15 Easy Swaps You Can Make Right Now for an Eco-Friendly Kitchen
How to make your home more sustainable, one room at a time.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:30 AM
No one actively tries not to recycle. Given the choice between an environmentally conscious product and its regular alternative, most people would probably choose the former. So why aren’t eco-friendly and sustainable products more mainstream, and why are they still not seen as the default option?
The answer is twofold: One, there’s the idea that “sustainable” means “expensive.” The descriptor brings to mind visions of $200 t-shirts, hand-sewn out of hemp seed by a village of artisans who were “discovered” by a 20-something Brooklynite on a yoga retreat in India. Two, there’s a misconception that it’s substantially trickier to find green alternatives to everyday products. This all may be true if you’re limiting your search to your local drugstore, but with so many options available online and so many cool new brands making sustainability their focus, it’s easier than ever to make eco-friendly decisions in your home.
This starts, as most things do, in the kitchen. The center of most homes and the room typically generating the most waste through washing, cleaning, and cooking, it’s a great place to start if you’re looking to make small changes to reduce your ecological footprint. General guidelines, like using real cutlery, glassware, and dinnerware instead of disposable options, composting your food scraps, and always opting for second-hand pieces over new buys where possible (be it a collection of vintage dinnerware or an assortment of glass jars DIY-ed out of old jam containers), are great to keep in mind, but if you’re looking to make some more tangible purchases right here, right now, keep reading.
Here are the easy swaps to make now in the name of a greener, cleaner, kitchen.
Ditch your regular towels for ones made out of recycled paper—the brand Seventh Generation is made sans inks, dyes, or fragrances. The brand is sold at Whole Foods, but you can also buy a 30-pack of jumbo rolls with 120 2-ply sheets per roll on Amazon for $82.37. Feel like ditching paper altogether? Washable, multi-use cloths may be more up your alley. These absorbent Clorox wipes start at just $12.79 for 72 cloths, each of which can be used up to 20 times. You can also just use old clothing rags to wipe down counters and clean your appliances. It won’t cost you a penny.
Plant-based sponges or sponges made from recycled materials are a thing. There’s a brand called Twist Clean, which does away with the ecologically harmful dyes and glues found in traditional cellulose sponges and instead uses 100 percent plant-based materials. A regular sponge is only $1.49 via the site (buy in bulk to reduce the environmental costs of shipping!) and they also offer a plethora of other cleaning tools, like a dish wand, if you want to completely overhaul your kitchen.
Cut out the plastic, and opt for boards made out of greener materials. A sleek wooden board not only looks significantly more stylish than a flimsy rubber option but is better for the environment. Try the Epicurian Cutting Boards, available in a range of sizes and prices, for a simple option made from eco-friendly natural wood fiber. Or, if something a little more playful is more your speed, American Heirloom has a range of eco-friendly bamboo boards crafted in the shape of states so you can pay homage to your region in style. Each board is naturally anti-microbial and can be engraved for further customization.
Not so much a swap as a food-saving essential your kitchen definitely needs: Our social media editor Alyssa swears by these for extending the shelf life of her fruits and vegetables. A set of four Faberware Food Huggers will only set you back $10, which is a great investment considering you’re saving money a) on plastic wrap and b) on buying new food because yours went bad prematurely and you had to toss it. Made from BPA-free silicone, these are a genius tool for reducing food waste.
Between paper cups and plastic lids, there’s a lot of waste happening daily at your local coffee shop. While some companies are taking the steps to go green (Starbucks famously announced earlier this summer that it was phasing out plastic straws), the most eco-friendly way to get your morning caffeine fix is by making coffee at home and bringing it with you. With several sleek options on the market right now (KeepCup Cork Reusable Cup, $28; Frank Green SmartCup, $29.95), you can swap your clunky thermos for a functional accessory.
Speaking of coffee, if a Keurig is your preferred means of caffeination, either switch to a different coffee-brewing method that’s less wasteful, or switch to reusable K-cups. A pack of four will cost you $10.85 on Amazon but you can also get a cool stainless steel version for $16.45 if you’re looking for something a little more high end. Don’t have a Keurig? Opt for a mesh coffee filter (Cuisinart Coffee Filter, $5.99) that you can rinse and reuse instead of paper filters.
At this point, this one is something of a no-brainer—but there are so many ways to approach eco-friendly straws these days that picking one can feel overwhelming. First, there’s the straw that looks and feels just like a plastic straw but is actually 100 percent biodegradable (and plant-based!). A bulk pack of 200 is $12 on Amazon. Then there’s the more style-driven option of stainless steel straws ($7.50 at Walmart)—these even come with a cleaning brush for ease of re-use.
But the most exciting option is one that isn’t even on the market yet (though you can follow the Kickstarter campaign to be notified when they’re available). From disposable glassware company Loliware comes the Lolistraw, a hyper compostable straw that’s entirely edible. That’s right: You can actually eat these straws after using them, making this purchase entirely zero waste. The future is here, and it’s encouraging you to eat your dinnerware.
Ditch the mounds of plastic in favor of glass or steel. The two materials look more high end AND are better for the environment. Packing lunch every day for school or work? Try a stainless steel sandwich box (Onyx 2-Layer Sandwich Box, $12) or an adjustable juco fabric bag (Life Without Plastic Sandwich Bag, $8.95). You can even get a 10-pack of rainbow-hued glass Tupperware from Amazon for $35.99—they’re microwave, dishwasher, and freezer safe, and BPA-free to boot. And if you need something bigger, go for something like this olivewood and glass container from Williams-Sonoma. It’ll make just as great a countertop accent piece as it will a functional pantry organizer.
Okay, this one isn’t exactly a quick and easy swap, but if you’re committed to making your kitchen eco-friendly it’s an option to consider. Ikea has made a real name for itself recently as a leader amongst big-box retailers in terms of sustainability, and one of the coolest products the Swedish company boasts is the Kungsbacka door, starting at $27. Sleek, modern, and perfect for those after the minimalist Scandi look, you’d never guess these cabinet fronts are made entirely from recycled materials. A combination of recycled wood and plastic foil made from recycled PET bottles is behind their genius design.
For frequent bakers, using parchment paper to line your baking sheets adds up. Switching to a reusable baking mat cuts down on waste, and since you only need to wipe down the mat after each use (versus spending time scrubbing pans), you save water as well. There are a lot of silicone mats out there, but you can get a pack of two on Amazon for around $10 that are made from FDA-approved, BPA-free, food grade silicone. Prep for your holiday baking early by adding these to your cart.
According to the EPA, “Cleaning products are released to the environment during normal use through evaporation of volatile components and rinsing down the drain of residual product from cleaned surfaces, sponges, etc… certain ingredients can present hazard concerns to exposed populations or toxicity to aquatic species.” Look for products that are low in VOCs, biodegradable, low toxicity, and feature a minimal amount of chemicals when possible. In addition to providing recyclable paper products, Seventh Generation also has a pretty stellar biodegradable, no-VOC all-purpose cleaner that retails for as low as $4 at local stores. Mrs. Meyers is another great option, as the ingredients in each cleaning product are at least 97 percent naturally derived. Get the lemon verbena option for a fresh clean scent; $10.99 will get you a combo pack of surface cleaner, dish soap, and hand soap.
Of course, there’s an even more eco-friendly way to clean your kitchen: Use ingredients you already have! For example, white vinegar is a holy grail item ideal for targeting some of those hard-to-clean fixtures like the fridge, your coffeemaker, or even the ceiling. Lemon is a natural bleach and deodorizer; shove the empty rinds down your dish disposal at the end of a clean up to give your sink a fresh scent. And baking soda, another deodorizer, doubles as a stain remover for kitchen linens.
A marker of real adulthood and truly having it together is owning real cloth napkins instead of relying on whatever leftovers came with your Chinese food takeaway. Textiles make for a more impressive tablescape, elevating even weeknight dinners, and cut down on paper waste in the process. Go for a budget-friendly option (H&M Linen Blend Napkin, $5.99) or splurge on something a little more luxe (Once Milano Linen Napkin Set, $63).
Don’t use ’em—simple as that. If you live somewhere where the tap water is safe to drink, keep a carafe permanently filled in the fridge. Think of it as a functional decor piece, and invest in one that’s aesthetically pleasing so you actually remember to pull it out and use it. We love this cool lab-like pitcher (Hawkins New York Recycled Glass Pitcher, $32), this detailed stoneware option (Anthropologie Megara Pitcher, $48), and this simple yet retro inexpensive piece (Target Glass Bistro Pitcher, $6.64).
If you’re wary of tap water, a filter pitcher is the way to go. Domino’s digital photo editor Lahaina cites the Soma 10-cup pitcher as her go-to. “I was using a hand-me-down Brita pitcher for longer than I’d like to admit and it always felt like a pain to make sure to remember to buy new filters,” she says. “The real element that sold me [on Soma] is their commitment to sustainability. Also, once you hit subscribe, a filter just shows up.” Comprised of BPA-free plastic, a sustainable bamboo wooden handle, and even a filter made from 65 percent renewable materials, Soma is far and beyond the best eco-friendly filter pitcher on the market. It helps that it’s chic, too.
Pots and Pans
Not to get all, “your cookware may kill you” here, but you need to get rid of your non-stick pans—if not for the environment, for your health. Most non-stick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (AKA Teflon), which is made using Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), which in turn is a suspected carcinogenic. A 2001 report suggests that Teflon may be responsible for an increase in long-lived environmental contaminants—plus, non-stick Teflon pans degrade faster, which means you need to replace them more frequently. The toll of doing so is both an environmental and financial one.
Instead, swap them out for cast iron or stainless steel, both of which can last a lifetime with proper care. Invest in a stainless steel set (Cuisinart 10-Piece Cookware Set, $400) if you can. For cast iron, Le Creuset is a perennial favorite, constantly coming out with fun and colorful new collections; but as those products are unfortunately pretty pricey, you might want to start building your long-lasting cookware collection slowly. Ease into it with a set of three cast iron frying pans—$100 from Williams Sonoma. They’re oven-safe, so you’ll get even more use out of them.
This goes for any room of the house, but why not start with the kitchen? LED lighting is the way to go for energy-efficient light bulbs—according to the Department of Energy, residential LEDs use at least 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting. Tala, a London-based sustainable lighting studio, has created some of the most design-forward eco-friendly lighting options. Browse their site to find some luxe-looking pendants for your kitchen island, and feel good about it in the process: For every 200 bulbs sold, Tala will plant ten trees as part of its reforestation program (which has currently contributed 18,000 new trees to the US and the UK).
Not quite the price point you were hoping for? Luckily, Ikea also makes affordable LED lighting—whether you just want to switch out your bulbs or get a new fixture altogether. Read all about the company’s commitment to sustainable energy here.
See more sustainable companies we’re loving: You’d Never Guess These Stylish Products Are Actually Recyclable Ikea Promises to Become More Affordable Than Ever by 2030 How One Design Company Is Proving It’s Cool to Be Eco-Friendly
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