What we eat, how it is produced and where it comes from, can have a huge impact on the environment. Indeed, about one-sixth of the UK’s carbon footprint is food-related. More
- Don't waste food
- Compost inedible food waste
- Eat less meat and dairy produce
- Eat locally-produced food in season
- Drink tap water
- Reduce, re-use and recycle food packaging
Take care not to spend any money saved in a way that inadvertently causes other emissions.
What we eat, how it is produced and where it comes from, can have a huge impact on the environment. Indeed, about one-sixth of the UK’s carbon footprint is food-related.
However, about a third of the food we buy is wasted, which means that the greenhouse gases arising from the production and transport of this food are generated needlessly. You can therefore significantly reduce your carbon footprint, without making any changes to your diet, simply by not buying more food than you will use.
Meat and dairy products are relatively greenhouse gas-intensive, due to the methane produced by animals and the energy used to provide their food, so another important way of reducing your personal carbon footprint is to eat less meat and dairy produce.
Another issue which is often mentioned is “food miles”, ie the distance that food is transported from the farm to our plates. This is a complicated topic and may be less important than many people think. However, it is probably worth buying local food which is in season, rather than food which has been grown out of season (using more energy) or has been transported long distances.
It’s also a good idea to reduce, re-use and recycle food packaging (except that used for raw meat or fish).
The food supply chain (from farm to shop and then to our plates) is the most important source of indirect carbon emissions in the UK and it is one we, as consumers, have a large degree of control over. It is estimated that food-related emissions are at least the equivalent of 2.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year, which is about one-sixth of the total emissions for an average person in the UK.
Around a third of all the food we buy ends up being thrown away, and most of it could have been eaten, so emissions could be reduced by up to 0.7 tonnes per person per year just by eliminating unnecessary food waste.
By wasting less food, you could cut your food bills quite considerably – on average, a UK household throws out food worth an estimated £480 every year.
Eating less meat and dairy produce reduces your impact on the environment generally, not just in relation to climate change – farm animals require relatively large amounts of land and water, and contribute to both air and water pollution.
Shopping locally helps the local economy, and reduces the pollution and traffic caused by food transport.
1. Don’t waste food
There are all sorts of ways you can cut down on food waste, for example:
- plan ahead and don’t buy more food than you need;
- check use-by dates before you buy;
- if you cook more than you need, store leftovers correctly and eat them later.
For more ideas, including tips on food storage and recipes for leftovers, visit Love Food Hate Waste.
- "Use by" dates should be followed - make sure you eat (or freeze) food on or before these dates;
- "Best before" dates refer to food quality rather than safety - food will generally be safe to eat after these dates, but may not be at its best;
- "Sell by" and "Display until" dates can be ignored - they're for the benefit of shop staff rather than customers.
Around a third of all the food we buy ends up being thrown away, and most of it could have been eaten. As food causes an estimated 2.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per person per year, this suggests that emissions could be reduced by 0.7 tonnes per person per year just by eliminating unnecessary food waste.
A UK household throws out food worth an estimated £480 every year, on average, so there is scope for significant savings. Cooking enough for two meals at a time saves time, energy and money, provided the food will keep.
Food production has other environmental impacts, due to its intensive use of land and water, and the pollution caused by transporting it to our shops and homes. Reducing food waste reduces these impacts as well.
2. Compost inedible food waste
Some food waste is inevitable, for example egg shells, banana skins and tea bags. Rather than sending this waste to landfill, have a go at home composting uncooked food. The Recycle Now site tells you how to get started. Composting bins are widely available from garden centres and online.
Home composting bins start at around £20.
Compost is good for your garden. It improves the nutrient levels in the soil and the soil’s structure, preventing erosion and helps the soil’s water-holding capacity. This all contributes to better root development and a healthy flourishing garden.
3. Eat less meat and dairy produce
The simplest way to do this is to reduce the size of your meat and dairy portions. The average UK person consumes more protein than the amount recommended by the World Health Organisation, so should be able to eat less meat and dairy produce without their diet becoming unbalanced.
To take it one step further, without necessarily making significant changes to your diet, aim to have a few meat-free meals a week. In particular, try to eat less beef, veal and lamb, because factory farming cattle and sheep requires more energy than breeding the other animals we eat.
You can find lots of vegetarian recipes online or in books, to help you cut down on your meat consumption. Visit the Vegetarian Society website for ideas. To cut down on dairy products as well, visit the Vegan Society website for ideas.
Farm animals are a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period. Methane from animals and slurry is responsible for about 15% of food-related emissions, which equates to emitting about 0.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year. In addition, meat and dairy production is more energy-intensive than arable farming, so it contributes a larger share of the carbon dioxide emissions from farm operations.
Beef, veal and lamb have higher associated carbon dioxide equivalent emissions than pork and chicken.
Eating less meat and dairy produce reduces your impact on the environment generally, not just in relation to climate change – farm animals require relatively large amounts of land and water, and contribute to both air and water pollution. Read the Vegan Society’s booklet for more details.
Eating less meat and dairy could also be beneficial for your health. This is because of the high levels of saturated fat found in some meat and dairy products, which can lead to increased levels of cholesterol and raise the risk of heart disease.
4. Eat locally-produced food in season
Try to buy locally produced seasonal food, for example, by visiting a local farmers’ market. Winchester’s farmers’ market is the largest in the UK and is held on the second and final Sunday of each month. There is also the Winchester Country Market every Friday at the Badger Farm Community Centre. Alternatively, sign up to a local fruit and vegetable box scheme such as Sunnyfields.
Fresh food is often labelled with its country of origin which helps you to choose UK-grown food. Not sure what’s in season? Then visit Eat the Seasons.
How better to reduce your food miles than to grow your own vegetables? For tips on how to grow your own vegetables, try the BBC’s website or programmes, or look in your local library or second hand bookshop. You might consider joining a local club such as the Winchester Horticultural Society or Littleton & Harestock Gardening Club. If you don’t have a garden, contact Winchester City Council for information on allotments, or grow herbs or chilis in pots and window boxes.
Transport is responsible for about 15% of food-related emissions, which equates to emitting about 0.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year.
However, it is not necessarily true that food produced locally will have a lower climate change impact. For example, fruit and vegetables grown in UK greenhouses may have a higher impact because of the energy used to keep the greenhouses warm. Similarly, food grown out of season usually requires more energy and so has a higher climate change impact.
Food generally costs less when it is in season (which is one way to work out what is in season).
Buying locally produced food supports the local economy. It also helps to reduce the pollution and traffic caused by food transport. Growing your own can be fun and a good source of exercise.
5. Drink tap water
Take a bottle of tap water with you when you go out. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for tap water in restaurants! These days many restaurants are happy to bring a jug of tap water to your table.
Keep a bottle or jug of tap water in the fridge instead of running taps until the water comes out cold. The water will also taste better if you let it stand for a while, as the chlorine added to it (to disinfect it and kill bacteria) will evaporate.
Bottled water has a much higher carbon footprint per litre than tap water - more than 300 times the CO2 emissions per litre in the case of some imported brands. This is due to the large amount of energy needed to transport bottled water, and the energy needed to manufacture the bottles themselves.
Bottled water costs roughly 500 times more than tap water, the equivalent of paying £1,500 for a pint of beer or glass of wine.
There is no proven health advantage in drinking bottled water and most people can’t tell the difference in blind taste tests. Read the Consumer Council for Water’s factsheet if you want to know more.
The bottles themselves use up more of the earth’s natural resources. Plastic bottles (with lids removed) can be re-cycled in Hampshire.
If you would like to give feedback on this site, or have any suggestions for improvement, please contact us or post a comment here. We are particularly keen to hear about other organisations and initiatives in and around Winchester which can help people reduce their carbon footprint.
The information on this page is provided in good faith and reflects our understanding of the underlying science and technology at the time of writing, but we cannot guarantee that it is wholly accurate. All figures for costs, savings and other matters are estimates: the actual figures will depend on your particular circumstances and may differ (perhaps significantly) from those shown. Although we have included links to various organisations, we are not recommending these organisations: it is your responsibility to check that they are suitable for your needs. Nonetheless, if you experience difficulties with any of the links or organisations, or believe that any of the information presented here is inaccurate, please let us know and we will update this page if we consider it necessary.