By B. Helsham & M. Horchani

Convenience vs. Conscience: A healthy discussion on packaging, consumption and waste in the Kitchen of the Future…

Current Recycling Practices

It goes far beyond the reusable bag you bring to the grocery store to pack up your highly sought-after grass fed meats and organic vegetables. You unpack the groceries, unload the cardboard jug of milk, unwrap the plastic enclosed cheeses into the fridge and put away your cans of pasta sauce and jars of almond butter, knowing that you will, inevitably, separate your cans from your glass, and recycle. This, by now, should be standard etiquette. And if it’s not, shame on you.

So what happens when our busy lives kick in, and by the end of the week, we find ourselves throwing out half of the refrigerator contents that have gone bad from, what we hope isn’t necessarily an inefficient refrigerator. So, we vacuum pack our frozen foods, and Tupperware our left-overs to death.

At the end of the day, we are consumers. We go to the store, we buy what we know, and what is available. As much as we strive to do our part, it must start with how products are manufactured and distributed on our shelves.

Past Informing the Present?  How to Waste Wisely 

Photo Courtesy of GreenSoulShoes.org

We have come a long way with our eco-consciousness of today and are moving away from the un biodegradable, Styrofoam and other un-recyclable packaging past. Although the US has yet to conduct formal research on food packaging waste statistics, the EPA estimates that32% o fhousehold trash is made up of food packaging. [1] What does that mean for us consumers and our kitchens? It’s expensive!! According got Schott Cassel of the Product Stewardship Institute, the house hold trash is costing local government’s billions of dollars each year in disposal costs.[2]

James McWillaims, in his Feb 2010 New York Times blog post “how About Them Wrapped Apples”, advised: “if you’re truly eager to take on the waste inherent in our food systems, you’d be better off reforming your own habits at home-say, by buying more strategically, minimizing waste, and eating less.”[3] In our Kitchens of the future, we must focus on the present to help do our part in minimizing waste, both packaged and organic. In an eco-world, we would all have energy efficient refrigerators to help keep our perishable foods fresh. But for those of us that might not be able to switch our current refrigeration systems, here’s a few tips I can recommend to keeping your foods lasting longer.

1) try to buy less at once. Although most of us do not have time to do a little shop every day, think about the meals at the beginning of the week, write down that you are making and get and eat as often and as fresh as you can.

2) When you unpack from your grocery shop, put everything away, and I do not just mean in the fridge or on the pantry shelf. Take the time to vacuum pack your meats so they do not get freezer burn. The innovative FoodSaver® Vacuum Sealing System with SmartSeal™ Technology makes this easy. Insert a FoodSaver® Bag and the machine does the rest.

Put vegetables (yes!) into Tupperware that is long enough that you do not have to cut up your vegetable to fit it in the bowl. That defeats the purpose. FoodSaver also makes amazing containers of all sizes that can vacuum out the air in the containers to make leftovers stay fresh, longer.

What’s Next?

Paying a little more in the front end will save you money in the long run. But what about the future of packaging, and the future of our kitchens? How will they change in order to better accommodate our ever rising understanding and participation in living in a green world? Will we be planting our packaging in ten years time? Or eating it? Will we even need to venture to the store to pick up groceries, or will it be electronically submitted as we browse the interweb for our favorite foods that are then delivered to us by, what we hope is a carbon footprint less mode of transportation?

In 1954 the Monsanto Chemical Company and Frigidaire came out with separate Kitchen of the Future campaigns showcasing how efficient their kitchens could be with new technology at just a touch of a button.

“Design and Science combined for the utmost convenience and food preservation.” This is what we strive for today. To see what our kitchen of the future might look like, we must look at the past. We still need to combine design and science to create the most efficient means of convenient storage of perishable and non perishable goods. We need to understand and integrate high tech systems that are more energy efficient and reliable. We must recycle our packaging. Ultimately, we must consume less. But, we live in a world of habit and convenience. So what do we do when the perishable items go bad?

Here are some Home Recycling Tips from the folks at eartheasy.com

Visit your local recycling center and find out what materials they accept for recycling. Then set up your bins accordingly. To find the recycling center nearest you, call: 1 800-CLEANUP

Put storage bins in placeThe key to a successful home recycling program is the storage bin setup. Once you learn which materials your local recycling center accepts set up a corresponding storage bin system. The garage is a good place to locate the bins; if using an open car port the lids will need to be covered to secure the contents from pests and wind. Once your system is set up, recycling is easy!

Label recycling bins to ensure materials are separated correctly.

use plastic bags or totes to store materials for recycling. Paper bags can be leaky, and rip easily. Try to use smaller containers, as they will be easier to lift when full.

choose products with the highest percentage of “post-consumer” recycled content

Two types of recycled materials are used in manufacturing products and packaging:

pre-consumer – often referred to as mill scraps recycled internally at manufacturing plants.

Post-consumer – returned by consumers, through recycling programs, to the manufacturing process.

Clean bottles and tins before putting in the recycling bin. This prevents flies both at home and the recycling station.

– Put a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on your letter box. You’ll be amazed at how much this reduces your rubbish.

– Join the Freecycle™ movement – the idea is simple: you give away for free what you have and don’t need and you receive for free what you need, but don’t have. This ‘free cycle’ of goods keeps lots of useful stuff out of landfill sites and is about thinking globally and recycling locally.

Set up a compostfor all your organic waste needs, this is the perfect way to stop compostable waste from taking up room in our landfills. you can use it in your garden or take it to an urban park.

The Sad State of Kitchen Waste

It is no secret that most of our kitchen scraps end up in garbage dumps.  It may come as a surprise though that food scraps make up 19% of landfills;  or that a quarter of food waste is actually unused or unopened.

Crazy About Composting

As we look for ways to waste less and be more efficient, it makes sense to compost our organic kitchen waste, which makes up a full third of all household trash. Composting food-soiled paper, food matter, and even yard waste, is a simple recycling effort that can fertilize agriculture and horticulture, instead of overpopulating landfills, where the uncontrolled rotting process emits the harmful greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere.

The City of Toronto boasts an enviable, ever-expanding, “Green Bin” program that we could follow.  Green bins are left curbside filled with organic matter collected in biodegradeable corn-based trash bags.  After collection, the material is composted and redeployed for agricultural use.

In the future, composting may include not  just the process itself, but also converting the methane byproduct into energy to help power our kitchens.

Water Waste

As water becomes increasingly scarce, the need for ways to reuse kitchen waste water is becoming more urgent.  Recycling kitchen water (one of the main sources of wasted water in the home) will be a key to sustainability in the future.  Researchers in India have found relatively inexpensive water filtration systems which produce water clean enough for horticultural or agricultural use (ScienceDaily, January 6, 2011).  This water could be diverted from the kitchen, through a filter, to a receptacle to be reused in the garden.

Refuse to Refuse

To tackle kitchen waste effectively, we can’t just dispose of it more efficiently, we need to waste less.  This will not only benefit the environment, it will help our wallets too.  In his new book “American Wasteland:  How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food” (Da Capo Press), Jonathan Bloom estimates that nearly 25% of the food we buy ends up in the garbage can.  Given fast-rising food prices, this waste is becoming ever more expensive.   An intriguing solution is an integrated inventory management system, perhaps as simple as software loaded on a refrigerator LCD screen.  All food purchases could be logged in (using barcodes, just like at the supermarket), and monitored for inventory and expiration.  The system could inform the homeowner of upcoming expirations, produce shopping lists (possibly linked, at the touch of a button, to the ordering interface of an online supermarket) and even provide suggested menus given the food at hand.

So as we look to the Kitchen of the Future, we should envision one which integrates composting, waste water recycling, and inventory management, all of which would control and reuse our kitchen waste, reduce costs and contribute towards a sustainable future.  The Ekokook prototype by Faltuzi gives us an idea of what such a kitchen might look like:

Photo Courtesy of GreenMuze.com

Bibliography

[1]http://www.epa.gov/

[2] “From Far to Fridge to Garbage Can by Tara Parker-Pope – http://www.well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/from-farm-to-fridge-to-garbage-can/?ref=science

[3] http://www.theurbn.com/2011/02/minimizepackaging-1-sauce-1-jam-1-dressing/

[4] http://www.foodsaver.com/Index.aspx

[5] http://www.forumforthefuture.org/projects/futureofpackaging

[6] http://eartheasy.com/live_recycling.htm

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