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How to Go Green in the Kitchen

Consumer Reports

Photo by Ellen Silverman

"Green is an approach that’s going to stay part of our design ethic,” says Connecticut-based kitchen designer Mary Jo Peterson. She believes that reducing waste and energy, reusing, and recycling are keys to a greener kitchen. The ingredients? Products made from sustainable, renewable materials, energy-wise appliances, and tools that foster recycling. Here are some particulars on designing a green kitchen:

Appliances. The Energy Star label indicates that qualified models are even more efficient than the minimum levels established by the federal government. Also, if you don’t need a large oven or refrigerator, scale down to smaller models. You won’t necessarily have to forgo quality features. A tiny secondary oven also saves energy for mini meals and reheating.

Cabinetry. Some manufacturers produce cabinets free of formaldehyde, a carcinogenic gas, as well as cabinets made of particleboard or fiberboard with as much as 75 percent recycled or recovered material content.

Countertops. From recycled glass to paper, sustainable ingredients are making their way onto kitchen counters. However, they are typically pricey, available through architects and designers, and too new to evaluate long-term durability.

Flooring. Bamboo grows rapidly, reaching its harvestable height in six to eight years versus up to 80 years for some hardwoods. Cork is peeled off the bark of cork oak trees without killing the tree. It is soft and quiet underfoot. However, both materials changed color in our UV tests, and neither proved especially tough when it came to wear. Also, some are more sustainably harvested than others. Certification from the Forest Stewardship Council helps ensure that at least some sustainable practices are used.

Lighting. Use energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs, now available in warm tones, and less-versatile LEDs (light-emitting diodes) where possible. Like all fluorescent lighting, the fluorescent bulbs we tested contain small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin, and should be recycled to prevent release into the environment. Contact your sanitation department to see if recycling is an option in your area, visit www.epa.gov/bulbrecycling to find recyclers and learn about other options, and read “Where, oh where, can I recycle my CFLs?” from the Home & Garden blog.

Paints. Shop for interior paints that off-gas little or no volatile organic compounds (VOC). There are several readily available zero- and low-VOC paints from major paint manufacturers. Some may not perform as well as other paints, so be sure to check our Ratings (available to subscribers) for performance.

Water. If you are on a public municipal water system, check your Consumer Confidence Report, which lists what compounds are in your water. Or have your water tested if you are on a private well. If those reports uncover any contaminants you should invest in a filtration system. It’s cheaper than bottled water and less wasteful. For more information, read our latest report on water filters. For more information, read our latest report on water filters.

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