Béa Johnson, a mother of two living in a suburb just north of San Francisco, runs what she calls a “zero waste home.” After reading about her in this issue of Sunset Magazine, I found her to be both inspiring, and a little fanatical.

Béa has become so devoted to eliminating garbage from her home, she sews produce bags out of used pillow sacks so as not to waste the ones at the grocery store, and buys no packaged goods. None. Over the course of a six month period, the amount of garbage her family accumulates could fit into a two cup measure.

On the one hand, we could all learn a thing or two from this eco-warrior in minimizing the excess and lightening up our environmental footprint. On the other hand, I felt tired just looking at her pristinely organized cupboard of tidy glass jars. I could never keep that up.

But reading about Béa did get me thinking about how I could approach things a littler greener, particularly with regards to my kitchen. And since I’m no expert in this area, I called on someone who is: Shawna Sadowski, director of sustainability for Annie’s Inc. (as in Annie’s Mac & Cheese). Shauna’s job is to make sure all of the company’s suppliers produce their goods in an environmentally and socially responsible way. She shared these 12 tips for lightening your environmental load:

  1. Emphasize a plant-based diet. That doesn’t mean banning meat. In fact, livestock are part of a healthy ecosystem. It’s more about eating less meat and choosing meat that is sustainably raised. Consider eating one less meat meal a day or one less meat meal a week: Baby steps.
  2. Opt for local products versus imported. The impact of food miles on greenhouse gasses is actually pretty minimal. But there is also something to be said for knowing where your food comes from whether it’s the farmer’s market in town, the produce store around the corner, or the CSA box from a local farm.
  3. Take a good look at the cleaning products in your kitchen. Opt for brands such as Method and Seventh Generation that aren’t full of chemicals that pollute as they head down the drain. It requires a bit of trial and error because some of the chemical-free products aren’t as effective as the old standbys.
  4. Be mindful about the food you buy. Buying organic can have a significant contributing benefit to the environment.
  5. If you are remodeling a kitchen, look into products made from recycled materials. Perhaps as important is to choose items that are durable and will stand the test of time, rather than end up in a landfill in a few short years.
  6. Compost. If you don’t have a municipal composting service, consider a worm box or other composting system for your yard or deck. It’ll take care of all of your food scraps, and do wonders for your yard.
  7. Drink from the tap. We are pretty fortunate in this country to have, for the most part, excellent drinking water. Install a tap filtration system if you are concerned about what’s in there or don’t like the taste, or use a simple Brita pitcher. Invest in durable, re-usable water bottles for hydrating on the go.
  8. If you are fond of bubbly water, Soda Stream and other home carbonation systems are a super convenient and eco-friendly alternative to buying bottled bubbles.
  9. Pay attention to how much you (and your kids) run the water when you are doing the dishes, and turn off the faucet when you can.
  10. When you are out of town, unplug kitchen appliances.
  11. Take advantage of your toaster oven for small cooking and baking projects. It likely uses a lot less energy than your oven and can do a bang up job.
  12. Consider recycled appliances and kitchen wares. Here in San Francisco, you can find wonderful second-hand supplies at Pot and Pantry. Flea markets and yard sales can also be gold mines for quality vintage and contemporary kitchen supplies.