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8 Steps to a More Eco-Friendly Kitchen

5. Get an energy-efficient refrigerator.

The greenest thing you can do in the kitchen is to reduce your energy use, and knowing which refrigerator to buy goes a long way in reducing your carbon footprint. When shopping for refrigerators, look for the ones that are Energy Star Rated, as not all are. Check out the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) website for energy-efficiency ratings for household appliances.

As people tend to hang on to refrigerators for decades and the appliance's efficiency is likely to degrade over time due to wear, it is almost always best to buy a refrigerator new. Moreover, modern refrigerators are much more efficient than they were decades ago. Compared to the refrigerators of the 1970s, today's refrigerators save U.S. consumers some $20 billion per year in energy costs, or about $150 per year for the average American family. Even better, 2014 marks the first year of even tougher efficiency standards for refrigerators and the new products are now in the stores.

The U.S. Energy Department says that these new efficiency standards will save the nation almost four and a half quadrillion BTUs over 30 years. That's three times more than the total energy currently used by all refrigeration products in U.S. homes annually. That amount of energy could also power a third of the African continent for an entire year.

6. Get a gas range (if you can).

A majority of U.S. households use electric ranges. This is true, in part, because some regions and communities don't have a natural gas infrastructure. Still, many households that can use gas ranges have electric ones instead.

But there are a lot of advantages to natural gas. For beginners, most cooks prefer using natural gas because temperatures are easier to control and they don't have to wait for electric coils to warm up. Also, gas is some three times more energy efficient than a comparable electrical range. And, according to the California Energy Commission, cooking with gas will cost you less than half as much to operate if your stove has a modern electronic ignition. And although cooking with gas means using a fossil fuel to do so, remember that most electricity in the U.S. still comes from coal and natural-gas burning power plants.

Whether they're electric or gas, ranges take a great amount of energy and natural resources to manufacture, and as long as you're not buying a used range that was low-end to begin with, you're not denying yourself anything by getting one second hand. In fact, you can even find gas ranges from upscale brands such as Viking, Wolf and Miele at much lower prices than you would if you purchased them new, and you probably wouldn't notice the difference once you got one home.

7. Stop washing dishes in the sink.

Don't think that you're being green by scrimping and not getting a dishwasher. Many people have a misguided belief that washing dishes by hand is more efficient and uses less water, but studies have shown that the carbon footprint of using a dishwasher is less than washing in the sink.

The average dishwasher uses six gallons of water per cycle for a full-load of dishes, while Energy Star efficient models use four gallons or less. A line of smart dishwashers by Bosch can use even less water, thanks to new sensor technology that can customize the amount of water to the contents in the machine.

By comparison, hand washing is inefficient: The average faucet flows at two gallons of water per minute. So, you would have to be able to wash and rinse the equivalent of a full load of dishes, utensils, pots and pans using two minutes or less running water to make washing in the sink as efficient as a basic Energy Star dishwasher.

And even when factoring in the electricity used by the dishwasher compared to that of the hot-water heater needed for hand washing, the overall carbon footprint is very likely to be less when using a dishwasher.

8. Use fewer (and better) paper towels.

Another “green" debate in the kitchen is whether paper towels or cloth towels are more eco-friendly. Of course, this may depend more on how you would use cloth towels more than anything else. If you're the type to use them once before tossing them into the washer, then cloth towels might not be for you, as washing and drying many of them is, in fact, energy intensive. Also, if you live in an area where you're being asked to ration water, you might find it frivolous to rinse a cloth towel between each use or to dedicate so much water and energy to washing and drying them.

But as much as we may debate the pros and cons of paper versus cloth, consider all of the energy-intensive steps in manufacturing paper towels, including material acquisition, processing, bleaching, packaging and transportation. All of this happens for a product that's used just once, discarded and dumped in a landfill with millions of other paper towels; there's something almost immoral about this wastefulness.

Overall, utilizing cloth towels should be your default—by rinsing and reusing them when appropriate. Along with them, paper towels should be bought and used conscientiously. Always look for towels with a high percentage of recycled content and for those that allow you to tear off smaller portions if needed. But beware of other “green" claims made for paper towel brands. They may be dubious as there are no government regulations for their marketing statements. One green brand however, Seventh Generation, makes towels that are notably greener as they can be torn into those smaller portions and are entirely made of recycled paper.

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