U.S. consumers are constantly encouraged to do their part to help protect the environment – and for good reason. Americans, on average, use more energy, have larger carbon footprints, and buy more stuff in general than most of the rest of the world. So making the decision to be more sustainable or “green” when you can is certainly the ethical one. Acting sustainably, though, can also save you money.
Keeping ourselves fed creates a surprising number of environmental problems. And what goes on in our kitchen – from wasted food to the discarding of useful food containers – can be unnecessarily expensive. Here are just a few of the ways that helping the planet can help your wallet, too, with a focus on the kitchen.
Food waste is a massive environmental issue. Not only does it drain all of the energy and resources that go into producing and transporting our food, the waste itself also releases methane when it ends up in landfills.
In fact, the USDA estimates that a whopping 30-40% of all food in the food supply gets wasted! This is obviously bad for the earth; it’s also bad for our budgets. If even a smaller fraction of the food you purchase or make is wasted – let’s say 25% – the money that you spent on those groceries is wasted, too. But a few simple steps can help reduce your food waste and save you money.
A surprising amount of food is wasted just because of improper or insufficient storage. Different types of food require different storage conditions. Some fruits and vegetables are best stored in containers filled with water. This is a great trick for citrus, such as lemons and limes. Both fruits continue to lose moisture over time, and keeping them in water helps combat the moisture loss and allows these fruits to stay fresh for longer – as long as several months! Some vegetables, like cut celery or carrots, can also be stored in water. These veggies won’t necessarily last longer in water, but they will avoid the sogginess that causes so many of us to toss our food out preemptively.
Other veggies, like greens, don’t go bad because of lack of moisture, but for the opposite reason: too much of it. Because of this, leafy greens such as lettuce, arugula, and spinach are best stored in airtight containers with a small piece of paper towel in them. The paper towel will help capture unwanted moisture and prevent greens from wilting.
By prioritizing proper food storage, you can not only save money by getting the most out of your groceries that you’ve purchased, you can also buy fruits and vegetables in larger quantities, since they will be less likely to go bad. Doing so is often cheaper, and can also save you money in the long run!
While the above strategies can help you reduce your food waste (and save money in the process), a little food waste is nearly impossible to avoid. Some of this inevitably comes from the non-edible food scraps we produce all the time, like the skin of onions or the roots of celery. These parts of vegetables – as well as bones from meat and fish – can be frozen and saved to make broth or stock. Store-bought stock can be extremely expensive and far less tasty than stock made from scratch using food you’d throw out anyway.
Some foodstuff, unfortunately, is simply not edible. So what to do with the food waste that can’t be reused, like egg shells or coffee grounds? Luckily, you don’t need to live in a place with a city-wide composting program to successfully compost your food scraps. And if you grow any plants outdoors, composting will save you money while helping the planet.
Composting is an extremely effective way to turn food scraps into free, nutrient-dense soil. Compost not only sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, it also can cut the cost of garden maintenance by improving plant growth without pesticides or fertilizers! To compost, simply put food scraps into a bin where they will decompose over time. There are different composting techniques, which require slightly different levels of maintenance. However, basic “cold” composting – which requires nothing but your food scraps and a bin to store them in while they decompose – is extremely simple and still creates exceptional soil.
Tight on space in your apartment? You can safely and conveniently store your food waste in a container in the freezer to keep it from smelling in your kitchen before you get it to a composting bin!
Most of us are familiar with the “reduce, reuse, recycle” refrain. But beyond dumping our plastics and paper products into recycling bins, this phrase has lost meaning in our daily lives. This is a big shame, because actually reducing the amount of new items you purchase, and reusing the ones you have can help you tighten your monthly budget.
Many kitchen products can be easily and safely reused. Any glass jar that you purchase food products in – a pasta sauce or jar of olives, for example – can be washed and reused instead of recycled. Glass jars can be used for a wide range of household projects, from preserving sauces and quick-pickling garden veggies to crafting homemade gifts such as homemade candles or tissue dispensers. Instead of spending another $15 on a case of new mason jars, upcycle the ones you already have!
Glass jars aren’t the only food containers worth saving. A number of plastic containers that you will inevitably acquire at the grocery store – such as those that contain greek yogurt, for example – can be reused as tupperware. They can even be used to store other small household items, from the batteries let loose in that pesky catch-all kitchen drawer to nuts or dried fruit in the pantry. As long as the plastic meets FDA requirements for safe food storage, you’re good to go!