There’s no question that there’s increasing pressure on all of us to do good for the planet and rethink many of the habits we’re used to. More than a third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions is generated by food systems. The food we eat – all the way from its production to its consumption – has a bigger impact on the environment than we might realise. So how can we do our part and shop and consume food more sustainably?
There’s a common concern that it’s difficult and more expensive to shop for food more sustainably. Especially because our buying decisions are usually based on convenience, taste and price. Even for those of us who made the decision to follow a more planet-friendly lifestyle. But let me tell you it is so much easier than you might think and it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
I’ve teamed up with Clipper Teas*, who are always looking for ways to be more natural and reduce our impact on the environment. As I’m trying to do my part and make more sustainable and ethical choices, partnering with a brand that stands for the same values, provides an exciting opportunity to bring more awareness to our planet’s most pressing issues.
Over the next few months, we’ll be covering four topics, exploring how we can be more green in our everyday lives. To kick things off, we wanted to shed some light on our food systems and 5 things you can do to shop more sustainably.
Sustainability has become a bit of a buzzword so before we get into it, let’s take a brief look at what sustainability in the context of food and agriculture actually means.
Essentially, sustainable agriculture is the rejection of the industrial approach to food production. It integrates environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity and encompasses every aspect of the food system. What does this mean in practice? Among other things, it involves:
- Minimising air, water, and climate pollution
- Avoiding damaging or wasting natural resources while protecting public health
- Enabling fair working conditions and mutually beneficial relationships with the surrounding community
- Building and maintaining healthy soil
- Managing water wisely
- Promoting biodiversity
An in-depth study published in the journal Nature Food, shows that 71% of food system emissions come from the use of land for agriculture. The remaining were attributed to supply chain activities including retail, transport, consumption, fuel production, waste management, industrial processes and packaging.
Therefore, sustainable food systems are about growing, producing, distributing and consuming food while – as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency – maintaining or improving standards of living without damaging or depleting natural resources.
Greening up your plate
With a little bit more clarity on sustainable food systems, let’s take a look at how we can actually influence these systems and ensure that we’re having a positive impact with every meal we consume:
1. Buy seasonal produce
With today’s well-stocked grocery stores, it can be really easy to become unaware of what fruits and veggies are actually in season and where they come from. And their origin has a huge impact on our environment! Flying in fresh produce from other countries typically creates around 10 times more carbon emissions than road transport and around 50 times more than shipping.
Eating local foods that are ready to harvest at the same time of the year that you are eating them, reduces the need for long-distance transportation and storage. Food grown and picked in season also tastes far riper, fresher and provides more nutrients for your body. Win-win, right?
But, it’s not all about food miles. Let’s not forget that, the biggest portion of any food’s environmental impact still comes from the use of land for agriculture, not transport alone. Locally produced beef, for instance, generates 60 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of meat produced, whereas plant-based foods like tofu generate about 3 kilograms. So if you haven’t yet, considering reducing your meat and dairy intake might be an even more powerful move.
2. Switch to Fairtrade
By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade tackles the injustices of conventional trade. Buying Fairtrade means you support fairer pay and put more power in the hands of farmers. The Fairtrade premium contributions and fairer prices from purchases of Fairtrade products allow increases in farmer incomes which enable farmers to improve their position and take more control.
As the UK’s first Fairtrade tea company, Clipper is supporting over 114,000 producers and their families around the globe, enabling them to invest in eco-friendly solutions and boost diversity. Fairtrade premiums from Clipper Tea purchases are used for various projects, for example to contribute towards shifts in educational and employment opportunities for the children of tea workers.
Fairtrade also enables organic farming practices and empowers farmers to invest in adapting to climate changes and protecting the environment around them. So if you’re in a financial position to do this, buying Fairtrade can help to further scale organic practices in the future.
3. Plan better, waste less
Did you know we throw away 4.5 million tonnes of household food a year? In fact, household food waste represents 70% of all food waste triggered after the food has been grown or produced. Therefore, planning better and reducing our food waste is one of the most simple and powerful ways we can play our part in protecting natural resources and minimising climate pollution.
4. Choose biodegradable packaging
Even as recycling rates rise, plastic waste remains a pervasive and global problem. As not all plastics can be recycled, many end up in landfills. According to Greenpeace, “less than 10% of everyday plastic – the plastic packaging that the things we buy is wrapped in – actually gets recycled in the UK”.
This doesn’t mean you should stop recycling, but if you have the choice, opt for brands that package their products with plastic alternatives, such as biodegradable material. It has the potential to reduce waste and ultimately water usage, electricity and emissions.
Clipper, for instance, has created the world’s first biodegradable plant-based tea bags in 2018 to fight against plastic waste. Plastic in teabags? Yes unfortunately a lot of tea bags contain a small amount of polypropylene plastic, which helps the tea bag paper seal together. With their switch to biodegradable tea bags, they’re preventing tonnes of polypropylene plastic from entering the waste stream.
5. Check your sources
Understanding where your food comes from and who manufactures it, is absolutely key to be able to shop food more sustainably. It gives you a better idea of what kind of practices they use and if they’re doing their bit to create a more sustainable food system. Do they use organic farming techniques? Are they treating their workers fairly? How are they packaging their products? If you don’t know the answers, you can learn more with a bit of research and ultimately make a more informed buying decision.
*this blog post was created as part of a paid partnership with Clipper Teas
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Co-Founder of Veano