Green Your Kitchen: Make it Eco

BY: Jodi Helmer
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Your kitchen is the place to relax with the morning paper, bake cookies with the kids, post favorite photos on the refrigerator, and keep track of bills and school schedules. It’s also the room where the refrigerator runs 24/7, spills get wiped up with paper towels, gallons of water flow through the dishwasher and food scraps are tossed in the trash.

 

Few rooms in the house use as many resources or as much energy as the kitchen. Thinking of giving the “heart of the home” a green makeover? If a total eco-friendly kitchen remodel isn’t in the budget, that’s OK.
 
 
“The biggest misconception [about an eco-friendly kitchen upgrade] is that it has to be really expensive,” says Lisa Iannucci, co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Building and Remodeling. “Some [products] might still be a little more expensive but you're still saving money in the long run by using products that are going to save money on your water and energy bill.”
 
Keep reading to find out how small green changes can have a big impact.
 
 

Sweat the small stuff

 
Before spending big bucks on energy efficient appliances or upgrading to a countertop made from recycled materials, tackle small projects. Install a water filter to replace all of those plastic water bottles in the refrigerator, trade toxic cleaners for eco-friendly alternatives and replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs. Iannucci also recommends installing a low-flow faucet in the kitchen. “The [water] pressure will still be the same but you [won’t be] using as much water as before,” she explains.
 
 

Consider your “cook-print”

 
Kate Heyhoe, author of Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen, believes that when it comes to going green in the kitchen, it’s essential to remember all aspects of the kitchen, from the foods and their packaging to cooking tools.
 
“Five years ago, going green as an eco-friendly kitchen meant eating local and organic; those things are still important but there is so much more to it than that,” says Heyhoe. “Shrinking your cook-print has a huge impact on the environment.”
To reduce your cook-print, Heyhoe suggests choosing eco-friendly kitchen tools such as cutting boards and cookware made from natural materials like bamboo and cast iron and steering clear of plastic containers and disposable dinnerware.
 
 

Research energy-efficient appliances

 
If your avocado-colored refrigerator has been running since the Reagan era, it’s time for an upgrade. Appliances with the Energy Star label are more energy efficient than their non-certified counterparts. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that appliances account for 13 percent of home energy bills.
 
 
“A lot of people use [appliances] and don’t think for a minute about the energy they’re using or its implications on the planet,” says Maria Vargas, a spokesperson for the EPA’s Energy Star Program. “Appliances are one very visible thing that people can do to reduce their energy consumption.”
 
According to Vargas, appliances with Energy Star certification don’t cost more than other, less efficient, new appliances.
 
 

Reduce waste

 
The 3 Rs of going green — reduce, reuse, recycle — are especially important in an eco-friendly kitchen. Set up a recycling station to keep all of the milk cartons, cereal boxes, yogurt containers and peanut butter jars from being dropped in the trash and sent straight to the landfill.
 
Don’t forget about all of the banana peels, apple cores, eggshells and coffee grounds that get tossed in the trash. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans waste 30 percent of all of the edible food produced and sold in the nation. Once it hits the landfill, food waste produces harmful methane gas. An eco-friendly makeover should include a small kitchen composter that will turn food scraps into organic matter for the garden.
 
 

Use renewable resources

 
When the time comes to remodel the entire kitchen, look for products that were made from sustainable materials. The selection is better than ever and a growing number of home improvement stores are carrying green products for the kitchen.
 
 
John Barrows, co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Building and Remodeling, suggests shopping for countertops made from compressed recycled paper and cabinets made from salvaged wood.
 
 
When it comes to flooring, cork, bamboo and eucalyptus are the greenest choices. All three materials are renewable and just as durable and beautiful as products made from less sustainable materials.
 
 
“Make sure that the finishes and the adhesives have a low- or no-VOC finish,” says Barrows.
 
 
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds are toxins that have a negative impact on indoor air quality and can lead to health problems, including asthma.
 
 

Remember to recycle

 
Construction debris accounts for up to 40 percent of all landfill waste. Be sure to ask your contractor to recycle or donate old materials, including appliances, cabinets and fixtures that are being removed during the remodel. Your old sink might be perfect for someone who is also in the midst of a kitchen remodel and is seeking secondhand materials.
 
 

Shop for salvaged materials

 
Skip the big box retailers and look for one-of-a-kind salvaged pieces. Antique shops, secondhand stores and shops for salvaged building materials, including Habitat for Humanity ReStore, offer used building materials for a fraction of the cost of buying new. Look for cabinet pulls, tiles for a backsplash and light fixtures that will add vintage character to an eco-friendly kitchen. In some salvage shops, it’s even possible to find flooring, cabinets, sinks and countertops that are in great condition.
 
 

Support local retailers

 
The “buy local” mantra doesn’t just apply to fruits and veggies. Supporting local manufacturers and retailers is an important part of keeping a remodeling project green.
 
 

 

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