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April 22, 2010

How to make your pantry a green pantry

My compost pile, earlier this year. I compost organic kitchen scraps, and old spices, too.

How green is your pantry?

Not Benjamin-Moore-paint-chip-green.

Good-to-the-Earth green.

I'd call my pantry greenish. Not perfect, but more environmentally aware than it used to be.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, here are ten ideas to make your pantry more environment-friendly:

Compost pile
  1. Keep your pantry well stocked, and shop for pantry ingredients efficiently. Plan meals around what you have on hand. Running to the store for one ingredient isn't efficient or ecological, especially if, like me, you live five miles from the nearest market.
  2. Shop with reusable bags. My local market gives me five cents back for each bag I bring into the store when I shop, and it sells reusable bags for less than a dollar. I like these Flip & Tumble bags that fit in my pocket.
  3. Shop for pantry ingredients that come in the least amount of packaging, and in recyclable or compostable packaging. Buy spices in bulk; keep a small amount in the cooking area, and the rest in the freezer.
  4. Use recycled sterilized jars and plastic containers for long-term, bug-free storage. Recycle the containers your pantry items come in.
  5. Prevent spoilage and waste; it's the greenest thing you can do.
  6. Use clear glass jars for leftover pasta, grains, dry beans, flours, etc.. When you can see what you have, you're more likely to use it up, and the jars will prevent spoilage, which prevents waste.
  7. Date perishables like spices and frozen items. Use them before you lose them.
  8. Compost your organic pantry items (onions, garlic, lemons), old flours and grains, stale spices and dried herbs, even if you don't have a garden. Give your compost to a neighbor with a garden, or donate to a community garden, and you'll surely be offered some produce in trade. If you trade compost for fresh herbs, dry those herbs for use during the winter.
  9. Make sure your refrigerator and freezer temperatures are set correctly, and clean the filter on the refrigerator to ensure energy-efficient operation.
  10. Buy pantry items that are locally produced, when you can. Many pantry staples, especially spices, come from other parts of the world, but try to purchase basics like onions, garlic, and herbs, grown in every climate zone, from local farms or farmers markets. When you buy close to home, your pantry's carbon footprint will be that much smaller.

How are you greening your pantry?

What other actions should be on this list?

[Today's photos of my compost pile were inspired by a reader who suggested that after we close the door on Other People's Pantries, the next Saturday feature should be Other People's Compost Piles! I'm not sure any of us want to look at kitchen scraps every week, but I ran right out and photographed mine, in all their snowy glory.]


i think i am somewhere with you not perfect but greenish! a lovely thought provoking piece lydia!

I read some time ago that citrus fruit peels should not go into the compost. But I could not trace the source.
Any information on the matter ?

Great list Lydia! And thanks for all the reminders!

I would add to the list, grow what you can in your own garden -- even if it's just fresh thyme or chives. For everything you grow, that's one less items that needs to be packaged and shipped to your grocer.

I LOVE this post. Today I will try and look up how to work on #9.

Very good ideas. The idea of not making extra trips to the market (for one or a few items) can be expanded to the more general idea of grouping errands to reduce driving.

I would share my compost pile with you Lydia!

Fantastic list. Happy Earth Day!

Running to the store for one ingredient isn't efficient or ecological,
That's rich!!! How are we going to follow your recipes?????? haha

I love going to the store every day. Anyway enjoy your green days and many thanks for all the cool recipes/ideas that you post here every day

Great Earth Day post! I still need to get my compost pile started. Ugh.

This is a very thoughtful post, Lydia. Even though my pantry is pretty green (we live in the country also)there is always room for improvement. As does Mae, I try to bundle all my errands, including grocery shopping, together on one day. Now that our farmers market has opened for the season, that will be Saturday. :)
Happy Earth Day!

Great tips! Thanks!

Arunah, I've not heard that about citrus -- I throw oranges and lemons in my compost pile all the time. Anyone else have info?

Julia, absolutely, when you can, grow your own. Even a windowsill box of herbs, if you have room for it.

Doing most of this, so not too bad! As time allows, I want to add worms for more options in composting and chickens in the back yard.

What great tips! What's the optimum temperature for your refrigerator and freezer?

Great ideas, especially not running to the store for one thing!

Great tips. Thanks Lydia. Every effort helps!

I'm surprised, frankly.... my pantry is pretty green. Althoug, I will admit not totally intentionally. Our only choice is reusable bags - which the stores sell but they last, I've been using the same 4 for almost 5 years now. I've gotten used to keeping a well-stocked pantry when living in the mountains, and I always cook from it.
And maybe being a bit anal helps being a bit green ;-))
Good post!

Great tips! Thanks!


I do most of these things, but the one tip on keeping the bulk spices in the freezer was worth reading the whole item. Please remember that lots of your readers are like myself, urban dwellers. Composting is just not available to us unless you want to do a worm farm. With excellent "green" credentials--we've been using recycled paper products for more than 15 years--I'm still not willing to have a worm farm in my NY apartment.

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About The Perfect Pantry®

  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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