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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Food and drink: greener choices

The whole food supply chain, from farm to fork, accounts for about one sixth of green house gas emissions. It also adds to many other environmental problems, like water pollution. You can help by reducing waste, choosing foods with a lower impact on climate change and opting for sustainable seafood.

Waste less food

Wasted food and drink

£12 billion worth of food and drink that could have been used is thrown away by British householders every year

The average UK family spends around £480 a year on food and drink that could have been used but ends up being thrown away. Wasting food not only costs you money but also wastes the energy and resources needed to produce, package, store and transport it.

Wasting less food can save you money and benefits the environment. If everyone stopped wasting food that could have been eaten, it would reduce CO2 emissions as much as taking one in four cars off UK roads.

You can save money and reduce the amount of waste you create by:

  • planning your shopping and meals in advance
  • storing your food correctly to keep it fresh for as long as possible and make good use of your freezer
  • trying new recipes to use up any leftovers

Visit the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ website for recipes, practical tips and information that can help you waste less food.

Choose climate-friendly foods

The following tips can help you choose food with a lower carbon footprint:

  • increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet
  • buying fresh and unprocessed foods which are stored for as little time as possible can lead to fewer carbon emissions, because processing food and freezing or refrigerating it uses a lot of energy
  • buying food grown outdoors in season and in unheated greenhouses can help reduce carbon emissions

Transporting food

Food from a long way away doesn't necessarily have a big carbon footprint. Food transported long distances by boat (like bananas or apples), or food imported when it’s in season abroad, can have a smaller footprint than:

  • food produced closer to home in heated greenhouses
  • food that needs to be frozen or refrigerated, especially for long periods

However, where food has been produced, stored and transported in similar ways, choosing food that hasn't travelled as far could help reduce CO2 emissions.

Can healthy eating help the environment?

All foods have an environmental impact which means that there are always trade-offs. But for many people a diet with more fruit and vegetables would be a healthy choice. This could also be a greener choice if the fruit and vegetables are seasonably produced.

Buy sustainable fish

The Marine Stewardship Council logo shows a seafood product has not contributed to over-fishing

Worldwide, fish are facing threats from overfishing, damaging fishing methods and the over-popularity of some fish.

You can help by buying seafood that has been sustainably produced - 'food labels' explains exactly what this means. Find sustainable seafood in shops and restaurants by:

  • following the links below, which give advice on what seafood to choose
  • looking for labels that show seafood has been sustainably sourced, like the Marine Stewardship Council logo
  • asking your retailer or restaurant owner if they have sustainable seafood options

Choose wildlife and environment-friendly food

Some food is made in ways that are more wildlife-friendly, for example without using pesticides. Other food supports the countryside and local communities, for example by creating local jobs. Find these by:

  • looking for labels like LEAF, organic and the Marine Stewardship Council
  • choosing retailers that are trying to stock greener food

If you can't find greener choices, you could ask your local shops to start stocking them. Showing an interest can encourage retailers to do more.

Buying from producers

Buying directly, for example at a farmers’ market, means you can ask producers how their food is produced. Try looking for food:

  • from farmers who give high priority to looking after wildlife on their farm
  • produced in a way which helps conserve rural landscapes, like upland sheep or cattle grazing

Other ways of making greener food choices

Other things you can do include:

Cut down on car trips for food shopping

13 per cent of carbon emissions from transporting food come from individuals driving to the shops. Reducing shopping trips by car will help reduce carbon emissions, congestion and local air pollution.

Compost food waste

More than a third of household rubbish is kitchen or garden waste. Most of this ends up in landfill, where it gives off methane – a gas which has a big effect on climate change. A much more sustainable option is to compost at home, if you have the space. All garden waste and most food waste can be composted at home. However, things like fish, meat, diary or cooked foods are best not composted at home as they attract vermin. Many councils collect food and/or garden waste separately to treat it in large composting or anaerobic digestion facilities. These are a much better option than landfill.

Drink tap water

UK mains drinking water meets very high standards, uses around 300 times less energy than bottled water and doesn’t leave bottles as waste.

Reduce packaging waste

Packaging can help preserve food – but it uses resources and can damage wildlife. 'Greener packaging choices' has ideas on how you can reduce packaging waste.

Store and cook food efficiently

Defrosting your fridge regularly and putting lids on saucepans when cooking can save energy. ‘Top tips on saving energy’ has more advice on ways you can save energy in the kitchen.

Additional links

Simpler, Clearer, Faster

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