Caring for the environment is becoming more and more important to Kiwi families. We all try to do our part to live sustainably by making adjustments where we can to our daily habits. Recycling, using canvas shopping bags and turning off the lights when leaving a room are all small steps that many New Zealanders take every day.
However, many of us want to do more, but don’t know where to begin. A great place to start is in our own kitchens! By making small changes to how we eat, shop and clean, we can do even more to help protect this beautiful country.
1. Eliminate food waste
Food waste is a big problem in many countries, including New Zealand. We throw away over 122,500 tonnes of food a year1—that’s enough to feed the city of Dunedin for two years! All this wasted food also means wasted resources, especially the water and fuel put into producing, shipping and storing it. The food is eventually sent to a landfill to rot, where it releases harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Cutting back on your family’s food waste could be as easy as making a few changes to your routine. Planning a weekly menu can help you better decide which foods you’ll need and how much. Buy only what’s on your list to avoid impulse purchases that may not get eaten. Packing leftovers for lunches or using them in the next night’s meal can also help.
Another cause of food waste confusion over “sell by”, “best by” and “use by” dates on products. Generally, if a product is a few days past a “sell by” or “best by” date, it is still safe to eat. The food may not look or taste as fresh, but can still edible. Use your judgement before serving, smelling the food or taking a small taste to test for safety. “Use by” dates are more important, especially for refrigerated items. Serve foods by the “use by” date to insure freshness, taste and safety.
2. Start a compost heap
After reducing food waste you’ll likely still have some leftovers you can’t use. Put these scraps to use in the garden by starting a compost heap. This will enrich the soil, providing your plants with nutrients to help them grow.
Compost can be made using a variety of kitchen waste. Vegetables, fruits, tea leaves and bags, coffee grounds, and egg shells are all great additions to a compost heap. However, some food items should never go in compost, including meat, dairy products, fat, bones, bread or cake. These items are very smelly as they decompose and may attract mice or rats.
Check your local council for workshops on composting and gardening. Some provide combat bins to help residents get started.
3. Buy less packaging
Cutting back on our food waste is a good step, but what about the packaging? Buying items with minimal or reusable wrapping can help your family put even less in the rubbish bin each day.
Start by actually looking at how the food and kitchen items you buy are packaged. Be a bit more mindful of the packaging being used, and choose items with the least amount of disposable wrappings. Opt for loose fruits and vegetables, instead of those sealed in plastic. Choose foods put in boxes rather than bags. Learn which types of plastic can be recycled, and avoid those that can’t.
You can even go beyond how your food is wrapped. Instead of using single use aluminium baking trays, only cook with reusable baking sheets or roasting pans. Invest in a good travel coffee thermos, and ask your local café to fill it up instead of taking a disposable cup each morning. Finally, if you’re picking up takeaway to eat at home, skip the plastic cutlery and use your own.
4. Eat locally
It’s takes a lot of fuel to transport food from one area to another, not to mention the carbon emissions created by the trucks, boats and planes it’s loaded onto. Eating locally can help cut back on these environmental factors.
The definition of “eating locally” varies, but generally speaking, the closer to home the food is produced the better it is for the environment. Visiting farmer’s markets is a great option for many, and a chance to support New Zealand farmers. You can also support restaurants that serve foods that are grown or produced in your area.
You can also try growing your own food, too. A small herb garden or vegetable patch is easy to start and can provide your family with fresh produce. After all, no place is closer to home than your own backyard!
5. Don’t buy bottled water
Grabbing a bottled water at the shops is convenient, but this habit has a big impact on the environment. Every year 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce disposable plastic water bottles2, and most of these wind up in landfills rather than get recycled. Even water bottled in glass isn’t great—producing bottled water requires up to 2,000 times more energy than tap water.
With a bit of planning your family can ditch bottled water for good. Invest in high-quality reusable bottles or thermoses, and fill them up before leaving the house. If the quality of tap water in your area isn’t the best, installing a filter can help remove minerals and improve taste.
6. Use energy efficient appliances
Appliances that are more than a decade old are less energy efficient than newer models. Replacing these with more eco-friendly models will help reduce carbon emissions and possibly lower your electric bill as well! When making the upgrade, be sure to properly dispose of the old appliances so parts can be recycled.
However, if you’re not ready or able to upgrade your appliances you can still make them a bit more environmentally friendly. Cleaning refrigerator coils, dishwasher filters and the oven can help each run more efficiently and use less electricity. Small changes to how you use your appliances could also make a difference. Only running the dishwasher when it’s full can save water, and using a slow cooker or microwave uses less energy than running the oven.
7. Use eco-friendly cleaning supplies
Natural cleaners are good for the environment and may be healthier for your family, too. Harsh chemicals found in conventional cleaning supplies can pollute the air and water. They can react badly with sensitive skin and are breathed in while scrubbing. Babies can also ingest small amounts of these chemicals if they put toys or teething rings dropped onto freshly cleaned surfaces into their mouths.
Cleaning with eco-friendly supplies could be as easy as searching the pantry. White vinegar, bicarbonate soda, tea and table salt can all be used to disinfect, scour and remove stains. You can also make your own cleaners using other easily purchased ingredients, such as borax, washing soda and ammonia. If DIY options aren’t for you, shops usually stock environmentally responsible cleaners that are gentler than conventional products.
Caring for the environment starts at home. By making just a few of the changes above, you can help create a better, more sustainable future for New Zealand.
1. Lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz, What we waste
2. Greatist, Why you should never buy disposable water bottles again