Keeping an eye on eco-friendly and sustainable choices doesn’t mean you have to compromise on the beauty and style of your kitchen. We’ve uncovered 7 ways to make your kitchen eco-friendly, all guaranteed to enhance your cooking space.
Reclaim, reuse, recycle
Making new products, whether a new cabinet or pressing out vinyl flooring, requires far more energy and resources than recycling or upcycling existing products. One of the most respected salvage firms is Retrouvius. They combine traditional materials with modern techniques, often in unexpected ways. Designer Maria Speake says, “[Reclaimed materials] immediately give a comforting and worn-in aesthetic… and often have an unusual or compelling provenance. They are incredibly hardwearing and resilient, perfect for family homes.”
Even if minimalism is your thing, you can still reuse. The Reclaimed Flooring Company source wood from all over, including old beams, barns and parquetry. Thanks to their expertise in finishing materials, they can redesign it to any style – 100-year-old oak floorboards look beautiful contrasted with sleek Italian and German minimalism. Victorian Woodworks also offers lovely floors. Look out too for businesses like the Used Kitchen Company, which has beautiful bespoke kitchens crying out for a new home.
If you do go for new cabinets, use renewable (FSC-certified) wood sources or consider chipboard, which is not made from virgin wood.
Look at the provenance of your worktops and finishes
Perhaps even more than cabinets, worktops can be highly labour and resource intensive. Concrete, for example, looks wonderful but is heavy on water use and pollution and is a nightmare to dispose of. Corian, another popular material, scratches fairly easily and has to replaced more often than say granite, which itself has an impact on the world due to extraction methods and shipping. But plenty of companies are looking at eco alternatives. Quartz experts Cosentino have developed ECO, manufactured from 75% recycled materials such as mirror, glass, porcelain, earthenware and vitrified ash. Resilica, a glass and resin mix developed in the UK, comes in 500+ colours. Its surface is ground away and polished to reveal fragments of embedded glass. Look out too for GlassEco’s UrbnRok range, a Grand Design award winner.
If you’re looking for a wooden worktop and don’t want to recycle, consider bamboo (fast growing, hard-wearing) or rubberwood, a by-product of rubber production, made from the hevea tree after latex is extracted.
Paint the town green
Since 2010 all paint producers have had to comply with minimum EU standards on carcinogenic VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in paint. However many conventional paints still include formaldehyde, heavy metals and a smorgasbord of chemicals. It’s also estimated that one litre of paint can result in up to 30 litres of toxic waste. And, if you wouldn’t put toxic paint in your baby’s nursery, you probably shouldn’t put it where you prepare food either. As well as being kinder on respiratory systems, eco-paint is often much kinder to old houses where the walls need to ‘breathe’. The term is a bit of a catch-all ranging from clay paints to paints using solvents derived from citrus fruit, so careful research is needed to choose the right one. Great brands to look out for include earthborn, the only UK brand to carry the EU eco-label flower accreditation and Eico, which is not only very low in VOCs but also uses only sustainable energy in production. Architectural historian Edward Bulmer, who has worked on Kenwood House and Castle Howard among others, produces a beautiful, natural range of heritage colours called Pots Of Paint. It’s not all specialist brands: the renowned Farrow & Ball pride themselves on their low VOC levels and lack of solvents.
Energy efficient appliances
It goes without saying that you’d buy the most efficient A+++ rated dishwasher, fridge and freezer, but when it comes to cooking, what’s the best? Gas ovens produce significantly less CO2 than electricity – but use up more energy. Induction hobs are more energy efficient any other hob type, but still rate behind gas for CO2. New regulations in 2015 mean that poor quality domestic ovens, hobs and range hoods will be phased out by 2019. The top end of the market is already ahead, and according to www.ethicalconsumer.org, Miele, Smeg and Aga all rate very highly for environmental and product sustainability. And for easy measures, Eco fans rate pressure cookers above all (it takes 30 minutes to cook a three hour slow roast), and you don’t even need to change your kitchen to use a hob-top version.
Good news: the most beautiful pans are the best. You want durable, well-made items that will stand test of time so aim for copper and iron. Copper has nearly twice the thermal conductivity of aluminium, is five times more conductive than cast iron and 25 times more than stainless steel. Copper pans are expensive but are also truly beautiful and fabulous to cook with – check out Mauviel’s exquisite range. Cast iron is great for slow cooking and we love Le Creuset’s incredibly tough pans. Avoid aluminium: processing it is hugely wasteful, and you can’t use them with energy-efficient induction hobs. It’s best to avoid chemically treated non-stick pans as there are doubts over the safety of the polymer, and they don’t last. But if you just love non-stick, try Green Pan ‘s ‘Thermolon’ or ceramic technology from Kyocera.
Use water wisely
We may live in a wet country but that doesn’t mean that we can be profligate with water – or how we heat it. Eco kettles are a good purchase: many allow you to fill up but only boil the amount you need (eg the Eco Kettle), while the Vektra keeps the water at boiling point. There’s been some discussion over boiling taps, but brands like Quooker insist their systems are very energy efficient: high-vacuum insulation means it only costs 3 pence a day to have boiling water at hand. It’s certainly better than boiling a full kettle then only using a cup’s worth.
And if you’re feeling very eco, why not do away with your dishwasher? They’re not the most beautiful things and account for 40% of a household’s water usage.
Tech is your friend
While technological developments in the kitchen have lagged behind other areas of the house, their time is coming. V-Zug’s Combi-Steam MSLQ is the first oven to combine conventional, steam and microwave cooking in one oven – basically running three devices into one with the concomitant saving on resources. And these functions can be run together to reduce cooking time. You can even programme it to produce, say, a roast for the time you want to eat it. They’re also heavily committed to energy efficiency in producing their products. Belkin’s Smart Slow Cooker slow cooker has its controls connected to wifi, so you can set if off even when out of the house. Miele’s SuperVision connects all its products, allowing you to control your Miele appliances from one place. In fact the ‘internet of things’ is getting so sophisticated, soon you’ll be able to track all your devices from anywhere in the world and, for example, turn them off (standby wastes a huge amount of electricity) thus saving energy.
And watch this space: a fridge which can track your inventory and the freshness of your food – thus reducing the mountain of wasted food – is not far off.