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Food: The Impact on The Environment

No matter where you purchase your food or what you choose to eat, your diet is going to have a significant impact on the environment. From vegetables to meat, and everything in between, there is no avoiding the footprint our food creates as it is grown, harvested, and transported. Even worse, modern farming and agricultural practices are polluting our air and water, all while encroaching on environmentally-significant habitats. For people striving to reduce their environmental impact, the outlook may look bleak for the modern food system. However, there are still things anyone can do to help reduce their carbon footprint, consume a more sustainable diet, and support better ways to produce and buy food. Keep reading to discover the true impact of your food on the environment and ways you can reduce it.

What Is the Impact of Your Food Choices

While there is simply no getting around the fact that your food impacts the environment, certain foods create more damage than others. In fact, even the same kinds of food can vary widely. For example, canned beer produces more greenhouse gasses than beer in a keg. [1] Whether you realize it or not, you are having an impact based on your food choices. On average, U.S. households emit around eight metric tons of CO2 every year on their food consumption alone. [2]

What Environmental Problems Arise From Food Production

There are a variety of issues created by modern-day food production. By the time the food you eat gets to your table, much of the environmental impact has already occurred, including:

Water Use & Water Pollution

Growing food takes a lot of water. About 70% of all water use goes towards agricultural efforts. When runoff of agricultural pollutants occurs, groundwater supplies can get contaminated with things like nitrogen and phosphorus–commonly used in modern farming practices. [3]

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gas (Ghg) emissions, such as CO2, are created when fossil fuels are used during several aspects of the food cycle, including food production and distribution. [4]

Environmental Contaminants & Pollutants

The growing, producing, and transporting of food can create a long list of environmental contaminants that can have adverse effects on the health of humans and the ecosystem. [4] These contaminants include ammonia pollution and the emission of different nitrogen compounds that disrupt the soil as well as animal and plant life. [5]

Depletion of Natural Resources

Food production takes up a significant portion of the world’s natural resources. Livestock is the largest contributor, with one-third of the global arable land being used to grow feed for livestock and another 25% being used for grazing. [6]

Tips to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Grocery Shopping

If you are looking to help reduce your carbon footprint when it comes to food, then there are some simple steps you can begin to take today. Below are 10 eco-friendly tips you can try next time you shop at a grocery store.

  1. Buy Less
  2. Buy Local
  3. Buy In-Season Fruits & Vegetables
  4. Bike or Walk to the Store
  5. Reduce Your Meat Consumption
  6. Shop “Green” Brands
  7. Shop Products With Biodegradable Packaging
  8. Bring Your Own Bags
  9. Store Your Food Properly at Home
  10. Donate Excess Food

Zero Waste Grocery Stores

Almost a quarter of the landfill waste in the United States comes from food packaging. To help combat this growing problem, zero-waste grocery stores are opting out of packaging entirely. Products at these stores are placed in self-service bins. Customers bring their own reusable containers from home to fill up with the food they want. Then customers pay for their food and other products by weight–helping prevent tons of plastic and other single-use containers from sitting in the landfill each year. [7]

Eco-Friendly Grocery Stores

Eco-friendly grocery stores can vary, but in general, they are stores that offer environmental benefits with organic products, an emphasis on products with green packaging, and they don’t sell products that are tested on animals. If you are looking for eco-friendly grocery stores to shop at, first, you may want to consider how they approach the following:

  • Do they reuse and recycle?
  • Are sustainable products and materials used in their stores?
  • Do they take advantage of energy-efficient lighting and energy?
  • Is their brand authentic in their efforts?

Plastic-Free Grocery Stores

While a 100% plastic-free grocery store may be difficult to find, stores are making concerted efforts to help reduce their waste. Greenpeace, an environmental organization, recently listed its top grocery stores based on their efforts to reduce their reliance on plastics and tackle the pollution crisis. Their top stores based on this criteria included: [8]

  1. Aldi
  2. Kroger
  3. Albertsons
  4. Trader Joe’s
  5. Sprouts
  6. Walmart
  7. Hy-Vee
  8. Target
  9. Costco
  10. Wegmans

How To Help Make Change Happen

When it comes to environmental issues like food, real change starts at the individual level. We invite you to do your part by taking a look at your annual carbon footprint. You can start by using our free online carbon calculator to estimate your own yearly emissions. If it makes sense for you, then you may want to consider purchasing carbon offsets to help balance your everyday activities that contribute to the worlds’ growing CO2 problem. When you buy carbon offsets, like those offered by terapass, you can support farm power initiatives. We proudly support the George DeRuyter and Sons Dairy as we help transform manure from their dairy into an anaerobic digester where the methane is captured and used for energy production.

SOURCES:

  1. Poore, J., and T. Nemecek. “Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts through Producers and Consumers.” Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1 June 2018, science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987.
  2. “Carbon Footprint Factsheet.” Carbon Footprint Factsheet | Center for Sustainable Systems, css.umich.edu/factsheets/carbon-footprint-factsheet.
  3. Palaniappa K. “ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF FOOD PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION.” https://www.eolss.net/Sample-Chapters/C07/E5-17-02-03.pdf.
  4. Nesheim, Malden C. “Environmental Effects of the U.S. Food System.” A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 17 June 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK305182/.
  5. “Air Pollution and Food Production.” UNECE, www.unece.org/environmental-policy/conventions/envlrtapwelcome/cross-sectoral-linkages/air-pollution-and-food-production.html.
  6. “Meat and Animal Feed.” Weltagrarbericht, www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat-and-animal-feed.html.
  7. Matchar, Emily. “The Rise of ‘Zero-Waste’ Grocery Stores.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 15 Feb. 2019, www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/rise-zero-waste-grocery-stores-180971495/.
  8. “The 2019 Supermarket Plastics Ranking.” Greenpeace USA, www.greenpeace.org/usa/shopping-for-plastic-2019/.


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