Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. While real solutions will require action on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment. No matter how you scored, here are some things that could help you lessen your personal environmental impact.
What is exactly a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most commonly emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Usually, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.
Why we have to eat less meat?
Globally, emissions are linked to what we put on our plates. While food systems are complicated, and research is still evolving on what the most environmentally-friendly diet is, experts mostly agree that cutting down on meat, and red meat, in particular, is a better choice for the environment. This is because the production of red meat uses a lot of feed, water, and land. Cows themselves also give off methane emissions (a harmful greenhouse gas).
For that reason, eating a vegan diet is likely to be best for the environment, say, experts. According to a study published in 2017 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant-based food. According to some estimates, beef gives off more than 2,7kg of carbon dioxide per serving; the amount created per serving by rice, legumes carrots, apples or potatoes is less than 0.2kg.
Why the plant-based diet is the best for the planet and us?
Eating a vegetarian or pescatarian diet is also likely to be better for the environment than a diet that includes a lot of meat. Each of these, however, depends on exactly what you are eating, and how much of it. If you replace that meat with dairy, for example, your emissions could rise again. “Deep net fishing can emit as much as beef,” said a researcher on environmental sustainability and public health at the University of Oxford.
Overall, eating low down the food chain as often as you can is probably a good way to reduce your carbon footprint and stay healthy, say experts. That means filling your plate with vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans. For meat-lovers, even swapping carbon-intensive meats like beef and lamb with chicken can make a difference. Better still, swap a few meals per-week to vegan or vegetarian.
Weighing your options:
When it comes to food, most greenhouse gas emissions happen during production, rather than transportation: What you eat is more important than where it comes from. But eating local can still make a difference.
Fewer food-miles can mean fewer emissions. The complicating factor in eating locally happens when you start to consider how the food got to you, not just from how far away it came. This “eat local” argument, I would take it with a pinch of salt. Tomatoes brought a short distance to a farmers market by truck or shipped further to the grocery store by a train, which could release similar emissions. (The transportation you take to get your tomatoes and bring them home, also matters.)
How about organic?
You might choose organic if you prefer to eat produce grown with fewer chemical pesticides, but when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, you’re better off shifting to low-impact, plant-based foods, according to a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The study found that organic systems use less energy than conventional ones, but they often require more land and, therefore, emit similar greenhouse gas emissions.
- This is a big one: on average, Americans waste around 40 per cent of the food they buy.
Luckily, there are simple solutions to lower your food waste (and these tips will save you money, too:
- Take stock. Organize your fridge regularly to check on what you already have, and make grocery shopping lists before you go to the store to prevent buying things you don’t need.
- Be wary of bulk. Low-priced food might seem like a good deal, but it’s not if you don’t end up eating it before it goes bad.
- Plan. Don’t cook more food than you can eat. Account for the right amount of food for the number of people eating, and adapt recipes to your needs.
- Get creative. Reuse leftovers instead of tossing them.
- Freeze. Extend the life of your food, including additional portions, as well as produce like fresh herbs, by freezing them properly.
- Doggie bag. Take home half of oversized restaurant servings.
What to eat on
Skip the disposable dishes and wash your dinnerware instead. Washing dishes, whether it is by hand or in a dishwasher, is likely to be more environmentally friendly than using disposable ones (assuming your dishwasher is energy efficient). If you do need to use disposable plates, bowls and cutlery, there are climate-friendly options, look for compostable or biodegradable such as PLA plastic, bamboo disposable tableware, Bagasse products, and materials such as the pulp of invasive reed plant and sugarcane waste. If you order takeout, wash and reuse the plastic containers that food often comes in.
Bring a cloth tote bag to the grocery store, farmers’ market, drugstore and anywhere else you may be given a plastic bag.
Glass or metal jars can be used to store grains, nuts, flour, and other foods, as well as laundry detergent, dish soap, and body creams. But don’t automatically purge all of your plastic containers; that creates unnecessary waste.
As a society, we need to start questioning our relationship with plastic signals about our throwaway culture, and shift consumer-driven compulsion from attempting to buy happiness and instead consider other ways to celebrate and show our affectionate and caring side.
Therefore, the number-one way to reduce plastic waste is to cut back on the amount we use in our daily lives. Reducing plastic doesn’t only help the environment-it also enriches your savings.
“It’s not about doing everything, it’s about doing something.”