Updated: Oct 27
I always get giddy excited once April arrives because the days get longer, trees start blooming, morning walks include a warm breeze, and it's officially time to celebrate Mother Earth. While supporting the planet daily is ideal, sometimes it's easy to lose sight of daily habits and how those habits are impacting the planet given the busyness of life. Thanks to Gaylord Nelson, the father of Earth Day, which is celebrated on April 22, the planet is always top of mind in April and an opportunity to create new sustainable heathy habits for both humans and the planet.
Earth Day has an interesting history. It was initially discussed in 1969, before the Environmental Protection Agency was formed and at a time when there was limited protection for our air and water. It was during a time when industries were polluting without much repercussion. Thankfully, there were some individuals rallying to make changes, including Gaylord Nelson, Governor of Wisconsin who served as Governor for two terms before entering the US Senate for 18 years where he made the environment center stage and earned the title, "The Conservation Governor."
Senator Nelson saw an opportunity through "teach-ins," which was a successful national college movement protesting the Vietnam War. He drew on that success and energy to raise public awareness about the environment, calling Americans together to rally for the planet in spring 1970. He was met by enormous enthusiasm. Senator Nelson created a steering committee that included scientists, academics, students, and environmentalists and hired his intern who assembled a staff of 85 people to promote events nationwide. Since there were unique environmental issues in each community across the country, Nelson encouraged communities to take action in whichever ways support their individual communities best. On April 22, 1970, Americans marched the streets in support of a healthy, sustainable environment. It's estimated that 20 million people, from 10,000 elementary and high schools, 2,000 colleges, and over 1,000 communities participated that day — that's incredibly impressive since it was during a time when there was no internet, cell phones, or fax machines!
Since Nelson's initiative, giving individuals an opportunity to assess what can be done in their communities and take action, Earth Day has become a time to reflect on how each of us can make an impact in our own lives. Whether it's creating an eco-friendly home through reusing, recycling, and reducing waste (and minimizing new purchases); engaging in cleanups in your neighborhood, local park or beach; biking more and driving less; or simply starting eco-friendly practices in one room, like your kitchen, to determine how you can be more environmentally conscious, every individual step can make a big impact!
Below are 15 ways to support Mother Earth and your own health in your kitchen.
1. Properly store fruits and veggies. There's nothing worse than going to the store to get fresh produce, only to have it go bad in a day or two. This can especially be the case for fresh herbs. To prevent waste, which is no good for the planet, your health (you lose out on those important nutrients!), or your wallet, store fresh veggies, fruits, and herbs in a way that preserves their freshness and nutritional value. Check out our article, 20 Ways to Reduce Kitchen Waste to learn how to best store produce.
2. Shop local and seasonal. Not only do you support local or regional business when you purchase close to home, but you also help the planet and get boatloads more nutrition. It probably goes without saying, but when produce doesn't have to travel far, carbon footprint is reduced. Also, the longer produce sits on a truck in transportation or on grocery store shelves, the more nutrition and flavor that is lost. Look for local Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers markets, or grow your own!
3. Grown your own veggies and herbs. Speaking of growing your own produce, did you know that there are lots of plants that grow well inside? Find a space that gets plenty of sunlight, whether it's your kitchen or windowsill, and start growing. For a quick growing guide, visit our article, 10 Easy to Grow Vegetables and Herbs (Indoor or Outdoor). Growing your own food is not only food for the soul, as well as for your belly, but it's often more nutritious. Plus, it means less trips to the grocery store, reducing your carbon and packaging footprint.
4. Purchase organic whenever possible. While organic produce can oftentimes be more expensive than conventional produce (really hoping that changes in the near future!), it's important to understand what you're supporting with your dollar. If purchasing organic fits in your budget, go for it! Choosing organic produce is better for your health since synthetic pesticides and insecticides that are used in conventional farming have been shown to disrupt hormones, cause cancer, and lead to nervous system issues. But organic goes way beyond health! Organic farming results in greater biodiversity (better for the soil, the planet and humans). Organic production systems do not use genetically modified seed, synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, which supports healthy soil, robust ecosystems, and cleaner waterways and air. From the Organic Farming Research Foundation, "Organic farming is agriculture that makes healthy food, healthy soils, healthy plants, and healthy environments a priority, along with crop productivity."
5. Compost or reuse your scraps. When we send organic matter like food waste to landfills it gets tightly compacted and suffocates. This causes it to release potent gases like methane as it decomposes, which equates to approximately 7% of greenhouse gas emissions created. Composting allows food and organic matter to decompose in the presence of air. In turn, this means that these organics don’t release greenhouse gas—and that is just one of the many benefits that composting provides. Get the full scoop on the benefits of composting and a quick start guide on how to compost here.
6. Eat more plants. If you follow the purely planted blog, then you probably hear me saying this in your sleep (ha, sorry!). It's true. Filling your plate with mostly plants can do wonders for the planet. Learn more about how plant-based or plant-forward eating can significantly help the planet.
7. Reuse old condiment jars. One thing I personally love doing, because it reduces waste and saves money, is reuse old condiment jars for storage. It's best to do this with glass jars since glass is toxin free, unlike plastic. Glass pickle and nut butter jars or dressing bottles can be used for your own homemade dressings or, in the case of jars, overnight oats! Just be sure to wash the jars thoroughly before reusing them so you don't end up with pickle flavored overnight oats.
8. Use environmentally safe dish soap and detergent. Traditional detergent can come with plastic pods and may contain chlorine, artificial colorants or dyes, phosphates, or phthalates. Consider using plastic-free detergent made with natural minerals that are better for the health of you and the planet. And, yes, they work!
9. Learn what you can recycle locally. You may already know what you can and can't recycle, but many people (including my husband!) practice "toss and pray." They toss everything into recycling and pray some or most of it gets recycled. While the intentions are good, if recycling isn't clean or if it's housed with what's considered trash, it may end up in the landfill. Every local recycling program is different. Visit your local recycling website to learn what's accepted and what's not accepted.
10. Participate in recycling programs for food plastic packaging. There are different programs for stretchy plastic and plastic that doesn't stretch. Examples of stretchy plastic include grocery store bags or most frozen veggie packaging — the bags stretch when you pull on them. Examples of non-stretchy plastic packaging include the plastic bags that hold cereal inside cereal boxes, a bag of rice, or the plastic packaging that holds pasta. Hefty ReNew Program and Terra Cycle both offer excellent programs that accept this type of packaging. Personally, I rinse out all of my plastic packaging and keep it in a hefty bag in a closet so it's tucked away until I'm ready to send it off to be recycled. Easy-peasy and you end up avoiding so many plastic bags that would otherwise end up in the landfill.
11. Use bamboo or other wooden cutting boards. Plastic cutting boards may contain chemicals, like phthalates, DEHA and bisphenols, that disrupt hormones. A better option is a pure wood cutting board, like maple, walnut, cherry, beech, or teak wood cutting boards.
12. Use environmentally safe cookware. Nonstick coatings might be convenient for cooking but they wreak havoc on our health and the health of the planet. "Forever" chemicals like PFAs, PFOAs and PTFEs have been shown to cause cancer, hormonal imbalances, thyroid issues, and exacerbate asthma symptoms…and that’s just what’s been studied. One headline recently read “Rainwater everywhere on Earth unsafe to drink due to ‘forever chemicals’, study finds.” This is much in part due to the chemicals caused by non-stick coatings which, once released into the air, never disappear. Every time these pans are heated they release particles into air that are bad for our health and the health of the planet. Then we eat the food that’s been cooked on them! Admittedly, I was a nonstick girl for years until I learned about the harmful effects. I couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. But cookware can be super expensive so to replace everything can be a challenge. One suggestion is to buy a small set of safe nontoxic cookware that includes cookware you think you’ll use most often. For example, we started with just one saucepan, one large pot and one large stovetop pan. Then it’s slowly grown over the years as we were able to add more. Safe materials for you, your family, and the planet include stainless steel, ceramic (look for PFA, PFOA, and PTFE free), or cast iron.
13. Create a catch-all bin for the fridge. Have you ever made a recipe that left you with just one small piece of carrot or ginger or onion? Keep a container in your fridge that catches all pieces of produce so they don't go to waste. Use these pieces in soups, stir fries, or salads. Or, make soup broth by adding all of them to a large soup pot filled with water; boil then simmer for about an hour; then strain the broth into your reusable condiment jars! You'll have nutritious homemade broth and avoid packaging by not having to purchase store bought broth.
14. Use produce bags at the grocery store. Anything with skin doesn't need a produce bag, like avocados and bananas. For other produce items where you consume the skin, use reusable bags. They're fun to use and eliminate the need for stretchy plastic that may not be recyclable in your neighborhood.
15. Do a plastic audit in your kitchen. What's in your kitchen that's made with plastic? Plastic can be harmful to human health and the planet's health, especially when it's heated. Consider looking at your cooking utensils, storage containers, and bowls to see where you may be able to swap out plastic for glass, stainless steel, or silicone. Rather than ditching the plastic in the trash, consider using containers or bowls for other storage uses in your home, rather than in your kitchen where the potential for ingesting chemicals is higher. Or, check out TerraCycle to see if the plastic you're ditching is recyclable through one of their programs.
If the ideas above are new to you, just know that every little step toward a toxin-free home will be better for you, your family, and the planet. Adopting just one of the tips can make a big difference! If we each, individually, make small changes, together, we can create a huge impact. Are there eco-friendly practices you've adopted in your own kitchen? Please share!