Eat Local: We fly, ship and truck food around the country and pretend there is no environmental cost. We do this to sustain the illusion that seasons don’t exist and to maintain the myth of endless limitless consumer choices. The trucking of food rose by 50 per cent and air-freighting more than doubled between 1978 and 2002. Flying accounts for only 1 per cent of UK food miles, although this small amount generates 10 per cent of food transport CO2 emissions. Shipping is also a major problem. The amount of sulphur oxide pollution that comes from the 15 largest ships equals the combined amount from all the cars in the world.1 However, we also know transport only accounts for about a tenth of the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions, and agricultural production accounts for half. Therefore, it is important that we track greenhouse gas emissions through all phases of a food’s production, transport, and consumption, following a life-cycle or what is called “cradle to grave analysis.2
Waste Less Food: In the UK, about 20% of the food bought is thrown away, and 60% is waste that could have been eaten. We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food from our homes every year. Wasting food costs the average UK family with children £680 a year, or £50 a month.3 If we all stop wasting food that could have been eaten, the CO2 impact would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road. In developing countries most of the food waste occurs at the pre- and post-harvest stage, before the farm gate. In comparison, in UK nearly three quarters of food waste occurs at the consumer stage.4
Eat more organic: Farming is a major source of emissions, such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, which are responsible for global warming. However the type of farming makes a huge difference and organic farming is definitely more environmentally friendly. Potential benefits are ‘improved soil fertility, organic matter content and biological activity, better soil structure and less susceptibility to erosion, reduced pollution from nutrient leaching and pesticides, and improved plant and animal biodiversity’.5 Soil carbon sequestration, through the widespread adoption of organic farming, could offset at least 23% of UK agriculture’s GHG emissions.6 Nitrous oxide (300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) is released from the soil as a result of fertilizer use in conventional, non-organic farming. Buying organic significantly reduces emissions of this dangerous greenhouse gas.
Eat less meat: Industralisation of agriculture and large-scale livestock production is expected to increase green house emissions by more than a third till 2030. Meat and dairy accounts for half of the emissions attributed to the food chain due to the methane generated by ruminants and the production and transport of fertilisers, pesticide and feed in conventional agriculture. This does not take in account the emissions attached to deforestation and other land use changes in other countries as a result of our consumption and animal feed demands.7 Meat production also increases our dependence on global water sources, for example we need 15, 300 litres of water on average to produce 1 kg of beef.8 A scope study published in 2009 claims that we can feed the world by 2050 using free-range farm animal production systems and adopting a lower-meat diet in developed countries. 9
Grow some of your own food: Growing your own organic food could reduce your CO2 emissions by as much as 50kg/year. Unlike commercial farming, which releases harmful chemicals into the air and water as well as the soil, organic gardening nourishes the soil of your garden by planting species that enrich soil and by using fertilizers and other garden products that are of natural origin. Growing your own also avoids relying on produce imported from many miles away and it reduces your food bill. In the current economic crisis many families grow their own food to be more resilient. It is not surprising that waiting lists for allotments in the UK are often more than 10 years. Gardening doesn’t just save on grocery bills; it’s a low-cost, healthy, family activity too.
Compost more: Organic matter biodegrades. About half of the solid waste buried in landfills is some sort of organic matter, such as paper or wood or grass clippings. Technically speaking, the problem with rotting organic waste in landfills is all about methane, not carbon dioxide. When waste gets buried in a landfill, the microorganisms decompose the garbage without oxygen. A byproduct of that anaerobic activity is methane gas. And, like carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas that can trap heat and drive up global temperatures. According to the US environmental protection agency, methane is 21 times more harmful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. One way to keep excess methane out of the atmosphere is to compost some of your solid waste. Compost eventually turns to fertilizer you can use to grow new green things that will take carbon dioxide out of the air.
1 Food-TechConnect (2011). Making the case for buying local. Retrieved October 9, 2013, from http://www.foodtechconnect.com/2011/05/11/infographic-making-the-case-for-buying-local/
2 Garnett, T. (2008). Cooking up a storm: Food, green house gas emissions, and our changing climate. FCRN.
3 McCarthy, M. (2011, November 17). We are throwing out less food-but still too much. Retrieved November 16, 2011, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/were-throwing-out-less-food–but-still-too-much-6262749.html
4 Bond, M., Meacham, T., Bhunnoo, R. and Benton, T.G. (2013). Food waste within global food systems. A Global Food Security report.
5 UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development). (2013). Wake up before is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate. Trade and Environment Review, 2013.
6 Azeez MA Cantab, G. (2009). Soil carbon and organic farming: A review of the evidence on the relationship between agriculture and soil carbon sequestration, and how organic farming can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Soil Association.
7 See footnote 2.
8 This is the water footprint of beef. Hoekstra, A.Y. (2008) The water footprint of food. In Förare, J. (ed.), Water for food (pp.49-69). Stockholm, Sweden: The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (Formas).
9 Friends of the Earth and Compassion in World Farming. (2009). Eating the planet? How we can feed the world without trashing.