On June 15, The New York Times ran an article titled That Buzz in Your Ear May Be Green Noise by Alex Williams about the confusing and often contradictory “green” messages that are found everywhere from food packages, to billboards, to, ahem, blogs like this. Consumers are confused. Myself included.
My husband and I just bought our first home, and although it’s been exciting, it has also been stressful trying to navigate among our commitment to sustainability, our strict budget (which we’ve seen fly out the window faster than spawning salmon), and different notions of what it means to go green. Take our beloved new kitchen, one of the smallest but most energy guzzling rooms in the house. The existing appliances are outdated, but while I’d love gleaming new energy-efficient models (not that we could presently afford them), would the energy saved in their daily use offset the energy that went into the making of them, the transporting of them, and, most importantly, the discarding of the old appliances, which work just fine? Is the gas stove that burns fossil fuel more or less damaging than an electric stove that relies on coal-burning power plants? What about the old banged up pots and pans that we want to get rid of, not to mention the Tupperware that has been collecting dust but that our recycling service won’t pick up? From the appliances to the paint down to the lighting and trim, there are hundreds of choices that have to be made, and not all of them are black or white, in the green sense.
The article from The Times goes on to say that in the face of all the “green noise,” experts from organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace are simplifying and prioritizing their messages so as to not overwhelm consumers.
Aha. What I needed to do was prioritize. Going green is a spectrum rather than a definitive solution, made up of increments of change. Rather than become overwhelmed with the amount of information and choices at hand, I’ve come up with 3 simple strategies to help us focus on greening our kitchen in a way that’s feasible and straightforward. It’s an ongoing list, and one that that can be expanded in time. But for now, it’s a manageable, and even enjoyable, path. Clearing a trail through our mountain of boxes, on the other hand… now that’s another story.
1. It starts with the food.
- Buy mostly seasonal and local foods.
- Buy as few packaged products as possible (packaging means energy and resource consumption).
- When suitable, buy in bulk to reduce packaging.
- Opt for organic and biodynamic whenever available.
- Buy food directly from farmers.
- Plant a small garden.
- Spend a decent portion of income on good food (think of food as a healthcare and environmental protection plan).
- Take time to make delicious meals and eat well.
2. Don’t throw it away.
- Start a compost pile for food scraps.
- Freeze leftovers or reuse them in new dishes.
- Reuse glass jars and storage containers.
- Use reusable canvas bags at the market.
- Give away, donate or sell old furniture, cookware and dishes.
3. Go for used, recycled, and/or energy efficient whenever possible.
- Look to flea markets, tag sales, Craig’s List, etc. for unique used furniture, dishes and even appliances.
- When buying cookware, shop for things that will last a lifetime, such as cast iron and stainless steel pans, quality utensils, and good knives.
- Use reclaimed regenerative materials for renovation projects whenever possible.
- Buy recycled home products and energy efficient lightbulbs.
- Use environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaning products, such as a simple vinegar solutions or plant-based detergents.