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Food-related carbon emissions

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Food-related carbon emissions

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Eight weeks to green and healthy - bite size information for your staff

Avoid buying more than you need.

The environment can affect what foods are available to us. For example, extreme weather events can affect the supply of fresh food from the farm. At the same time, the foods we choose can in turn affect the environment. The household greenhouse gas emissions from the food choices of a typical Australian diet are much greater than the contribution from transport and electricity use, so this is one area where we can make simple changes that will make a big difference to our carbon footprints.(1)

To get your staff thinking about what they can do to reduce their carbon footprints, include one of these topic areas in a staff email/noticeboard/newsletter each week for eight weeks.

1. Overconsumption

Avoid buying more than you need. Letting food products expire wastes your money but also costs the planet the water and greenhouse gases that went into growing, processing, packaging, transporting and storing the food. In addition to using more of the planet's resources, buying and consuming more than you need also means your body is getting excess calories which can lead to weight gain. Use leftovers for lunch the next day, share a restaurant meal with a friend or order an entrée sized meal. Do your waistline, your wallet and the environment a favour and buy only what you need. Visit www.ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information.

2. Buying locally

Buy locally to reduce your food miles. A lot of greenhouse gases are produced when food is transported, either from overseas or around a country as large as Australia. This can also reduce the quality of your food and result in nutrient losses if fresh food is stored for extended periods of time. Become familiar with the produce grown in your local area. Farmers’ markets are a popular weekend activity - so grab a bargain, chat to a farmer, and get inspired by the tastes, colours and smells of the food produced in your local area! Better still, grow your own fruit and veg at home or in a community garden. Consider buying or growing organic produce.  Organic farming has less negative effects on the environment.(2)  Why not keep chickens at home? Chickens are a great way to dispose of kitchen scraps and get fresh eggs daily. Check your local council’s website for details on community gardens and rules on keeping chickens in your area. Visit www.ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information.

3. Choose fresh foods with minimal packaging

Generally, processed foods use more water, energy and food miles in their production than fresh produce. The more packaging the product has, the more waste that ends up in landfill where it will lie for many years producing more greenhouse gases. Australians produce enough waste each year to cover the state of Victoria to a depth of 10cm!(3) Also highly processed foods are often those that are the highest in added sugars, fats and salt, so as well as being an eco-friendly choice, minimally processed foods are usually those that are best for your health! Visit www.ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information.

4. Reduce and organise waste

Let’s aim to reduce the 3.3 million tonnes of packaging waste produced in Australia per year. This rubbish affects our land, atmosphere, oceans and wildlife.(4) Ask yourself: What can I recycle? What can I put in a compost system or worm farm? Can you buy a single larger sized container of your favourite foods (e.g. yoghurt) and serve it in smaller  jars or containers instead of buying individually packaged portions? Look for biodegradable packaging in place of plastic or polystyrene. Using green shopping bags and reusable coffee travel mugs is an easy way to reduce the amount of waste you produce. Visit www.ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information.

5. Drink tap water

Drink plenty of Australian tap water. It’s freely available and safe to drink. One litre of bottled water requires 3-5 litres of water and a quarter of a litre of oil to manufacture.(5) A more sustainable option is to use refillable plastic or metal water bottles. Always recycle any disposable plastic bottles that you do purchase. Visit www.ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information.

6. Choose sustainable protein sources

Choose alternatives to red meat as often as possible. Our agricultural systems contribute an estimated 20 – 30% of total greenhouse gases and much of this is produced by the gases formed in the gut of livestock.(6) The type of protein foods we choose to eat can have varying effects on our environment. Red meat produces 150% more greenhouse-gases than chicken or fish, causes soil degradation and requires land clearing.(7) Try to incorporate more plant-based protein foods into your diet using legumes (eg chick peas, kidney beans, lentils) or meat alternatives such as tofu. These low-fat foods are packed with nutrients and can add interest and variation to your diet. Changing just one day per week of your food intake from red meat and dairy to a vegetable-based diet will reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of driving 1860km less per year in your car.(8) Visit ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information.

7. Encourage and support breastfeeding.

We know that breastfeeding provides health benefits for both mother and child but what about the environment? Infant formula requires energy in manufacturing, packaging, transport and reconstitution, making it a less planet-friendly option than breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is also the safest way of feeding an infant in a natural disaster where clean water or electricty may not be available.  For questions, help or support regarding breastfeeding, call the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 6862 686 (1800 mum2mum). Visit ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information on why breastfeeding is the best choice for the environment.

8. Purchase ethically.Buy Fair Trade items when no local products are available.

Buy Fair Trade items when no local products are available. Purchasing Fair Trade items ensures that the farmers and workers in developing countries get to work in decent conditions and are paid a fair price for their goods in order to sustain their livelihood.
Consider the effects of your food purchases on the wellbeing of animals;choose certified organic or free range products. Visit ecofriendlyfood.org.au for more information.

References

  1. Russell G, Ferrie S. Health and environmental implications of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics [internet]. 2008 [cited 2010 June 30]. Available from: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/120089234/PDFSTART
  2. Better Health Channel. Organic Food [internet]. 2009 [cited 2010 July 8]. Available from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Organic_food
  3. Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Sustainability Tips [internet]. 2008 [cited 2010 July 6]. Available from: www.environment.gov.au/education/aussi/publications/sustainability-tips.html,
  4. Boomerang Alliance. National Packaging Covenant andContainer Deposit Legislation [internet]. 2010 [cited 2010 July 6]. Available from: http://www.boomerangalliance.org/000_files/27_media_debate.pdf
  5. Australian Conservation Foundation. Is bottled water a problem for the environment? [internet]. 2010 [cited 2010 July 7]. Available from: http://www.acfonline.org.au/articles/news.asp?news_id=2114#17
  6. Monash University Office of Environmental Sustainability. (2010). Food lovers guide to sustainable eating [internet]. 2010 [cited 2010 June 30]. Available from: http://fsd.monash.edu.au/environmental-sustainability/environmental-issues/food-lovers-guide-sustainable-eating
  7. Weber C, Matthews H. Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology [internet]. 2008 [cited 2010 June 29]. Available from: http://psufoodscience.typepad.com/psu_food_science/files/es702969f.pdf
  8. Weber C, Matthews H. Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology [internet]. 2008 [cited 2010 June 29]. Available from: http://psufoodscience.typepad.com/psu_food_science/files/es702969f.pdf
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