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Make your kitchen environmentally responsible
Make your kitchen greener with just a few simple changes. - photo by Kristen Morales

Everyone should know how to reduce, reuse and recycle in their daily life.

But in honor of Earth Day today, let's take it one step further - how do you go green in the kitchen?

The simple answer is buying Energy Star appliances. But there are less-expensive alternatives, too, such as composting or cleaning with gentle cleaners.

That way, you can help save the environment and save some green, too.

"We all really need to pay attention and work hard and work together," said Jenny Kvapil, environmental education program coordinator at Wahsega 4-H Center in Dahlonega. "The only way we are going to see any sort of larger-scale changes is if we pay attention to the things we do in our lives. It's got to be a movement that starts small in your house.

"Even just straight-up recycling, it's still something that is not universally done," she added. "I always promote recycling as much as possible."

Plus the kitchen sink

"They have low-flow connections that you can put onto the faucet on your sink and it will only put out a half gallon of water," Kvapil said.

Other little things you can do in your kitchen, she said, include tossing your ice cubes from used glasses onto houseplants instead of down the drain.

An easy tip from the Environmental Protection Agency states to keep drinking water in the refrigerator instead of letting the faucet run until the water is cool.

Trash to treasure

A simple way to reduce household trash and relieve local landfills is to begin composting.

"Little home composters are easy to create yourself or purchase," Kvapil said. "At it's most basic you could keep a bucket in your kitchen ... as you are cooking and preparing food you can put fruit and vegetable scraps in there and then take it out to your yard to an outdoor composter." But keep greasy foods and dairy products out of your compost.

Green clean

Baking soda, vinegar and a little elbow grease can work just as well as store-bought cleaners.

"It's cheaper and it's definitely less harsh on you and the environment," Kvapil said. Also, there are several lines of green cleaners in supermarkets, she added.

A small amount of ammonia also can be mixed with water for a good window and mirror cleaner.

Wash by hand or machine?

Save energy and water by only running the dishwasher when it's full.
"If you are hand washing (dishes), just fill up the sink. Don't run the water continuously," Kvapil said.

Instead of rinsing every dish before loading it, simply scrape leftover food into the garbage.

Just zap it

The EPA says to use the microwave to cook small meals; it uses much less power than an electric oven.

Is your refrigerator running?

Replacing old appliances with Energy Star appliances is one of the best ways to go green; the state promotes this with a tax-free holiday in October.

"They are making refrigerators more and more efficient just as they make computers more and more efficient," said Rick Foote, Hall County's natural resources coordinator.

According to Energy Star, appliances with the Energy Star label can save families about 30 percent, or $400 year, while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Use those dishes and pans

For a greener home kitchen, ditch the paper plates and paper towels. Stainless-steel or cast-iron pots and pans are also ideal for energy-smart cooking.

But how can you save energy while actually preparing food? Foote said to eat raw, which also will help your health.

"Eat carrot sticks instead of cooking carrots," he said. Or, if you're boiling something on the stove, keep a lid on it. "It's going to be much more efficient if you put a lid on that open sauce pan."

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