Carbon Footprint of Food & How To Lower It

Greener Kirkcaldy’s Climate Champion Tali, explains how food is impacting our home planet and how choices we make about food can reduce our carbon footprint in her latest blog.

Carbon Footprint of Food

Growing, producing, transporting, and storing our foods have a significant impact on the environment and our food system is becoming progressively worse for the Earth and contributing to the climate emergency.  Due to the high population, we will still struggle to feed billions of people in 50 years time.

However, we can make a difference, and it’s not too late…

How to cut down carbon footprint on food every day.

Buy local: Lots of vegetables and fruits have a low carbon footprint; however, it depends on where they are grown and packaged! Seasonal foods create fewer greenhouse gas because usually, they are produced naturally without artificial heat. Local or homegrown foods are lower carbon as well, due to not being shipped or worse, flown huge distances. Checking labels for information on how and where food is produced will help you recognise low carbon options before buying.

Local meat also has a lower carbon footprint than that produced overseas. For example, imported beef from Brazil has three times the carbon footprint of British beef (that’s not say that eating meat is a low carbon choice – see this video!). Brazilian beef production also requires large scale deforestation to make space for cattle ranching, as well as the production of soya grown to feed them, so has a double impact on climate through deforestation.  Animals eating crops that humans could eat is much more impact on climate change than us eating the plants.  In 2018, 30 million arcs of tropical rainforest were lost, around 82,191 acres a day (43 football fields per minute).

Go plant-based: According to scientific studies, avoiding meat and dairy products is one of the biggest ways to reduce your environmental impact. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimate that 18% of global emission result from livestock production. Meat production also needs a much higher amount of water to produce than vegetables. For example, producing 1kg of beef requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water and 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water!

Can cheese affect the carbon footprint? Yes, of course. It actually isn’t much different from beef, but we eat less cheese than we do with meat. Not every cheese has the same carbon footprint, producing a softer cheese uses less milk, therefore lower carbon footprint than others. For example, producing 1kg of cheddar produces 11.8kg of Co2, compared to 6.5kg of CO2 to produce the same weight of goats cheese. You could also consider swapping dairy milk for a plant-based alternative such as almond, soy or oat products.

You can find out carbon footprint of different foods using this calculator or reading this article from foodprint expert Mike Berners-Lee.

Therefore, a great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to switch to a plant-based diet – even if just a few days a weeks. Interesting, right?

Avoid food waste: Every year in the UK, we bin a huge amount of edible food, wasting the carbon footprint of production, transport and of disposal. Here are some tips to avoid adding to that waste, aswell as some ideas to cook them in a more sustainable way.

  • Check your fridge and cupboards before deciding what you need to buy.
  • If you have foods you don’t need, don’t throw them out! Please give it to someone else or donate it to the food bank or community fridge.
  • Write a shopping list to avoid buying what you don’t need.
  • Plan out what you eat for the next five days or so. That way, you’ll know which need to eat first (e.g. vegs, the best before or valid until date)
  • Buy reasonable portions of foods per person
  • Consider eating the same meal two days in a row if there is a lot left, or freeze them to eat later
  • If possible, buy foods loose and bring your own bag or buy less packaging-  plastics aren’t very friendly to the planet (it’s estimated that plastics will be responsible for 17% of global emissions by 2050!).

Use low carbon cooking methods:

  • Saucepans are less efficient than kettles for boiling water and only boil the amount of water you need.
  • When cooking vegetables, try to boil gently and cut them into small pieces.
  • If you don’t put the lid on the saucepan, you would waste 20% of the energy.
  • When using the oven, fill it up as much as you can to make full use of the energy and only switch it on when you are ready.

To reduce the impact of your weekly supermarket shop is fairly easy to do. All it takes is a little forward planning and a bit more attention to what you are popping in your basket. If you decide to give some of these tips a try, do let us know how you get on!

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