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How to make your pantry a green(er) pantry

One year ago, I posted this piece in honor of the 40th Annual Earth Day. Now Earth Day has become Earth Month, so it's the perfect time to revisit and update some ideas to make your pantry a green(er) pantry.

Spring 2011 compost pile.

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, and getting greener every year.

In celebration of the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, which has now grown into Earth Month, here are ten ideas to make your pantry more environment-friendly:

Spring 2010 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 or RuMe bags that fold up to fit in my purse or jacket 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. Most spices will last for 12-18 months in your pantry, if properly stored.
  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. Urban dwellers can try worm composters, though they can give off a bit of an odor. Why not give your compost to a neighbor with a garden, or donate to a community garden? 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. If you have a sunny windowsill, you can grow your own herbs -- and what's closer to home than that?

How are you greening your pantry?

What other actions should be on this list?

[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 in case I'm wrong about that, I took some photos of mine. My compost pile today includes an abundance of brown matter from our recent garden clean-up, but we'll give it a good turnover after we extricate the fully composted matter from the bottom of the heap to add to this year's garden.]

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


All good ideas. Some I do, and some I need to get better at doing more consistently. So much activity happens in the kitchen, that it's easy to let things get out of control, but I'm trying much harder to plan meals around what I have on hand, instead of shopping for individual ingredients.

Great list, Lydia. I can't think of a single thing to add to it, and I am happy to say that I try to do it all.

We can all do what we can to be more green. I am green with envy over your composter since I live in a condo.

TW, I know what you mean about kitchen chaos. A well-stocked pantry (including freezer and fridge) makes cooking so much more efficient.

Pam, I try, too.

Bellini, in the winter, when I have to shovel lots of snow, I'm envious of your condo! But I do love having a large compost heap.

All fantastic tips. I try to do my best to help the environment.

If I had such photogenic mossy stones corralling mine, I'd show you my compost, too! The black gold result is worth a strictly utilitarian Rubbermaid compost bin at the corner of the garage.

Great post, Lydia! The only thing we don't do is compost right now. No garden because we're in the woods, but I suppose I should compost just to use with the few flowers and bushes we can grow and, of course, because it's the right thing to do. Thanks!


All great thoughts Lydia and really doable. I'm a big fan of composting -- we are going to take ours to the farm where we grow some veggies and berries. When garbage is composted and added back to enrich the soil (rather than reprocessed as part of sewage) water and energy are saved and the soil is truly fed.

I'd also like to think that starting with basic ingredients -- i.e. grains, produce, dried beans -- rather than buying packaged, processed foods is greener too.

Maris, each one of us doing a little bit can really make a difference.

Sage, it's true; the compost in the garden is a huge gift. And it's fun to make, wherever your compost bin sits.

Shirley, there are so many ways to have a greener pantry, both inside and outside the house. And yes, even your flower beds will love homemade compost, if you can manage it.

Mary, you're so lucky to have a vegetable garden! Mine is just herbs and perennials, but the herbs mixed with pantry ingredients make wonderful meals. Starting with basic ingredients, when possible bought in bulk, is one great way to green your pantry.

Great post for Earth Day!

well i for one think item 1 is a terrible idea. If theres a recipe on this site i want to make and dont have an item for it I am going to the store to buy it........planet Vs. PP recipe, recipe wins every time hahaha

Jennifer, thank you.

Milton, I'm giggling. Of course I want you to love the recipes here, so how can I argue?!

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