More and more people are turning to plant-based, vegan, vegetarian diets, or are simply looking to reduce their meat intake in order to combat climate change. However, this is not just the only way that you can change your dietary habit to better aid the environment, from what you put into your mouth to the plastic-covered items you place into your shopping cart to the food that you throw away – it all has an effect, and all can be harnessed to be kinder to the environment.
Plastic waste is having a devastating and destructive effect on our landscape, oceans, wildlife and marine life and single use plastics are one of the biggest factors. Being more conscious of the products you buy can have a small but lasting effect on the amount of plastic being put into landfill and the oceans. Opting for foods or household products with less plastic, reusable items or even shopping at local markets for your fruit and veg (reusable bag in hand), can make a real change. You can also petition your local supermarkets or shops to reduce the amount of one-use plastics on their items. Further, there are plenty of zero-waste shops which will allow you to re-fill essential foods and household items into your own containers. Also, be more mindful of your level of food waste, looking at how better you can use leftovers or reduce the amount of food you are throwing away. Creating a compost bin for organic waste can both be beneficial to those green thumbs and much better for the environment. As approximately ‘about 18 percent of all U.S. methane emissions—a powerful greenhouse gas—comes from food waste rotting in landfills’ Eating Well reported.
Additionally, consider how many bottles of water you are buying. Moving instead to a refillable bottle and even a water filter that you can keep in the fridge. Reusing and refilling bottles of water can reduce your plastic waste exponentially. According to Eating Well, ‘The average American guzzles 39 gallons of the store-bought stuff each year (equal to 312 16-ounce bottles per person!). The resources used to make just one plastic water bottle—from beginning to delivery to disposal—release 0.27 kg of CO2. If everyone gave up just half the number of bottles we currently plow through, it would save 9,504,000 metric tons of CO2 a year, according to University of Michigan researchers.’
Food production is a heavy contributor to greenhouse gases into the environment, therefore by altering our eating habits and petitioning supermarkets and agricultural policies we can contribute to a much more sustainable future. Harvard Health publishing wrote in 2019: ‘About 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. About half of this is from the livestock sector alone. And it’s not just the greenhouse gasses that are the problem. Food production occupies about 40% of the global land, uses about 70% of our fresh water (which is increasingly in short supply in many places in the world, leading to strife), causes many species to become extinct, and is responsible for large areas of deforestation (cutting down the rain forest so cattle can graze) and desertification (the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of inappropriate agriculture).’
Therefore, many sources suggest that opting for a largely plant-based diet can also help to reduce your carbon footprint. Now, it is estimated that around 50% of our habitable land is used for farming, this is contributing to both deforestations, the extinction of wildlife and a significant rise in CO2 levels. If the demand for meat goes down, more of this land could be given back to the environment, reversing deforestation and CO2 levels. According to Eating Well, ‘A Spanish study found that organically grown crops like wheat and veggies have lower carbon footprints than their conventional counterparts—largely because they require fewer resources, such as fertilizers. And soil from organic farms sequesters more carbon from the air. If all Americans ate 2½ cups of organic veggies a day instead of conventional ones, we’d reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3.3 million metric tons a year.’
Eating organic, seasonal and local food will also help you be eco-friendlier. If it is grown locally, it will use less fossil fuels to transport and generate fewer green-house gasses. Food grown seasonally and locally will also need less pesticides and chemicals to produce food, further, if it is seasonal it often means that the food is not forced and food production can become more sustainable. Further shopping for seasonal and local food may make your meal choices a bit more varied, and after the coronavirus pandemic devastating so many of our lives, shopping local is a bonus for struggling small farmers.
Also look into where your food is sourced and whether it is sustainable, this may take some time and research at first but can become easier in the long run. There are plenty of organizations which look to ensure that produce is being produced sustainably. For example, coffee and cocoa farming has contributed to deforestation. However, organizations such as Rainforest Alliance Certifications, works with farmers for environmentally friendly farming. The RSPO is an organization that promotes sustainable palm oil production, and many large companies are being petitioned into only using existing and sustainable palm oil farms.