Thursday, June 25, 2009

Eco-friendly outdoor entertaining

This is the summer paradox that drives me batty: a group of friends is enjoying themselves at a backyard barbeque, making the most of a beautiful summer evening, marveling at how food tastes better outdoors, taking in the fresh smell of the summer air. At the end of the evening they roll up everything -- plates, cups, cutlery, half-eaten food, napkins – into the plastic tablecloth and dump it all in the garbage. (We’re all in love with nature during the summer, but sometimes forget to be considerate.)

If you can set one eco-objective for yourself this summer make it this: no disposable plastic or Styrofoam plates! I know there is the convenience factor but keep in mind that there are alternatives when you’re feeding large crowds or eating outside, so you don’t have to haul your china out onto the deck (unless you want to).

Instead choose reusable plates and cups. Tin or even plastic plates are durable and easy enough to clean. We received a picnic basket as a wedding gift that is just the thing for people who like to entertain outside. It’s filled with reusable plates, cups and cutlery.

The other option is paper plates. Just ensure they’re certified compostable. I was so relieved to come across the bio*life brand at Shoppers Drug Mart. They don’t come in Disney designs or flashy colours but they are certified compostable, can be recycled and are sturdy enough to last through the meal.

Here are a few more tips for eco-friendly outdoor entertaining and summer eating on the go:

Plastic cutlery can’t be recycled. (This is the first of many reasons why I dislike disposable cutlery). Instead choose sturdy reusable plastic cutlery or use your regular kitchen stuff.

Paper napkins can go in the compost. Better yet, use cloth napkins.

Stay away from disposable tablecloths. Many of the paper tablecloths are backed with plastic so can’t be composted. Other tablecloths are made of such thin plastic that it’s practically impossible to reuse them. Instead opt for a fabric tablecloth, a reusable outdoor tablecloth (or even an old bed sheet if you really need something to cover the picnic table).

Planning a road trip? Prepare a makeshift picnic basket with plates, cups, cutlery and containers. That way you can avoid the drive-thru and pick up lunch and snacks at the grocery store or markets. This will make it easier to avoid buying individually packaged food so you’ll have less packaging to toss in the garbage. It’s less expensive since you’re buying in larger sizes plus you can choose food that’s better for you.

Don’t let carefree entertaining in summer be an excuse for overloading the trash bin. Instead consider it an opportunity to be more earth-friendly. With luck you’ll teach your guests a thing or two.

This post previously appeared in KV Style (

Monday, June 8, 2009

Keeping your kitchen green and clean

I have been fixated with the cleanliness of our kitchen these days so I’ll pick up where I left off with my previous post and offer a few more tips on how to keep your kitchen green and clean.

I was noticing the other day how grungy our kitchen sink can get. And really, if the sink seems dirty the whole kitchen doesn’t feel much better, no matter how tidy the counters are. I came across a study showing that the kitchen sink can be home to more germs than a toilet. Yikes! I suppose that’s why people feel they need to turn to harsh chemicals in the kitchen.

When it comes to a healthy sink, germs aren’t the only thing to consider. The kind of cleaners you use for dishes and drains have a lot to do with the overall health of your kitchen, and your family.

As usual there are eco-friendly ways to keep your kitchen sparkling:

Clean your drain on a regular basis. But stay away from harsh drain cleaners, they’re highly corrosive so just plain dangerous to have in the house. They’re also destructive to our waterways.

Instead try this: pour ½ cup of baking soda down your drain. Chase it with a cup of white vinegar and let it bubble away for a few minutes. Chase this with a kettleful of boiling water.

When it comes to dishwashing liquids this is how I see it: since there are dish detergents readily available that safer for you and the environment when compared to the name brand detergents, why not choose them? Also, I don’t like the idea of sloshing petroleum-based suds (which is what name brands contain) on items that I use for food. My favourite eco brand is Down East, made in NS. It works well and you can buy it in four litre jugs to save on packaging and cut costs. Just check the natural foods section of the grocery store for it and other green brands.

Dish cloths are something else to consider. Since they can get grimy quickly just get in the habit of using a fresh, clean one each day. Hang the dirty cloths to dry before you wash them. Never use a sponge! Every study I found says they’re germ incubators (the “sink is dirtier than the toilet” study implicated sponges). Throwing them in the dishwasher doesn’t help since most dishwashers don’t get hot enough to kill dangerous bacteria. Instead bacteria get flung around on everything else in the dishwasher.

We have used cloths made from wood fibre that are great. They inhibit the growth of bacteria so don’t get smelly, just need a simple rinsing to clean and can be composted when they wear out.
Add these ideas to the vinegar-hydrogen peroxide spray system from my previous post and you’ll have all your kitchen cleaning needs covered with eco-friendly alternatives.

This post was previously published in KV Style (