stove and oven are gas, but I do have a small toaster/baking/convection oven (Cuisinart) which I might have to replace soon and will look into the one you bought.
    Definitely use a spatula for those bits usually left behind in jars and bowls
    Definitely buy as much local as possible…and preach it too.
    No sponge. I use a fabric wash cloth
    We participate in a lot of picnics and gatherings that include potlucks; we have ‘trained’ our friends to bring their own utensils, plates, and cloth napkins…no paper or plastic waste left behind from our groups!
    Yes to the brown bananas! We use frozen ones also for making smoothies…they help thicken them!
    Our little garden has been providing us with (so far) 2 kinds of tomatoes (2 more varieties are coming along and will provide fruit soon)…3 kinds of basil, Manoa and two other kinds of lettuce, bok choy, 3 different kinds of mint, 2 kinds of oregano, allspice tree, rosemary, thyme, we have 3 different banana stalks in different stages of readiness at the moment, Suriman cherries were prolific this season…Avocado tree setting fruit…and will have some pineapples in a month or so…Hoping our new papaya seedling will survive and give us fruit in a few months…

  • Chris May 29, 2016 @ 19:31

    I love the napkin ring idea. We use cloth napkins but I usually gather them up whenever I do a towel laundry and wash them with the towels, mostly because I never know whose is whose. This would solve that issue and be a great way to stall a little on the washing. I might even be able to cut down a laundry load. I am going to dig out our handcarved in Nigeria animal napkin rings. We haven’t used them since the kids were little. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Yes to dish cloths, too. And you can knit your own. The hand knit cotton dishcloths last so much longer than the store bought models, too.

  • Tammy May 28, 2016 @ 4:13

    I love these!! A couple of things that have worked for me: To replace kitchen sponges, I kitchen rags made from holey socks. I cut them into squares and they are ready for their new life – the absorbent cotton material makes them perfect for this duty. When they’ve done all they can do in the kitchen they’re moved to RancherMan’s shop – when they’re covered in tractor grease they can (finally) be thrown away without guilt. Also, I saved those red mesh bags you buy onions or such in, cut them into rings and hand-crochet them into large scrubbies. I was able to link the rings into one long piece of material and just used my fingers to loop them in & out – in minutes I had a scrubbie as big as my hand and with a loose enough weave that scrubbing dishes is a snap. I’m also reusing large-mouth glass jars saved for me by family for leftovers in the fridge – if we can see ’em, they’ll get eaten! Like you said, it’s super easy to make small changes for a greener kitchen. Love this post, thanks for sharing!

    ~Taylor-Made Homestead~

  • Jean | May 26, 2016 @ 8:53

    Love this post! Would love to comment about each item on the list, but I’ll limit myself to the flour. There are many baking “experts” who insist that cakes made with bleached cake flour are superior to those made with all-purpose and/or unbleached flour. But I’ve developed all my cake recipes with organic unbleached all-purpose flour, and the texture is perfect. Of course, *I* would be willing to sacrifice a bit of perfection in order to avoid bleached flour; but truly, there has been no sacrifice.

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