How to reduce your food based carbon footprint

All the food you eat creates CO2e in production, food production and distribution is responsible for 25% of all emissions globally. Eating the right produce can have major environmental benefits, positive health repercussions, and a positive ethical impact.

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Change up what you eat

Meat and dairy production is unsustainably carbon intensive. Livestock accounts for over 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. To yield just 50g of protein from cheese, 5.4kg of CO2e is produced; producing a kilogram of beef emits a staggering 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases. This is just to produce it, not to get it to you. If you’re interested in how much your diet contributes to global warming, check out our carbon footprint calculator.

But it’s not just emissions; 1kg of meat requires between 5,000 and 17,000 litres of fresh water. Chocolate is one of the worst offenders, requiring 17,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of the product. This is water that could be used far more productively, and the sanitation of this water is incredibly carbon intensive.

If the world consumed meat and dairy at the same rates that those in Western countries do, the planet could not survive. However, meat and dairy carry great cultural significance in many cultures and if you really can’t give up that Sunday roast, just remember that cutting down on your meat consumption can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint.

Going vegan or vegetarian is also a simple, effective way of reducing your footprint. If it feels like too big a lifestyle change, why not introduce a few plant-based meals every week? You never know, you may discover a range of delicious new recipes to road-test on your friends and family at dinner parties.

Save the pig… save the planet.

Know your produce

It’s not always as simple as eating local produce, you really need to understand where all your food comes from, how it is stored, and how it is distributed.

Although it would seem that food miles are the biggest polluter, this is not strictly true. The vast majority of a food's carbon impact comes from production and storage as you can see in the chart.

The mere act of swapping one day’s worth of beef and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs or plant-based food can reduce emissions more than buying all your food from local sources. That’s a tiny lifestyle change (versus changing your shopping habits) that makes a big difference.

Although the carbon emissions for transportation are relatively small, this situation is reversed in the case of air-freighted food; it’s not where it comes from but how it gets there!

But air-freighted foods are a very small share of all distribution methods. Air-freighted goods only account for 0.16% of food miles.

So how can consumers figure out which foods have been air-freighted? These foods tend to be the highly perishable goods that can’t be grown locally. Things like asparagus, green beans, and berries are common air-freighted goods when they are out of season in the UK, as they need to be transported quickly before they go off. Try to buy these goods when they are in season in your native country – e.g. asparagus season in England is usually from April-June. Check the packaging for the country of origin and purchase accordingly.

Eat out less

There’s nothing wrong with eating out – it’s a treat to be able to order food at a restaurant, but one that shouldn’t be taken for granted. The restaurant industry is responsible for a great deal of food wastage, as presentation is often prioritised and kitchens have to be extra-careful about perishable products. Choose restaurants that are actively conscious of their contribution, such as zero-waste kitchens or those who boast locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients on the menus.

Food waste

The average UK household wastes over 35% of its food: that’s eight full meals a week in the bin. To produce that amount of food and drink currently wasted, you would need an area almost the size of Wales (ca. 19,000km). So what happens to that waste? It ends up in landfill and emits its own CO2 during decomposition. We have already seen how much it costs to produce and transport it; now we’re just gonna throw it away?!

It seems obvious, but try to only buy what you need. Not only will this benefit the planet, but also your wallet. And, instead of throwing away any waste that you do produce, why not start a compost bin that you can use to fertilise your home-grown veg patch or flowerbed? Invest in decent storage so that food doesn’t go stale or off, and plan meals ahead to reduce wastage.

Looking for more tips and tricks? Check out 10 ways to reduce the carbon footrpint of your food.