The Carbon Footprint of Your Food
You may already be aware that what we eat affects the planet, but do you know how and why? In the following three-part series, we’ll be taking a look at the environmental impact our food has, as well as offering advice on what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.
Essentially, it boils down to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Foods produce differing amounts of greenhouse gases, and therefore eating foods with a lower level of GHG production reduces the carbon footprint of your food.
What are Greenhouse Gases?
Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat inside the planet’s atmosphere. They are called ‘greenhouse gases’ because they act as a giant greenhouse around Earth.
The worst culprits are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and water vapour.
Since they trap heat, they lead to a rise in the average global temperature. That, then, contributes to climate change.
What is the Relationship Between GHGs and Your Carbon Footprint?
Your carbon footprint is the measure of the GHGs (mainly CO2) your activities release into the atmosphere. This includes everything from the emissions from your petrol-fuelled car to the clothes you wear.
Certain activities are considered carbon-neutral (or net-zero), which means that the amount of GHGs released was offset by something else. For example, by planting enough trees to negate the effect.
You can also be carbon negative if you reduce or absorb more CO2 than you produce.
What’s the Carbon Footprint of Your Food?
Your food’s carbon footprint is calculated based on the activities required to bring it to your plate. For example, let’s consider an apple from farm to plate.
The farmer plants the tree, fertilises it, and waters it. Once the tree fruits, it is then harvested, packed, and transported, maybe to the market directly, or more likely, to a warehouse and then to the point of sale.
At the shop, you buy the apple and transport it home (or order a delivery).
Each activity, from planting the tree to finally getting it to your home, releases some CO2.
For an apple, it’s generally quite low. An apple tree lives for several years and, in its lifetime, will absorb quite a bit of CO2 from the atmosphere. As a result, it has a relatively smaller carbon footprint.
In general, plant-based food has a smaller carbon footprint compared to animal-based food, even if it doesn’t grow on trees.
What’s the Carbon Footprint of Meat?
The carbon footprint of meat varies according to the type of meat. See below for a comparison.
Chicken and pork have relatively low GHG emissions per kilogram of the food product:
9.87 kg and 12.31 kg.
Lamb and mutton produce around 39.72 kg of GHG emissions.
Beef, on the other hand, produces 99.48 kg of GHGs per kilogram of meat.
Tomatoes, which produce 2.09 kg
Wheat: 1.57 kg
Potatoes: 0.46 kg.
Eggs: 4.67 kg
Milk: 3.25 kg
Nuts: 0.43 kg
Should You Stop Eating Meat to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?
Whilst it’s true that meat and other animal products have a higher carbon footprint, we understand that becoming vegetarian or vegan is not for everybody. However, if you do want to lower the carbon footprint of your food, here are some of our tips.
1. Lower Your Meat Consumption
- Whilst you may enjoy a meat-based diet, you can lower the amount you eat. You could keep one day in the week as a “vegetarian” day, where you enjoy plant proteins instead of animal protein. Plant protein has more fibre and less fat, which makes it healthier for you.
- You could reduce the meat portion size. For example, you could bulk your meals with plant protein whilst reducing the portion of meat. Again, you’re not depriving yourself, but that will still make an impact on your carbon footprint.
2. Reduce Food Waste
Food waste is a huge problem. In the UK, we annually generate around 10 million tonnes of food waste, of which nearly 70% is from households. A large part of this is edible food waste, which could have been consumed but wasn’t for whatever reason.
The issue with food waste is that, unless it is recycled, it can end up in landfill. There, it decomposes in the absence of air to produce CO2, methane, and water vapour—all of which are GHGs.
That means the carbon footprint of your food is now higher than it would have been if you’d consumed all of it!
By reducing your food waste, you are taking control of your carbon footprint.
3. Recycle Your Food Waste
Ideally, there would be no food waste. However, real life is seldom ideal. There will always be some wastage, whether it is in the form of inedible parts, like bones, peels, seeds, and shells or uneaten food.
And, yes, your efforts to reduce waste do help. But, no matter how “inevitable”, food waste still adds to your carbon footprint.
The best way to offset it is to recycle your food. Top of the waste hierarchy for recycling food is Anaerobic Digestion. In this process, food waste is made into a slurry and “fed” to a specific combination of bacteria.
These bacteria consume the material and produce methane. Now, you might wonder how that’s a good thing, with methane being a GHG.
The difference, in this case, is, the methane is captured and used to create renewable energy. It is not allowed to escape into the atmosphere. Instead, it replaces other fossil fuels for heat and electricity generation, making it a very sustainable and environmentally friendly energy source.
Moreover, the digested slurry is used as a Nitrogen-rich biofertiliser, completing the cycle of your food—from the soil and back into the soil.
Want to Do More to Lower Your Food Waste Impact?
As a food waste producer, collector or local authority, you can speak to us about recycling your food waste. We are also happy to discuss your processes to see how you could reduce waste.
As a concerned citizen of the planet, if you would like your food waste to be recycled instead of being thrown out with general rubbish, speak to your council about collecting food waste separately. They can then contact us to recycle it, effectively reducing the carbon footprint of your food.