Today is Earth Day. However, I like to treat every day like Earth Day. Since moving to Hawaii the need to reduce my consumption and produce less trash has become even more evident. It wasn’t until I moved here that it hit home where “away” is. We throw stuff “away”…. where is away? Hawaii is “away”. Most beaches along the Pacific rim are “away”. Walk along the stunning beaches and you’ll quickly discover that the sand is littered with broken bits of plastic. It comes from every imaginable source – toys, bottles, toothpaste caps and floss, straws – anything that’s made of plastic is winding up on the beach. These gorgeous, ecologically diverse beaches….. It’s even more disconcerting when gigantic fishing nets wash ashore. They bring with them straggled marine life – each net weighs thousands of pounds. If you live some place landlocked you don’t see this, but you probably have a landfill near you and sometimes you can smell the refuse. Plastic use and throwing away food are two of the biggest kitchen involved environmental blights we can easily diminish.
I often think about ways I can consume less plastic – and my goal is to be a zero waste, plastic free kitchen household one day. These are my baby steps (none of these links are affiliates):
- In lieu of plastic wrap, I use beeswax to cover fruit and vegetables. I rarely use plastic wrap now! That makes me happy, and honestly I love when my Target bill is lower because I’m not buying as many consumables. You can read more and buy from here (and also sold on Amazon).
- I also reduce plastic use by using bowl covers. Some of the prettiest are by dot&army but you can find them online via Etsy, Amazon, and so on.
- One of the hardest things I find to do without are Ziplock bags to store food in the freezer. If you know of a better way, I’m all ears. Perhaps these silicon bags? I find it impossible to store what I need in glass containers because they are so bulky.
- I’ve switched to glass storage containers for the fridge, but they’re heavy and breakable. Since we move a lot I rely on Tupperwear to get me through my moves and then some … one day though it will be all gone (and I never ever microwave in them). That said, reusable plastic containers are better than one-use plastic.
- I love my reusable heavy-duty canvas bags from Trader Joes (oh Trader Joes, how I miss thee), but there are plenty of reusable options. Here’s a nice looking bag and here too. Completely switching to canvas bags has been the easiest switch from plastic that I made over a decade ago and I’m glad at least one big-box store here stopped providing bags. Hawaii has actually banned one-use plastic bags, but somehow there are quite a few establishments that get around that law. Of course, we find those bags all over the island and in the ocean.
- I also carry canvas produce bags to use instead of one-use bags from the grocery store and farmers market. These are nice.
- I’m trying out making my own dish soap using Dr. Bronner’s castile soap and I’ve also been using baking soda and vinegar solutions to clean the house….so far so good. By making my own products I cut down on constantly buying plastic bottles of heavy toxic cleaners.
- I normally don’t use paper plates, but life with a newborn has prompted me to use them until we’re settled into a routine and I’m not dead tired all the time. Then we’re back to regular plates. Additionally we have cloth napkins and I need to be better about using them over paper.
As for food waste, its estimated that people throw out between 25-40% of the food they buy. That’s astounding in more ways than one. Not even in thinking about the bad karma wasting food racks up, that’s a lot of money that goes down the drain and in the trash. Literally. This isn’t even factoring in the amount of energy used to grow and produce the food as well as ship it. In Hawaii, it’s estimated that residents throw away 25% of their food, equating to over $1 billion per year. Nationally, wasted food accounts for 20% of what goes into our landfills – around 35 million tons in 2012. Can you say holy guacamole?
How can we keep our food out of landfills? We can eat it, possibly with some creative recipes and we can compost it.
Greens are quick to wilt, but I like to use them in Ali’s spanakopita strudels (which can be made and frozen uncooked – they’ve been my go to post baby). My preference is for the traditional spinach, but chard and a mixture of greens – to include beet and carrots tops would be lovely too. All those root top greens are edible. Here in Hawaii, sweet potato greens are common too – how delicious!
Broccoli stems make a wonderful pasta sauce. Chard stems can be chopped, sautéed, and added to quiches and omelets…. The list goes on. Using up wilted fruit and vegetables in smoothies and soups are simple solutions. Or throw them into a fried rice, add an egg on top and dinner is complete!
Folks are turning leftover oatmeal into oatmeal bark (similar to granola) and leftover pasta becomes a frittata or pasta salad.
Should you need to dispose of non-meat or dairy foodstuffs, composting is the next best way to keep the waste out of landfills. I’ve had so-so success with my composting, but that’s primarily because I believe I used the wrong shaped container. The best online resource for composting as well as a lot of other gardening advice comes from Joe Lamp’l. Here’s his resource site. There are lots of videos online as well to help anyone along on this composting journey. I know that even though my garden isn’t where I want it to be, it’s coming along and I’m doing the soil good.
Mads Refslund wrote a book called Scraps, Wilt, and Weeds. It’s a tremendous book about turning “waste” into a delicious dish. It’s geared toward chefs and home cooks alike. While there are definitely recipes that I’ll never make because I won’t have the quantity of the ingredients he calls for (like 4.5 lbs of cauliflower leaves), there is definitely something for everyone in the book. I try to make sure I use my veggies (and grains) up before they wilt, but there’s always something I miss. This book helps with that….cucumber butts, beet stems and leaves….all put to good use.
Below is a recipe for Leftover Oatmeal Crisps. It uses leftover oatmeal a little salt and a little sugar. I used a three finger pinch of salt and a tablespoon of brown sugar. The next time I make it I’m going to use a slightly bigger pinch of salt and a little cinnamon…or I could go savory instead and add curry. You need to use at least one cup of leftover oatmeal for this recipe (almost a non-recipe).
Leftover Oatmeal Crisp adapted from Scraps, Wilt, and Weeds
- 1 cup or more leftover oatmeal
- salt (adjust depending on how much you added to your oatmeal already)
- sweetener, such as brown sugar, molasses, honey – I like brown sugar since I was raised on cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal)
Preheat oven to 150 degrees – mine only goes down to 170 degrees (it still took the full amount of time). Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat mat.
In a small saucepan, combine the leftover oatmeal with just enough water to keep it from sticking to the bottom and make it mushy. It should be 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Cook until very mushy, about 5 minutes. Add some salt – I used a three finger pinch – and the sweetener of your choice.
Spread the oatmeal thinly onto the parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet. I used an offset spatula to make it easy. Bake for 5 hours, until crisp. Store in an airtight container for a few days.
Break into shards to nibble on or to top yogurt with. (Or ice cream)
I’m thinking that maybe I’ll add some cinnamon, seeds, and coconut chips and see if they turn it into crisp granola bar shards next time.
These are just a few ways I’m trying to be better about conservation in the kitchen, do you have any favorite practices?