Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Step Four: Kitchen Cleaning

Going zero waste involves making a lot of things at home. At the very least you'll be cooking a lot, but if you have committed to going as zero waste as possible you'll also be making beauty and cleaning products. Personally, I love the calming, meditative aspect of making things myself. Even when I'm running short on time I can make myself tea, oatmeal, salad, or a snack pack in less than five minutes. However, I've realized that for the best cooking/homemade experience, it's best to start with at least a clean sink and one cleared off, clean counter. This gives me space to work, a sink I can work with, and confidence that the space I'm working in is sanitary enough for food preparation.

Over the next few weeks we'll be working a lot to clean and declutter our homes, but the only thing I find to be imperative to zero waste is a clean sink and one clean counter. Everything else can be covered in junk, but with a clear counter and sink you'll be able to mix up all the potions, concoctions, and delicious food that will fuel and aid in your zero waste journey.

If you'd like you can just plunge in right now and go for it, or you can follow my super easy steps to zero waste cleaning.

Put all the dirty dishes from the counter in the sink. If the sink is full, you'll need to do dishes. Now isn't the time to wait for the dishes to dry in a dish-rack, so find a clean towel, dry them yourself, and put them away. If you have a dishwasher, lucky you. Rinse and load your dishes to get them out of the way.

Go through all the papers, knick-knacks, and snack items you have on your counter. Decide what really needs to live on your counter and what doesn't. I like to keep my water kettle out, since I use it two or three times a day, and my fruit basket, as it's easier to grab a snack off of the counter, but that's it. If you decide to keep things on your counter, make sure it's stuff you use at least once a day. If not, then it'd probably be better if it had it's own place in a cupboard or on a shelf.

For papers, sort through them quickly, and recycle anything that is expired, not relevant, or not useful. Sort bills, school papers, notes, lists, and reading materials into separate stacks, and then put them away in the area where you'll most use them. I like my reading material in a folder by my bed, my bills in a file by my desk, my school papers on the fridge if they have calendar information and in my school binder if they're class material, my lists in my planner, and my notes tucked away in a filing system for easy retrieval. If you don't have your paper filing system perfectly set up yet, that's fine, for now just separate all the stacks of paper in file folders, with paper clips, or with sticky notes, and put everything in one place where you can easily get to it again.

Now that the counter is clear, wipe it down with some sort of cleaner. This could be a rag and soapy water, cleaning materials that you have around the house (we'll zero waste this stuff later), or a mix of 4 cups water and 3 teaspoons white vinegar, with a teaspoon and a half of castile soap mixed in for scent, if you like. Soak and scrub any grimy bits off, and don't forget the back-splash.

Once your counter is clear and clean, replace anything you've decided should live there. I think things like dish-racks, fruit baskets, bread boxes, water kettles, toasters, electric grills, and a single decorative item are all acceptable, but I try to only choose two or three of these things to keep the counter from getting too cluttered again. Make sure the items are clean and in good condition before you put them on the counter. Anything that is broken or unusable will need some attention before it gets put back in place.

Finally, turn your attention to the sink. Do any dishes left in it (now it's okay to put them on the dish rack to dry), and go through all the sponges, rags, and scrub brushes you have. Each of these should have a specific purpose. If you have more than one item, but you use them for the same thing, keep the nicer version and get rid of the other one. For example, my mom likes to keep two scrub brushes, one for dishes and one for vegetables. My mother in-law had two sponges in her sink, but both were used for dishes, so I cleaned and dried one of them and stored it under the sink to replace the one I left in the sink when it wears out.

Once the sink is empty, you'll want to clean it thoroughly. I found some great instructions here for how to clean a sink out with baking soda and a sal suds spray (a Dr. Bronner's cleaning product). Basically, you'll just want to spray the sink down and wipe it out using the same cleaner you used on your counter, then sprinkle baking soda over the whole sink and scrub it around to provide a good shine. Rinse the sink out with hot water, then enjoy the sparkling, sanitary cleanliness that is your new sink and counter.

Now your kitchen is ready to work in to mix, prepare, and cook all the wonderful food, beauty balms, and cleaning products you'll need for a zero waste home. With a little effort, you can keep the counter and sink clear and usable by cleaning up after yourself as you cook, doing the dishes every night, and wiping down the sink and counter with your cleaner of choice at least once a week. Resist the urge to put anything on the counter unless you're working with it at the time, and you'll never have any clutter to clear off before you can work in your kitchen

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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