The carbon footprint of food

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Carbon Footprint Food Waste The Carbon Footprint of Food

A carbon footprint is, by definition, the amount of greenhouse gases produced by a particular human activity. When measuring the carbon footprint of an individual, a family, an event, an organization or even an entire nation, the focus is on the greenhouse gases that are released in the atmosphere by that particular person or situation. The primary greenhouse gas responsible for about three-quarters of emissions and which can linger in the atmosphere for thousands of years, is Carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions mainly come from burning organic materials such as coal, oil, gas, wood, and solid waste, which means that virtually every sector of the global economy, from manufacturing to agriculture to transportation, contributes, in a way or the other, to the problem of greenhouse emissions. Transport, housing and food are the three largest contributors to our individual carbon footprint. Food’s carbon footprint, or foodprint, is produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food we eat. Here are 4 ways to reduce our carbon footprint by changing certain daily habits.

1) Eat less meat

All livestock has a carbon footprint, but ruminant animals, such as for example cattle, goats, sheep and bison, have been found to release the most greenhouse emissions of them all. This is because of their unique digestive system, which constantly generates methane, another greenhouse gas that has is approximately 20 to 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere. In addition, to the emissions animals produce naturally, the industrial meat production also triggers added greenhouse emissions caused by the production of crops harvested for animal feed, as well as the industry’s dependance on water and the use of land. A reduction in our consumption of meat, milk, and it’s derivatives (such as cheese) is essential to slowing down climate change, as confirmed by a major report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 


2) Skip packaged food  

Whether at home or in a manufacturing plant, the less processing your food sees the better, both from a health point of view and from a carbon footprint point of view! Processed foods have a larger carbon footprint than raw or minimally processed alternatives because of the amount of work and energy that goes into transforming them. Food has to be cut, cooked, and packaged, in addition of course to all the other ingredients that go into making the final product. By cooking at home and from scratch you not only have the bonus of knowing exactly what you are eating and what goes into your food, but you will also avoid having to deal with all the packaging and the added emissions that comes with most store purchases (have you heard of package free shopping?)

3) Eat local, eat seasonal 

How many miles did your food travel to get to your table? Did you ever ask yourself that? In most cases, the answer is A LOT! A 2008 paper, titled  'Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States' found that 83% of carbon emissions in the food system is the result of food production, 5% comes from wholesaling and retailing food, and a total of 11%  comes from transporting it.
What this comes down to is that you can actively reduce the carbon footprint of your food by up to 7% by choosing to eat locally. By eating locally and, especially eating what is in season, you will not only be cutting down on emissions, but you will also be eating healthier, as it will more likely be fresh and not processed. Buying locally doesn’t mean turning a blind eye on the production process though. Locally grown products that aren’t in season for instance are more likely to have been harvested using fossil-fuel-heated greenhouses. In fact, when you analyse the respective carbon footprints of certain local and imported goods, it becomes clear that production emissions can easily dwarf transport emissions. A good example comes from a 1998 paper by Annika Carlsson which showed that tomatoes imported from Spain to Sweden have much lower footprints that those locally grown. This happens because the emissions generated to heat and light greenhouses in northern Europe far exceed the transport emissions of bringing tomatoes in from Spain. Other things to consider when buying locally are: Was manual labour involved or were machines used to harvest and pick the crops? What fertilizers were used? What irrigation system? Learn to ask questions. Do your research and support local farmers that keep their carbon emissions to a minimum. 


4) Avoid food waste

Don’t want to change your eating habits? Then make a difference by keeping under control the quantities of what you’re buying in order to not throw anything away! According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, food waste is responsible for about 8% of total human caused greenhouse gas emissions, which is almost as much as road transportation. Just like cattle, decomposing food generates methane, and seeing the amount of food that the average household wastes, emission levels are high. A recent study carried out by the University of Waterloo found that avoidable household food waste was responsible for 9.5% to 15% of greenhouse gas emissions from food. If you find that you are wasting a lot of the food your purchase start making lists in order to better understand what you are consuming and what is being thrown away. Only buy what you need. The more items we have in the fridge the more probability of it going to waste. If your fridge is organized and you have easy access to everything in it, it will be easier to see what is going bad and therefore use it while you’re still in time. Careful meal planning can help lower food waste, learning how to correctly store certain items, as well as knowing what can be frozen and what can’t. Also, get creative with your leftovers and give them new life transforming them in new dishes before deciding to compost them. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency about 94% of the food we throw away ends up in up in landfills or combustion facilities, so let’s all try our best to reduce our carbon footprint and save money, by limiting excess food.

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published