Low Impact Living: Green Your Kitchen

Editor’s note: Thinking about a kitchen remodel? This week, Low Impact Living takes a look at every element of kitchen use, and how you can both make the space more efficient, more livable, and more earth-friendly. This post was originally published on September 7, 2007.

You may not know it, but your kitchen is one of the biggest resource hogs in your house. You use electricity and natural gas for your appliances. You use water in your sink and dish washer. Your fridge is stocked with foods grown and transported from all over the world that require chemicals, water and fuel to be produced and transported. And then there’s the non-recyclable packaging that goes straight to a landfill.

Here is a list of things you can do in your kitchen to lower your environmental impact, and also to live in a healthier home. We have recommendations for appliances, products and new behaviors.

Any chance you are planning a kitchen remodel? We also have great recommendations for you– wonderful new materials for countertops,cabinets and floors, leads on top-rated green architects and interior designers, and more. Just scroll down if you’re focused on a remodel.

Get Green in the Kitchen

1. Use energy-saving appliances. You can greatly reduce your power and water usage and your greenhouse gas production by using Energy Star appliances. Energy Star appliances can save as much as 50% of your energy and water use, and can cut your carbon footprint by 1000+ pounds, compared to standard appliances. Click here to see Energy Star models.

2. Use compact fluorescent lighting. Compact fluorescent lights use 1/4 the energy and last up to 10 times as long as standard bulbs. And they come in versions that are dimmable, recessed-ready, and daylight spectrum–any version of light type you can think of. Each high-use bulb you replace will save up to $10 and 100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and they last for many years. Click here to see our wide range of CF lighting options.

3. Recycle and Re-use. Can you rinse that ziplock and use it again? Can you reuse the containers you got from take-out? And don’t get plastic bags every time you go to the store for groceries– take durable reusable sacks with you. Click here for reusable grocery bags..

4. Eat Organic, Eat Local. Not only is eating organic healthy for you and your family, but it keeps chemicals from running off into our oceans and rivers from non-organic farms. Eating food sourced locally–like from farmers’ markets– means tons of carbon dioxide are not released into the atmosphere in the process of transporting food to you. To learn more about eating organic,see our selection of great books on organic food and cooking. Also, you can find a farmer’s market near you to get delicious, organic, locally-grown foods.

5. Get green cleaners. Each time you spray a standard cleaner on your counter you breathe in a fine mist of harmful chemicals. Use non-toxic, organic dish soap, detergent and cleaners to protect yourself and your family. See our selection of green cleaners.

6. Compost. Don’t throw out those coffee grounds and banana peels– save landfill space and make your own rich potting soil using a composter. It’s easy! And there’s even a model that works right in your kitchen. Find the composter that’s right for you.

7. Only run your dishwasher when you have a full load. It takes the same amount of energy to run a full or a half load– so wait another day and fill up that machine. Also, remember that washing dishes or pots by hand takes more water than doing them in the washer– so go ahead and put them in the machine.

Remodel Your Kitchen the Great Green Way– it’s healthy, sustainable and gorgeous!

If you remodel a kitchen the “normal way” you’d likely use some combination of new woods for cabinets, marble or tile for countertops, and perhaps some new tile or wood flooring. These standard materials consume resources and contain many toxic chemicals. Fortunately there is a very different way to design and build your new dream kitchen– a way that is sustainable, healthy and jaw-dropping gorgeous. We’ll show you how.

First you should find an architect or an interior designer who is skilled in working with sustainable materials and knows how to build in an eco-friendly manner. Use our nationwide listing of green architects and interior designers to find a great one near you.

Now let’s focus on materials you should consider. Let’s talk about countertops.

Terrazzo is so beautiful you will not believe it is sustainable. Terrazzo consists of recycled glass and crushed stone held together by cement or epoxy. It is buffed to give it a smooth finish. Terrazzo is low maintenance, long-lasting, and has high recycled content. Recycled materials can make up as much as 95 percent of the materials in terrazzo. Terrazzo from EnviroGlas(pictured at right) and Icestone are particularly good for their high recycled content.

“Paper Stone” is another great countertop option. Comprised of paper and other fiber suspended in resin, these materials look surprisingly like stone and come in a variety of exciting colors. The material is heat resistant and very durable. It is also easy to maintain with a nonabrasive cleaner and a cloth. PaperStone and Richlite are two of the more well-known brands. Richlite (pictured at below) uses pulp from sustainably managed forests, and PaperStone incorporates up to 100 percent recycled paper pulp.

On to kitchen cabinets.

Everyone automatically thinks “new cabinets” when they start to plan a kitchen remodel. But cabinets are often made from wood harvested unsustainably and saturated with chemicals used in sealing, gluing, and painting. Many of the chemicals used can be cancer-causing and can offgas into your home for years. Fortunately there are some great, safe alternatives.

First, save whatever parts of your existing cabinets that are still servicable. Are the shelves okay but the fronts have to go? Already, you’ve saved a lot of wood and money. For the new cabinet elements, you can use reclaimed wood, or formaldehyde-free pressed fiberboard. Or you can even get cabinets made from compressed plant material (such as wheatboard).

For the best in wood cabinets, you want to find ones that use either reclaimed wood or FSC-certified wood (FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council–www.fscus.org– and they assure that wood is grown and harvested in a sustainable manner). For reclaimed wood, you can turn to several companies that make cabinets using salvaged wood. CitiLogs uses reclaimed wood and custom milling to produce beautiful products. A company that will sell you reclaimed cabinet-grade wood is Elmwood Reclaimed Lumber.

You can also go the “new but sustainable route” with cabinets. AlterECO manufactures cabinets out of bamboo (a fast-growing grass) and wheat board. (Pictured at right.) Check out AlterECO’s cabinet selection here. Another great supplier is Breathe Easy. Breathe Easy cabinets are made using bamboo, FSC Certified plywood and/or wheatboard (all formaldehyde free). Both companies offer low- or no-VOC finishes. Also check out Kirei board, which makes panels out of the pressed stalks of harvested Chinese sorghum. Visit www.kireiusa.com.

You also have some great flooring options.

Marmoleum is not your grandma’s linoleum. (Pictured at left.) It is made of linseed oil, rosins, and wood flour, affixed to a natural jute backing. It is durable, comfortable to walk on and comes in a mind-blowing array of colors and patterns. To learn more about Marmoleum and find a dealer near you, please click here.

Another great sustainable flooring option is bamboo. Bamboo is a fast-growing grass and is very renewable, durable and attractive. We recommend Teragren bamboo flooring, a company whose mission is to help reduce our dependence on dwindling timber resources by manufacturing flooring, stairs, and panels from bamboo sustainably harvested in the Zhejiang Province of China. Click here to find a Teragren supplier near you.

Also have a look at these amazing tiles made out of recycled rubber– they come in blue, gray, shades of orange, and many other colors. They are both durable and springy, which means they’re easy on your knees. Visit www.ecosurfaces.com to see samples.

Lighting is also critical

Why not use some skylights or solar tubes? Natural light is best for your health and for the environment. If you do need electric lights, there are many great recessed, track and decorative light fixtures that work great with compact fluorescent bulbs. You’ll save a lot of power and money going this route.

Last but not least, don’t forget about appliances. We’ve already mentioned them in the section above, but don’t forget that appliances will consumer energy for as long as they are in your kitchen, so make the right choices from the start and buy Energy Star appliances.

Thanks for learning how to green your kitchen. Please make sure to check out our new Green Products Ratings & Reviews on main site at www.lowimpactliving.com where we’re adding new and exciting features every day!

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