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3 Easy Steps to a Greener Kitchen

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Jars of NutsHome sweet home – I’ve always love that saying. There is something wonderful about coming to place where you can feel safe, peaceful and rejuvenated. With all of the known dangers out in the big world, home can be a wonderful respite. Sadly, we are bombarded on a daily basis with the news of things that can harm us. Unfortunately some of those things can be found in our safe haven…our home.

Instead of throwing up our hands in frustration, I believe in the power of getting educated and making small changes with big impact on or health and environment. Here are three small changes that can improve the quality of life in your home sweet home.

Cleaning

To maintain a healthy eco-friendly kitchen the first place to start is to get replace any products that contain ammonia and bleach. Both of these ingredients are clearly labeled as toxic and do not belong in the same room where you prepare food. While small exposures to these toxins may simply irritate your breathing, skin and eyes, it can be very harmful to young children and anyone with a compromised immune system. There is a reason the labels say “poison”. There are better, safer ways to clean up in green style.

Another very important reason to skip the commercial brand in your kitchen is that they wreak havoc on our environment. Just think of the runoff into our drains, water supply and eventually our local water systems, lakes, rivers and oceans.

Here are some safer alternatives that I use in my very own kitchen. Not only will you turn your kitchen green, but you will save some ‘green’ along the way.

  • Borax – aka sodium borate, is a naturally occurring compound that disinfects when used as a cleaning agent– Simply use anywhere you would use commercial brand abrasive. You can make a pretty fabulous cleaning paste by mixing together a paste of borax and natural liquid soap.
  • Distilled White Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Plant-based liquid soap (with no fragrance)
  • Lemons
  • Olive Oil

Eating

The food choices you make every day can help to create a greener kitchen for you and your loved ones. One of the most profound changes you can make is to begin to educate yourself about what you are REALLY eating on a daily basis. The best tool you have to create a green healthy eating life is to read the labels on everything you buy and to choose more things that don’t even have labels, other than those cute little stickers, i.e. fruits and veggies.

When it comes to buying produce, there is a coding system that is universally used in the industry to indicate whether an item has been grown organically, conventionally (read: with pesticides), or in a lab. Here are the codes you will find in all stores:

  • Organically grown food has five digits and starts with #9
  • Conventionally grown food always has four digits
  • Genetically grown food has five numbers and will start with the #8 or #3

To keep it simple, I always remember to look for the nine! And whether you choose organic or not, always remember to thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables with either a store bought natural produce wash or simply use a bit of plant based soap and wash any residue or dirt away before eating.

Storing

When it comes to storing food in our fridge or pantry, we have been taught over the years that plastic is the way to go. We’ve learned that the “burp” of the trusty Tupperware is what we need to watch for to keep foods fresh and healthy. Today, we know about some of the dangers of plastic when it comes to food storage. The two main words that have come to light are Phthalates and BPA.

Phthalates are a type of additive that is used to make plastic softer and more flexible. They are also found in a wide variety of other places like cosmetics and cleaning materials. They are even found in some foods like milk, meat and butter! There has been much controversy as to the safety of phthalates and its effect as an endocrine disruptor, especially in younger children.

Personally, I understand that we are exposed to so many toxins in our environment, and you may ask “does this REALLY make a difference”. Well, as the mother of a young child I am always looking for ways to reduce the toxic burden in my home and in our lives. Choosing to eliminate plastics is a simple way to create a cleaner, greener kitchen in my home.

BPA – Bisphenol A – is used to make plastics such as water bottles, food can lining and sports equipment. BPA, another endocrine disrupter has been linked to obesity, neurological issues, and because of its levels of estrogen levels, has even been linked to breast cancer, among other conditions.

Yes, this seems like a pretty bad situation. However there is good news. Choosing alternative storage is healthier and actually less expensive. Here are some great ways to eliminate Phthalates and BPA in your kitchen.

  • Choose stainless steel and glass containers – I like to keep glass jars from food products such as olive and pickle containers. These make wonderful storage containers for grains, nuts and anything else you can think of. I even use an apple sauce jar for my daily green smoothie on the go.
  • Mason jars make great cups and storage jars.
  • There are non-leaching PBA free plastic alternatives showing up at markets around the country due to high demand. If your store doesn’t carry one, make sure to let the manager know you are interested.

What are some ways you are “greening” your kitchen?

(Photo: elanaspantry)

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39 Responses to “3 Easy Steps to a Greener Kitchen”

  1. Jessica says:

    Great post. Wondering what your thoughts are regarding the organic cleaning brands such as Seventh Generation or some of the big brands’ organic lines. I’m a busy working mom of two and I don’t see myself making a paste of borax and soap to clean the kitchen. Any advice?

    • Elena Lipson says:

      Hi Jessica,

      I’m a mom as well and I know how hard it is to find time for such things. I’ve found that making a big batch in a large spray bottle lasts for at least 1-2 months. If borax is a bit too much for you…then here is an easy recipe I just found that I have also used.

      2 cups of water
      1 1/2 to 3 teaspoons of liquid castile soap
      1 tsp tea tree oil
      re-purpose spray bottle

      This is perfect for any surface – and should still be kept away from little ones as the tea tree oil is pretty powerful & will hurt in eyes & sometimes irritate skin. But it cleans really well without the added chemicals.

      Enjoy!

  2. Great tips. Making your own cleaning products just makes much more sense and it way more cost effective than the expensive ones you buy at the store. My two favorite cleaning ingredients have to be baking soda and vinegar. They are so versatile and will clean just about anything.

    • Shirley says:

      These two products are also my favorite stand bys.

      We live in an area with extremely hard water that leaves mineral deposits on everything, including the toilet bowl. Vinegar for cleaning these has been the safest thing I have found.

      Baking soda and a bit of water left standing overnight loosens burnt on food in a pot or pan.

  3. Carlos says:

    More fail from the EcoDiva!

    Borax is toxic! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax#Toxicity

    Also, just because a compound “is a naturally occurring compound” does not make it safe or green. Ammonia is also a naturally occuring compound!

    • Elena Lipson says:

      Carlos, Thank you for sharing this link. I did read it and still feel that Borax is much safer then other store bought cleaners.

      I don’t have to put vinegar in my eye to know that it will hurt and probably irritate my insides if ingested in large amounts. The same goes for tea tree oil, Dr. Bronners and many many other naturally found plant based products.

      I hope you choose to have a conversation next time instead of thinking I’ve failed. I am human and we are all learning. And I’m always open to learning from you.

      ~Cheers,
      Elena

  4. aua868s says:

    use large store bags as trash covers…saves plastic and also some bucks!

  5. Marjorie says:

    I’m trying to clean with more natural products, so this article will come in handy. Thanks!

  6. jsbrendog says:

    interesting to know about the fruit. i had no idea about the numbered coding system.

  7. Chris says:

    Vinegar does wonders on my floors!

  8. ziglet19 says:

    What sort of cleaning do you do with olive oil? We have been using vineager and baking soda. Great article by the way!

    • Shirley says:

      I know that it (any vegetable oil) gets under and loosens gum in hair (5 kids as proof) and will also remove unwanted labels and the adhesive underneath them on glass, plastic, metal or sealed wood.

      • Chris says:

        I will try this on some jars tonight that I have struggled to get the glue off of.
        Thanks

      • ziglet19 says:

        Awesome! I have used goo gone in the past for getting of labels and adhesive, but would really prefer to use something a little more natural (and less smelly)! Thanks.

    • Laura says:

      To clean wood cabinets (I have pine cabinets in kitchen) or any finished wooden furniture mix 1TBS olive oil, 1TBS lemon juice in 2 cups warm water. Wipe it on with any rag and lightly polish with a microfiber towel. I use this instead of furniture polish now.

  9. Laura says:

    I buy spices in bulk from online retailers and store them in mason jars or recycled pickle/relish/whatever glass jars. I save a ton of money plus there is less packaging and I’m recycling old jars.

    • Shirley says:

      I buy dry food (beans, pastas, rice, flour, sugar) in large packages or in bulk and then store them in one gallon glass jars on a shelf in the pantry. Because the jars are sealed, the food stays fresher and there’s no chance of weavils.

  10. Renee says:

    It’s enough for me to use glass jars that I have just to keep from having to find the darned lids for those plastic deals. Any suggestions for packing a lunch for my husband instead of using glass that might break?
    I’m looking into more organic options for using on my plants instead of the chemicals that are harmful to the environment as well.
    Thanks

    • ziglet19 says:

      If it’s sandwichs you are packing, I’ve seen reusable fabric bags that could take the place of ziploc bags. If it’s a cassorole or something though, I don’t know. Maybe there’s a stainless steel container that might work?

    • Elena Lipson says:

      Hi Renee,

      Here are some of my favorite stainless steel lunch containers. The funny thing is, they’ve been around in Asia and EU for ages…

      http://www.to-goware.com/store/cart.php?m=product_list&c=4

      Thanks so much for your comment and question.

      Elena

      • Renee says:

        Elena, Thank you, those are exactly the kind of containers I would need. I just wonder why we don’t find anything close to this in the U.S on a regular basis.
        Renee

  11. Keith Morris says:

    My wife and I have a water bubbler in our apartment (like the ones you see in offices). It costs $2 to refill our BPA-free 5 gallon jug, and keeps plastic water bottles out of the landfill.

    • jsbrendog says:

      i was thinking of getting somethig like this. where did you get yours?

    • Chris says:

      Do you fill your own or buy full jugs?

      • Shirley says:

        We fill our own at the kiosk outside the grocery store for 25 cents per gallon. That price is unbeatable.

        Using that water in our coffeepot (instead of our very hard tap water) saves buying a new coffeepot every six months… and that was with cleaning them with vinegar twice a month!

    • Renee says:

      What about using the water dispenser from the fridge door if you have one? I use that water for everything. Granted I have to change the filter ever so often. Too I don’t know what part of the country you live in and I know in some areas the water is awful!!!

  12. Grove Girl says:

    great tips – thanks!

    another tip ~ we use plastic dry cleaning covers for many things – just tie a knot on one end and they can be used as trash can liners, poopie bags, covers for large holiday decorations, great for dirty laundry when travelling overnight, etc.

  13. eric says:

    BPA-free water bottle for the win! :)

    • Elena Lipson says:

      Absolutely! There is more awareness and therefore more BPA-free alternatives. I’ve stares using my glass jars for smoothies, leftovers, even freezing stock (just leave room for expansion!!)

      I can’t wait to hear more amazing ideas.

      Thanks!

  14. manny says:

    Great article
    I also believe that when it comes to selling your property, the kitchen is probably the most important room of all. Modern families spend much of their time in this area: cooking, eating, working and playing. Whether you update the existing space or undertake more major work – knocking down walls to create an open-plan space, for example – transforming your kitchen will pay off

  15. Wilma says:

    Love my glass gallon jars and mason jars for food storage. Also keep other multi size glass jars for spices, herbs etc. Slowly getting rid of my plastics and tephlon coated pots and pans. I go to an open air farmers market and flea market. Some of the venders have come to recognize me and have been finding stuff I’m looking for.

    I’m trying to stay away from the microwave as well. Gave mine away several years ago. It makes it hard to pack a lunch for work though. Sandwiches and salads are my main choices. Try to bring fruits for snacks. Those dang snack machines call me constantly.

    My next thing on the agenda is to start experimenting with greener cleaning products. While as Carlos has pointed out that Borax is toxic too, I’m sure it’s better for you then the store bought cleaners. A lot of them have vapors. I have sinus and lung issues so I clean as little as possible. Always with exhaust fans on and or open windows when nicer weather is around. Luckily dish soap is a friendly helper. Vinegar and baking soda are going to be experimented with for sure. Thank you for your suggestions. Much appreciated. =)


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