If your kitchen is like most, you have at least a few products that have alternatives that are either better for you and your family or better for our environment.
The way we run our kitchens has an impact in two ways:
On Us: Toxins are everywhere in the kitchen, from the cleaners we use, to bacteria on produce. The cookware we use can also contribute to a kitchen that's less than ideal when it comes to a conscious and toxin-free home.
On Our Planet: A lot of waste comes from the kitchen of most homes. Plastic packaging is common for products, and every day, millions of Americans come home from the grocery store with plastic shopping bags in hand. Plastic Ziploc bags are a staple in most homes, but they contribute to tons of plastic waste in landfills every year.
From cleaners with harsh chemicals to plastic bags, here's a quick guide to creating a more conscious and toxin-free kitchen.
These common kitchen items are all things you can look at in your own home and consider swapping out for more conscious alternatives. For each item, we have solutions for conscious swaps you can make today.
Plastic straws should be a thing of the past. Not only are they single-use plastics, but worldwide we use close to 57 million straws every day. All of that plastic ends up in the landfill, or in our oceans, where it has an untold impact on our aquatic life.
The solution: Stainless steel straws. They come in all shapes and sizes, from skinny ones for soft drinks, to bigger ones perfect for smoothies.
Watch out for: Glass straws and bamboo straws. Glass straws might seem like a great, conscious option, but they come at a risk of small glass pieces breaking off in your drink. Bamboo straws aren't risky, but they alter the taste of the drink, and they're hard to clean. They're also ultimately going to end up in the landfill.
Shopping & Produce Bags
Those plastic throwaway bags from the grocery store make up a lot of waste. Thankfully, governments around the world are beginning to ban them, but nevertheless Americans throw away nearly 10 billion plastic bags every year. Produce bags are another culprit, and they're an item we simply don't need to use because of more conscious alternatives.
The solution: Reusable shopping bags are a great, zero-waste alternative. They come in a variety of sizes and materials, from insulated bags great for cold foods, to chic muslin totes that look super stylish. You can also find similar alternatives for produce bags, too.
Sandwich / Snack / Ziploc Bags
Ziploc bags are a single-use plastic that's simple to remove from your kitchen on your conscious living journey. Some people try to wash and reuse ziploc bags, but ultimately, they're just not reusable and contribute to the large amount of plastic waste we produce every year.
The solution: Silicone ziploc alternatives are an excellent way to remove plastic ziploc bags from your home. They're hand-washable (don't put them in the dishwasher), can be reused over and over again, and are super convenient to use.
That big brand dish soap near your kitchen sink is more full of harsh ingredients than you probably realize. From synthetic dyes and fragrances, to toxic antibacterial chemicals and much more, traditional dish soaps have no place in a conscious kitchen.
The solution: A clean dish soap without these harsh ingredients is key.
Are you using Teflon-coated cookware? Polytetrafluoroethylene (PFTE) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are chemicals found in Teflon cookware that can be ingested or inhaled if heated too high. There have even been recorded cases of pet birds suddenly dying because of Teflon released into the home due to high-heat cooking.
The solution: Instead, stainless steel, cast iron and ceramic cookware is a great alternative.
We cut down a lot of trees to make paper towels, and even recycled paper towels use a lot of water and energy to produce.
The solution: Try using old clothes as rags to mop up spills, bamboo paper towels, Swedish dishcloths, and reusuable "unpaper" towels that can go on your paper towel holder, but are made from cotton.
Many cutting boards are made out of plastic, which can have hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA. Not only that, but plastic cutting boards tend to accumulate bacteria much more easily than their wooden counterparts. Putting a plastic cutting board in the dishwasher or cleaning it with hot water can make matters worse, because this makes the chemicals in the plastic easier
The solution: Try a bamboo or wooden cutting board.
Vegetable oils may be cheap, but they're highly processed and not good for our health. Expeller-pressed oils use a mechanical process that extracts oils under high pressure and heat
The solution: There are better, more nutritious oils you can cook with that include:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Hemp oil
- Flax oil
- Chia oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
Watch out for: Don't assume that an expensive oil is cold-pressed. Also, watch out for terms on the label like "cold-pressed first"—if you look at the actual ingredients, it might actually list "refined oil".
Municipal water supplies contain chlorine as a disinfectant. Chlorine is known to disrupt our gut flora, and may have other risks too, like cancer. Moving away from drinking tap water is a good idea for a more conscious kitchen.
The solution: Filter.
Watch out for: Bottled plastic water isn't a conscious alternative to drinking tap water. Plastic water bottles account for massive amounts of waste, and most bottled water is simply filtered and repackaged water from the municipal supply.
Herbs and Spices
The spice rack is easy to forget when switching to a conscious lifestyle—but it's an important one. Non-organic spices can be filled with things like GMO ingredients, pesticide residues, fillers, artificial colors and preservatives.
What's worse is that traditional spices undergo a sterilization process that uses chemicals—and sometimes even radiation—to kill bacteria, insects, mold, yeasts and other pathogens.
The solution: Make the swap to organic herbs and spices. Not only do they avoid these issues, but because they don't have fillers and are typically more fresh, the lack of fillers will make the flavor better, too.
After making the swap to organic spices, be sure to keep them in a sealed, air-tight container out of direct sunlight and heat. This will help maintain the flavors (and shelf life) of your new, expensive herbs and spices.
New Conscious Practices For the Kitchen
Along with swapping out kitchen items for more conscious alternatives, the following practices are a great addition to a conscious home.
Ventilate While Cooking
Do you have a gas stove? If so, proper venting is crucial to maintain a safe kitchen. Research has shown that homes that use gas burners without proper venting can have high levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Even if you have an electric oven, you're not quite in the clear. Cooking on any stove top will result in fine particulate matter in the air. Smoke, steam, airborne particles and odors can irritate the eyes or cause lung issues.
The solution: Turn on the range hood every time you cook on the stove. If you don't have a range hood, open the windows or use a fan. You can even go the splurge route and invest in a quality air purifier for the kitchen. This won't eliminate the need to keep the room well ventilated, however.
Try to Microwave Less
While completely getting rid of the microwave is a daunting prospect for most, using it less is something everyone can do. Microwaves do emit a small amount of radiation, and there are federal guidelines on how much radiation they're allowed to leak.
There's also evidence that microwaves reduce the nutrients in food. Slowly heating food, on the other hand, kills some nutrients as well, but not nearly as much as the rapid cooking that happens in a microwave.
The solution: An oven (or airfryer) and stove-top skillet can replace 99% of the functionality of a microwave, although it's less convenient. Wet foods (sauces, soups, casseroles) work best on the stove, and dry things tend to work best in an oven or airfryer.
Wash Produce Well
Even if you don't plan on eating the peel, properly washing and scrubbing your produce is key. Raw fruits and veggies can sometimes contain harmful bacteria that can make you sick, like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.
Some simple rules to follow are:
- Wash your hands before and after handling produce.
- Rinse produce before peeling, so you don't transfer bacteria onto the knife, and then onto the parts of the fruit or veggie you'll eat.
- Gently rub produce under running water.
- For firmer produce like melons and potatoes, use a vegetable brush.
- Use a clean cloth or paper towel to dry the produce, further eliminating the risk of bacterial growth.
- If eating lettuce or cabbage, remove the outermost layers.
Even making a single one of these changes in your own kitchen can get the ball rolling with creating a more conscious home. As soon as you start making swaps, you'll be surprised at how the momentum builds, and it becomes even more fun and rewarding to create the non-toxic and conscious home that's perfect for you.