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April 22, 2014

Celebrate Earth Day: make your pantry a greener pantry

Happy Earth Day! Four years ago, I wrote this post in honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. I'm still trying to implement all of these ways to make my pantry a bit greener. I've updated the post a bit, and I hope you'll find some good ideas here and in the comments left on the original post. And I hope that this year, a freak April snow storm doesn't cover my compost pile with snow!

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 44th 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. (Note: in some parts of the country, it's mandatory to bring your own shopping bags. I always have a pile of bags with me when I go to the market.)
  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. (One of the major offenders in my kitchen has been k-cup single serve coffee. I've switched to a brand that comes in compostable packaging; this year, I promise to switch to a refillable k-cup.)
  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. (Note: many spices, when they've passed their useful life, can be added to your compost pile.)
  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?

Comments

Great tips. My two additional tips: use reusable produce bags as well, instead of those flimsy plastic bags that come on a roll in the produce section. I found some awesome mesh bags on Etsy and have been using them for years.

And have a "fridge cleaning" meal every week to use up bits and bobs from the fridge and pantry. These are some of my favorite meals.

How about "Stock your pantry with vegetable proteins?" Meats, which are, by the way, delicious, are also harder on the environment than beans, lentils, etc. Using meat as a flavoring and vegetable proteins as the main ingredient is not only better for us, it's better for the environment.

Nupur, I love those ideas, especially bringing your own produce bags. I need to start doing that.

Heidi, you're so right about eating less meat.

Great post, and it's so nice to see your blog is back!

Kalyn, I'm glad to be back! Happy (belated) Earth Day.

Nupar has it right - we call those nights "refrigerator scrapings" and have had some of our finest meals that way. All it takes is some creativity and careful storage of leftovers so you have the most flexibility.

Lydia,
These are great ideas.
I'd throw in 'stock your pantry with home-canned ____' which I'm thinking would have an even lower carbon footprint than something regionally local.
(I say this with canned tomatoes from the garden dwindling on the shelves, but this year's plants have flowers so there's hope I can make it through!)

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  • 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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