9 ways to create a more sustainable kitchen

    Mother and daughter in kitchen laughing with sustainable vegetable brocoli
    Published: 2 June 2021. Written by: Howard Calvert.

    Make a difference on World Environment Day and beyond with these simple, planet-friendly & sustainable kitchen hacks from experts including Vitality Performance Champ Crista Cullen. As it’s World Environment Day on 5 June, there’s no better time to take a look at what we chop, blend and grill in the kitchen to see if there are ways we can reduce our carbon footprint.

    Food waste is one of the biggest problems facing both producers and those of us buying the food. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), in the UK, 9.5m tonnes of food was wasted in retail and the home in 2019. The report also revealed that households waste 6.6m tonnes of food a year and, of that, 4.5m tonnes, worth £14bn or £700 per family, could have actually been eaten. 

    If you’re thinking that you can’t make a difference, think again – there are many ways you can begin to make simple changes to run a more sustainable kitchen and reduce the amount of food you bin at home. Here are 9 ways to go greener…

    1. Invest in a wormery 

    Man using his wormery in his garden

    It’s estimated that 40 per cent of wasted food from UK kitchens ends up in landfill, producing harmful methane gases as the food decomposes, which in turn contributes to global warming. 

    The first step towards avoiding waste begins by buying and cooking the amount that you think will be consumed. But who hasn’t tried to cook spaghetti for two and ended up with enough pasta to feed a five-a-side team?

    A major step towards reducing your food waste is by composting, either via your local council or in your garden.  

    ‘Sometimes what we deem waste can provide for something else,’ says Vitality Performance Champion Crista Cullen. ‘I use excess vegetable matter and green waste for my wormery. The worms break it down and provide compost and worm tea [a natural liquid fertiliser] as a byproduct, which is great for the herbs and vegetables I grow. Having worms in your soil is a good reflection of the soil’s health, so even in potted plants there should be some worms in there to work their magic.’ 

    If you’re new to wormeries, check out Wiggly Wigglers’ range to get you started on your worm-based composting journey.

    2. Scrap the clingfilm

    Woman in kitchen getting rid of cling film to be more sustainable

    We all know we should avoid plastic packaging, but cling film often slips under the radar, as illustrated by the fact that 1.2bn metres of clingfilm is used in UK households every year

    ‘When we’re storing leftovers, we default to clingfilm or foil to cover our food,’ says Cullen. ‘However, we’re unable to reuse clingfilm, and rather than Tupperware containers, which fill up your cupboards and you can never find the right lids for, I use reusable silicone stretch lids that go over bowls. They also mean you don’t use excess water washing up, as you can store your food in what you cooked or served it in.’

    Another alternative is beeswax wraps – an eco-friendly food covering that helps towards plastic-free living.  

    3. Stick to a seasonal vegetable list 

    Woman with seasonable vegetabkles

    Thanks to supermarkets shipping in fruit and veg from across the globe, we’ve come to expect strawberries in mid-autumn and satsumas all year round.

    ‘I’d recommend eating what’s in season, and where possible sourcing food locally, as that means it’s travelled fewer miles to be on our plates,’ says Cullen. 

    Food miles are responsible for huge amounts of CO2 annually – simply transporting to and in and around the UK results in 19m tonnes a year, the equivalent of 5.5m cars. That’s before factoring in the CO2 produced when we drive to the shops.

    Use a month-by-month list to check what’s in season and try to purchase the produce from local farmers and shops where possible, or use a vegetable delivery service, such as Abel & Cole, that only selects organic produce that’s in season.

    4. Use a smart garden

    man and woman looking at vegetables growing outside

    What’s even better than buying local in-season fruit and veg? Growing your own.

    It’s one of the best ways to start living a more sustainable way of life,’ says Elizabeth Waddington of horticulture.co.uk. ‘Even a small area on a sunny windowsill in your kitchen can be used to grow a surprising amount of food.’

    Waddington recommends using biodegradable plant pots and organic, peat-free compost. ‘They’ll make things easier as you start to grow your own in an eco-friendly way, as well as helping you avoid wasteful and polluting plastic pots and digging up precious peat-bog ecosystems.’ 

    Peatland habitats are especially important, as they sustain rare ecosystems and help reduce carbon emissions by locking CO2 away from the atmosphere, but there are now only around 6,000 hectares or lowland peat bogs in pristine or near-natural condition in the UK.

    For those lacking space, tech-based ‘smart gardens’ such as Click & Grow’s 25 are becoming popular due to their ease of use, automatic watering and quick growing times. Another alternative is hydroponic or aquaponic systems, where you grow plants in water (and even rear fish, too) rather than soil.

    5. Refill empty bottles

    Man and son refilling empty bottles on table

    Another way to lower your plastic consumption and reduce the 7.7 billion plastic bottles bought in the UK annually is to refill where you can. Waitrose’s Unpacked, Naked Larder and Unpackaged at Planet Organic offer kitchen condiment refills such as olive oil and vinegar, loose dry items like pasta, rice, lentils, cereals, nuts and seeds, and kitchen cleaning products such as washing-up liquid. 

    There are also refill delivery services such as unpckd that sell a wide range of products in refill form, and Topup Truck and Fair-Well deliver to areas of London in electric vehicles.

    6. Rescue wonky veg

    Man and woman with sustainable wonky veg

    With the news that the UK’s largest supermarkets are binning the equivalent of 190 million meals a year, increasing numbers of organisations and consumers are looking at ways to help bring that startling figure down.

    If you want to save some of that food destined for landfill, choose a delivery subscription service such as Oddbox, which puts together different-sized boxes of ‘odd’ fruit and veg rejected by major retailers for being too wonky, the wrong size or too numerous. 

    Another option is Too Good To Go, an app that lets you order a ‘Magic Bag’ featuring mystery contents that shops, restaurants, cafés and hotels have left over at the end of the day. There is also an app called OLIO that enables you to upload pics of food and other household essentials that you have and are willing to share with people in your area.

    7. Choose meat alternatives

    Woman at dinner table eating vegan food

    Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise (research suggests that there were 7m vegetarians in the UK in 2018 and more than 3.5m vegans), not least in part to popular documentaries such as Seaspiracy and What the Health, which revealed startling facts around the meat and fish industries that made many people re-assess their diets. 

    Sustainability expert Margaret Robertson says, ‘Eating lower down the food chain is one of the most important things a home cook can do.’ 

    In her book, Sustainability Principles and Practice, she says, ‘A comprehensive analysis of farming impacts worldwide found that switching from a meat-based to a vegan diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by 73 per cent. If all people stopped eating meat and dairy products, global farmland use could be decreased by 75 per cent, with a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, greatly reduced land and water use and greatly reduced habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.’

    Easy ways to start reducing your dairy and meat include moving to milk alternatives such as oat milk, almond milk or hemp milk, eating more vegetables and, if you’re a meat lover, introducing plant-based alternatives into your diet such as those sold by  Moving Mountains.

    8. Try an eco-friendly meal kit

    eco-friendly and sustainable meal kit

    Planning meals ahead helps avoid impulse buying,’ says Robertson. ‘A good tip is to make a week of menus, look for ways to use the trimmings from one meal in the ingredients for another meal, and then make a shopping list and buy just what’s on the list.’

    If planning meals is difficult to fit into your schedule, subscribing to a meal-kit delivery service means you have one less thing to think about. The number of people subscribing to these services has grown hugely over the past year – HelloFresh reported it had 7.3m users globally in the first three months of 2021, up 74.2 per cent from the previous year. 

    It’s worth looking closely at each meal kit company’s policies in terms of ingredients and packaging – for example, Zested put together sustainable and locally sourced recipe boxes that forego intensively farmed ingredients and plastic available to those living across London and within the M25. 

    9. Learn the difference between ‘best before’ and ‘use by’

    Woman and child reading back of food packet

    It’s important to note that they don’t mean the same thing – ‘use by’ refers to food safety and ‘best before’ is related to food quality. According to WRAP, 25% of people can’t differentiate between the two, which leads to more unnecessary food waste.

    Use-by dates are printed on fresh food that may be unsafe if it’s consumed after the date has passed, so it is advised that you stick to these dates as there is a risk of food poisoning if eaten.

    Best-before dates are a guide to the quality of the food. It may deteriorate in quality after that date but it remains safe to eat, even if it may be a little stale. Despite this drop in quality, it means that rather than throw the food out, it can still be eaten, even if its taste isn’t Michelin-star quality.

    Considering going flexi-vegan? Take a look at these 6 ethical wins if you’re not ready to go full vegan.

    As a Vitality member, you could get up to 25% cashback on Waitrose & Partners Good Health food when you get active. If you have a second eligible health insurance or life insurance plan, you could get up to 40% cashback. Excludes beverages. Log in to Member Zone for the details.