How to take a bite out of your carbon footprint

Graphic display of food items

What you eat makes up a big chunk of your personal carbon footprint, around 25% in fact!

Everything from what we eat to how it’s cooked, packaged and delivered to us has an impact on the environment. But how can we make a difference?

Make different choices with what you eat

With food making up such a large proportion of your carbon footprint, we can make a big difference making more mindful choices. For instance, when shopping in the supermarket, opting for locally grown apples as opposed to those brought in from abroad will help cut your foot miles.

Eating with the seasons allows nature to do the hard work for you! Seasonal produce is often grown closer to where it’s eaten meaning less carbon emissions from transport, and energy requirements for storage.

While there is an increased cost associated with eating mainly organic, this type of food production is far better for biodiversity and organic farms have 50% more plants, insects and wildlife compared to conventional.

Graph showing the carbon footprint of different foods

In the graph above, you can see that red meat, pork, chicken, cheese and fish have the highest carbon footprint, with red meat having more than 20 times the footprint of fruits and vegetables, and more than four times that of chicken and pork. This is because of the feedstock required, and due to cattle’s digestive system, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Opting for locally reared could lower the footprint a bit, but it very much depends on feed and how the animals are raised.

A good way to try different types of food is to go plant based for the day. A really big impact step is to make the switch to a vegetarian diet, but change doesn’t happen overnight, and people often make this transition gradually. By cutting back or cutting out your red meat, or switching to alternatives you can cut around one third off your food carbon footprint, so this can be a high impact step to try if you are looking for one.

The problem with palm oil

Palm oil is a key ingredient found in many of our favourite foods and cosmetics. But did you know, unsustainable palm oil production accounts for almost half of deforestation in Malaysia, therefore accelerating climate change. This is because when we fell trees, we remove an important absorber of greenhouse gas emissions, and deforestation is an important contributor to climate change.

Virgin forests are replaced with the palm tree (where the oil comes from), which is incredibly fast to grow which makes it great for production. However, because of this, mass land areas are losing native plants and species, including orangutans, rhinos, tigers and many others being pushed close to extinction, in favour of it’s growth.

Palm oil can be grown sustainably without felling forestry, however, it can be really hard to know whether it has, and there have been many issues around how sustainable sources are.

So what can you do?

Look out for palm oil in the products you use and opt for alternatives which don’t use it or use sustainably sourced instead. You can also look for the Fairtrade logo to ensure the product was made fairly for both workers and the environment.

How we cook

While the biggest impact changes come from our food choices, because food production is the most carbon intensive part, we can also make a difference with how we cook it too! Did you know a kettle can use 2000 Watts of power? That’s more than your TV, laptop and fridge put together. By only boiling the water you need, you can save precious time, energy and money all while cutting your footprint.

Microwaves are also a great way to cook your food, or reheat your delicious leftovers. They use half the energy compared to a standard oven or hob for certain meals, and can save you up to 50% on the carbon emissions.

You can also save energy by simply using lids more. Cooking with lids uses 10% less energy than without, and cooks your food quicker. It will only save a little bit of energy each time, but over a year, imagine how much you’d save with this simple step.

Graphic showing the carbon footprint of food distribution

Cutting your food waste

Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to your food footprint. When food waste is sent to landfill, as it breaks down it emits methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

Did you know on average 40% of food is thrown away simply because we don’t use it in time? Try to make a meal with leftovers or the forgotten veggies at the back of the fridge! Or if you’re going away for the week, why not share your food with friends or neighbours.

You can help by committing to reduce your food waste (or commit to a zero food waste lifestyle)! Or you can compost your food waste, either through a home composter in your home or garden, or many local councils offer food waste recycling.

Changing your diet can be a really gradual process, but trying one small thing a day, can be great for experimenting with new tastes and meals, and discovering all sorts of new ideas for eating. And of cutting back on food waste isn’t just good for the planet, it’s good for your wallet too.

Sign up to Giki Zero, and through your steps page, you can filter for all the food related steps, to find the right steps for you.