How Green Is Your Family's Household?
Written by Tracy Brennan
The Kitchen: Green Appliance Envy
When you walk into your kitchen, what do you notice?
a. A refrigerator that would pass a white-glove test with flying colors
b. A fully loaded dishwasher running
c. A dishwasher using the heated drying option
d. Drawers and cabinets overflowing with non-reusable storage items
e. A roll of paper towels
Fridge maintenance 101. In the United States, over 20% of our total energy consumption is residential, and the refrigerator is the appliance that sucks the most energy of all. If you have ever pulled out your refrigerator and noticed all of those condenser coils coated with dust, you've spotted the chief energy-sapping culprit. Though installing a smaller Energy Star model is ideal for going green, when you can’t afford a new refrigerator, maintaining your old energy hog by cleaning off the coils once a month will save so much energy.
Best Appliance Tips for Families:
Temperature settings. Make sure that your refrigerator is set between 35 F and 38 F and the freezer is at 0 F. This will help to improve efficiency.
Seals. Check that the seals on your refrigerator are tight. If a piece of paper can’t stay in place when closed in the door of your refrigerator, it’s time to replace it.
Cover food. Excess moisture inside of the refrigerator increases energy use, so make a practice of covering and containing food.
Dishwasher usage. Your dishwasher can have a sizable energy impact if it is not used wisely and efficiently. And don't assume washing dishes by hand is the more meritorious choice — energy-efficient dishwashers use about 15 gallons of water to run a full wash cycle, while a more inefficient human uses about five gallons of water per minute washing dishes in the sink.
Wash smart. No need to pre-rinse your dishes by hand — doing so wastes as much as 20 gallons of water according to Energy Star, and is not necessary given modern dishwashers and detergents can handle the job. Only run the dishwasher if it is full, and do not use the heated dry option.
Air drying. To speed up the air-drying process, simply open up the dishwasher when the wash cycle is done.
Green clean machine. When the inevitable happens, and you need a replacement dishwasher, make sure to only purchase one with an Energy Star label. When you step onto the appliance showroom floor make sure to evaluate the Energy Star details provided so you will be assured you have the most energy-efficient model available that matches your needs. While more expensive, Energy Star appliances are worth it, banking plenty of annual savings in water and electricity bills.
Ditch all that non-reusable storage. Not only do plastic bags, aluminum foil and the like produce an exorbitant amount of waste, they are often made from fossil fuels in factories that produce carbon dioxide, which is a major cause of pollutants in the air. Invest in the wide variety of green-minded products available today, from reusable snack and sandwich bags to fun bento lunch boxes for children and adults alike.
Best Tips for Families:
In praise of leftovers. Sure, last night's stew may not seem like the sexiest lunch, but reheating your home-cooked leftovers is a great way to avoid buying processed and packaged food of unknown provenance (think about it...) and save money. Americans on average spend a full half of their food budget on meals made outside the home.
Pack it in, pack it out. Check out Global Stewards tips for packing a waste-free sustainable lunch. Make it a learning experience for the kids by teaching them about how 600,000 tons of aluminum foil are produced each year, requiring massive amounts of energy. The Global Stewards site is jam-packed with fascinating factoids and tips.
Sturdy storage. Though it can be pricey, look into purchasing sustainable food storage products. Yes, you get a lot of use out of those plastic reusable containers, but after awhile, they wear out and you end up throwing them away, only to replace them with new ones and perpetuating the cycle of waste. From stainless steel to glass to ceramic, there are a wide variety of stylish and sustainable storables to choose from.
Wrap it up. "Old school" wrappings for your lunchables, including wax paper, butcher paper, or napkins are preferable to using plastic wrap and aluminum. The process of mining and producing aluminum is extremely resource-intensive, though it is essentially 100% recyclable (a good thing) and doesn't degrade as quickly as plastic. Grist.org shares this mind-boggler: Americans throw away (read: don't recycle) enough aluminum foil in three months to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet.
Ditch the paper towels. Paper towels, like all that non-reusable storage, produces waste and takes energy to produce. The best option for cleanup is to use cloth towels. If you’re on the fence, Good Girl Gone Green informs us that when paper towels litter landfills, methane gas is produced. And consider these staggering stats: It takes 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water to produce one ton of paper towels.
If you are unsure that you can commit to using cloth towels and napkins, forgoing the convenience of paper products, there are a variety of ways you still can make a smaller environmental impact. You can choose to only purchase recycled paper products for the kitchen, or you can look into a hybrid of sorts, with Skoy Paper Towel Replacement — a four-pack of the product replaces 60 paper towels, and is also compostable, washable, and toxic-free.