As a kitchen designer, you have a unique opportunity to encourage and facilitate your client’s responsible waste management. Research continues to show that convenience motivates waste reduction behavior; in particular, recycling. Through supportive design, you can make it easy to recycle.
A great deal of household waste is produced in the kitchen. As part of the preparation process, inedible or unappetizing parts of food— peels, seeds, bones, shells, rinds, fat, gristle and stems—are removed for disposal. All sorts of metal, glass, paper, cardboard or plastic packaging is accumulated. After a typical meal, food scraps remain.
Understanding that different types of waste can—and should—be managed differently creates opportunities for reducing the environmental impact of the waste generated in North American kitchens.
To practice recycling, items to be “recycled” are separated from items that are “thrown away.” Recycled items may need to be disassembled or otherwise prepared so that different materials are separated. And recycled items often require temporary storage that is separate from the rest of the waste or trash. These are important distinctions to consider when designing a kitchen space.
Recycling is more than just separating cans and bottles from regular trash. It is a complex process that includes finding uses for recycled materials and products. This means that the markets for recycled materials are volatile. Therefore, which materials are recycled will vary from community to community, and over time. Plan for flexibility in a recycling system.
Waste management planning in the kitchen begins by understanding the different types of waste that are generated in the kitchen and the different disposal methods for each. Waste from kitchen activities can be grouped as follows:
- Food waste. Most food waste is organic and so is biodegradable. Much food waste can be composted and need not be put into a landfill.
- Packaging waste. Packaging may need to be separated by material to facilitate recycling as much waste as possible.
- Paper products. In a typical home, a lot of paper becomes waste in the kitchen, much of which can be recycled, and some can be composted.
- Miscellaneous waste. Because of its central location, the kitchen trash easily becomes the repository for waste from other rooms and activities. Even some of this extra waste can be recycled or composted.
Waste management in the kitchen is influenced by community practices and regulations.
Become familiar with your client’s community waste-management practices. These practices will determine how much space is needed to collect trash and recyclable items and how many separate containers are needed.
Two kitchen appliances can be part of the waste management process. Garbage disposers install under the sink drain, and grind up food waste so it can be flushed into the sewage system. Trash compactors hold trash and compact it to reduce the volume. For other waste, follow these management tips:
- Storage for recyclable items should be accessible, such as in containers that roll-out, pull-out or swing-out. Containers need to be easily removed to transport the recyclable materials outside of the house.
An alternative storage arrangement would be to include space for a community-provided recycling container that could simply be lifted or wheeled outside for collection.
Containers for recyclables need to be durable and easy to clean.
- Include a small sink in the recycling center or close by. Many items destined for recycling must be rinsed. A gooseneck or pullout style faucet adapts to different size containers.
- Provide storage for items used in preparing recyclables, such as twine for binding newspapers, scissors for cutting packaging, extra paper or plastic bags for sorting items, twist ties for closing bags, a magnet for testing metals, or can opener for removing lids.
- Provide space for a small trash can for non-recyclable items removed or discovered in the preparation of recyclable items.
- A small counter area will provide workspace for preparing and sorting recyclables.
- If the household uses and collects returnable bottles, incorporate storage for these into the recycling center.
If your client is interested in composting, try to incorporate some convenience features that encourage the practice. Include a food-scrap collection container into the recycling center. This container needs to be accessible, easily removed, and have a tight-fitting lid when not in use. Choose a container made of an easily washed, non-absorbent material so that odors are not a problem.
Alternatively, the compost scrap collection container might be kept in the food preparation area—where scraps are generated. A pull-out bin under a counter or even a removable section of countertop with a container underneath would make a convenient collection space for peels, trimmings and scraps. A compost collection container needs to be emptied regularly, so a large container is impractical.
Another idea for collecting food scraps for composting is to keep a container in the refrigerator or freezer. This helps control potential problems with odor or pests, if it is not possible to make an immediate trip to the compost area.