Many people do not realize the connection between our eating habits and climate change.
To reflect on the sustainability of your diet, ask yourself: “What do I eat? Where does my food come from? How is it grown, produced, packaged, and cooked? How do I dispose of the waste? How do each of these factors impact the environment?”
In this article, I will be sharing ten ways to make your diet and eating habits more environmentally-friendly.
1. Reduce food waste
When it comes to making your eating habits more sustainable, reducing your food waste is an easy first step to take.
A big part of reducing food waste is planning ahead. Before you go shopping, take inventory of what you have and what you need. Next, create a meal plan and a grocery list. Then, when you go shopping, stick to your list and only buy what you will use.
More tips for reducing your food waste:
- Learn how to store produce properly
- Keep certain fruits and vegetables away from each other
- Freeze or preserve foods that will not be eaten in time
- Have days of the week where you eat leftovers for dinner
- Plan meals around what needs to be used
- Use vegetable scraps to make broth, use overripe bananas to make banana bread, etc.
You can also prevent food waste by signing up for an “ugly produce” subscription box, such as Misfits Market or Imperfect Foods. These companies distribute foods that have been rejected from retailers. These foods are perfectly good, but they have been rejected from stores due to cosmetic imperfections, surpluses, discontinuations, etc. A bonus benefit is that these boxes tend to be cheaper than retail prices!
Composting allows you to turn your food scraps and waste into a nutritive fertilizer. Keeping organic waste out of landfills also reduces the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two very potent greenhouse gases (US Composting Council).
There are many ways to compost. Try to find a method that works best with your lifestyle. To learn more about composting, click here.
3. Be mindful of food packaging
Buying your food unpackaged prevents unnecessary waste and emissions. Opt for package-free produce, whenever possible. If you have access to bulk bins, you can also buy unpackaged dry goods.
If you are unable to purchase package-free, the next best option is packaging made from cardboard, paper, glass, metal, or aluminum. Cardboard and paper can usually be composted or recycled. Glass, metal, and aluminum can be recycled infinitely many times. On the other hand, plastic can only be recycled a few times before it becomes too low-quality and ends up in a landfill.
If you must buy items packaged in plastic, choose easily recyclable ones. Check the package for material information and recycling instructions. Make sure to recycle properly! Here is a guide to the different types of plastic. Learn which types are accepted by your local waste management. Then, do your best to avoid any non-recyclables.
Also, do not "wishcycle," as this can end up causing more harm than good.
4. Avoid single-use plastics
Single-use plastics are terrible for the environment. They are usually not recyclable, they end up in landfills, their production releases tons of emissions, and they are unnecessary.
Avoid single-use shopping bags, produce bags, eating utensils, takeaway containers, plastic wrap, etc. Instead, opt for reusable, eco-friendly replacements.
However, before you buy any of these replacement options, first look at what you already have. Avoid buying new things if it is not necessary. Not shopping at all is better than buying “sustainable” products that you do not need.
Do you have any empty glass jars? Use them for storing pantry staples. Do you already have reusable plastic containers? Use those instead of buying fancy, sustainable ones. Can you make your own bags from old fabrics? Try upcycling and get thrifty!
5. Buy local
Transportation burns a lot of fossil fuels and emits a ton of greenhouse gases. By buying locally, you are reducing the distance that your food has to travel, which in turn decreases travel-related emissions and pollution. The closer your food is to you, the fewer resources it takes to get to your plate. Buying locally also allows you to support your local economy.
One of the best places to buy local food is from a farmer’s market. It allows you to ask about how the food was grown and produced. Plus, a lot of food from farmer’s markets comes unpackaged.
6. Buy organic
Commercially-grown food is often grown with the use of pesticides. Pesticides pollute the air, water, and soil, which can be detrimental to wildlife. Organic and pesticide-free food prevents the disruption of natural habitats.
7. Start gardening
Gardening is great for the environment. It is local, organic, and package-free! Plus, plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. By growing plants and trees, you can offset some carbon emissions. Gardening also gives you a great use for your compost.
8. Use energy-efficient appliances
Next time you are in the market for new kitchen appliances (dishwashers, ovens, refrigerators, microwaves, etc.,) consider energy efficiency.
Energy-efficient products emit fewer greenhouse gases and save you money on utility bills.
9. Eat more whole foods
Highly-processed foods create unnecessary waste and pollution. The packaging is usually plastic that ends up in landfills and oceans. The factories emit a ton of greenhouse gases that pollute the air, as well as nearby land and waterways. The use of toxins, pesticides, and human-made chemicals harms the environment and puts workers at risk. Then, the products are shipped all over the world, burning even more fossil fuels.
Whole foods are minimally processed, require fewer resources, are better for your health, and protect the environment.
10. Eat less meat
Avoiding the consumption of meat and dairy products is one of the best things an individual can do for the environment.
The animal agriculture and livestock sector contributes a large portion of global greenhouse gas emissions. These high levels of emissions are due to many factors, such as deforestation for land use, production of animal feed, maintenance of equipment and facilities, transportation, and processing. Tons of fossil fuels are burned throughout the highly-processed production of meat and dairy.
The use of toxic chemicals and substances (pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, heavy metals, vaccines, hormones, etc.), pollutes the nearby land, air, and water. This can kill wildlife, disturb habitats, and contaminate water.
Meat and dairy production is also very inefficient. 119.49 m² of land is required to produce 1000 kcal of beef, while only 1.44 m² is needed to produce 1000 kcal of wheat (Our World in Data). Producing 1 pound of meat takes more than 2,400 gallons of water, while growing 1 pound of wheat takes only 25 gallons of water (One Green Planet). By eating plants directly we can save precious land and water resources.
Cutting your meat and dairy consumption can have a huge impact. Here is a calculator that shows the resources and emissions you can save by choosing to eat vegan.
If you cannot totally avoid these items, try to have a couple days a week where you eat plant-based. Also, try to avoid beef since it is the worst type of meat for the environment.
* Learn more about meat and dairy production, as well as the emissions related to these industries.
Nobody can do everything. So, pick a few things on this list that you can incorporate into your lifestyle and start there. Focus on progress, not perfection.
Remember that environmentalism should not rest solely on the individual consumer; it is more about corporations and businesses. Support good companies, vote, advocate for political change, spread the word, and don’t be too hard on yourself.