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Buying food: greener choices

Producing, transporting and consuming food is responsible for nearly a third of our contribution to climate change and adds to many other environmental problems like water pollution. If you want to make greener choices about how you eat there are many things you can do.

Less food waste

The average UK household spends £424 a year on food that goes in the bin. Throwing food away wastes all of the energy and other inputs needed to produce, package and transport it. When waste food goes to landfill it produces methane, a greenhouse gas judged to be over 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide:

  • cutting food waste will reduce these negative impacts
  • composting any waste food will reduce climate change effects further

What foods you choose

Some foods have a bigger effect on climate change than others because of the way they are produced, packaged, transported or cooked. For example:

  • the production of meat and dairy products has a much bigger effect on climate change and other environmental impacts than that of most grains, pulses and outdoor fruit and vegetables
  • some foods require particularly large amounts of energy to produce, like tomatoes grown in heated greenhouses

Transporting food

To judge whether the food you eat is sustainable, you have to consider more than just the food miles involved in transporting the goods. However, where food has been produced and stored under similar conditions, food that has travelled a shorter distance is likely to have less impact on climate change.

Healthy eating is also important and many people could benefit from eating a larger proportion of fruit and vegetables and less saturated fat in their diet.

If you cannot download the PDF file then you can request a copy from Food Standards Agency publications:
Telephone: 0845 606 0667
Fax: 020 8867 3225

Fresh and seasonal

Buying fresh unprocessed or lightly processed food and drink will generally mean that less energy has been used in its production.

Buying fruit and vegetables when they are locally in season can be a positive choice, as they are unlikely to have been transported long distances or heated during production.

If food comes from a long way away it doesn’t necessarily mean it has big climate change effects. Long distance transportation of produce by boat - for example, bananas and apples - or food imported when in season, can have lower climate change effects than food produced out of season or stored for long periods.

Buying direct from producers is a good way to source fresh, seasonal produce and reduce packaging. Buying directly from the producer also means you can ask them how their food was produced.

Sustainable fish

76 per cent of the world’s fish stocks are fully exploited, over exploited or depleted. But some fisheries are managed in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo provides assurance that a seafood product has come from a well-managed fishery and has not contributed to the problem of over-fishing.

Food produced with respect for wildlife and the environment

Some food is produced to particular standards that help reduce negative impacts on the environment and support wildlife. These approaches are often certified by labelling schemes and you can support them by:

  • looking for green labels that tell you food has been produced in a more wildlife friendly way, including organic certification and the LEAF Marque
  • buying from retailers that are trying to improve the way they treat the environment, for example with their own published environmental standards for food production
  • buying directly from farmers who put a high priority on looking after the wildlife on their farm

Some kinds of farming also help conserve rural landscapes, such as upland sheep or cattle grazing.

If you cannot download the PDF file then you can request a copy from:
National Consumer Council, 20 Grosvenor Gardens, London,
SW1W 0DH
Telephone: 020 7730 3469

Cut down on car journeys for food shopping

13 per cent of the carbon emissions produced from transporting food in the UK come from individuals driving to and from the shops. Making fewer food shopping trips by car, or using other forms of transport will help cut these emissions, and will also help reduce congestion and local air pollution.

Compost food waste

Nearly a third of all the rubbish thrown away at home is kitchen or garden waste. When organic waste breaks down in landfill sites it produces methane, which has strong climate change effects. Composting food waste is a greener choice.

Water

In the UK, mains drinking water meets very high standards. Tap water requires around 300 times less energy than bottled water (for packaging and transport), and does not leave bottles to be disposed of.

Packaging

Packaging used for food can play an important part in helping preserve food and cut waste. However, it often has an environmental cost as resources and energy are used to make the packaging, and transport the finished product. Things you can do include:

  • avoiding unnecessary, or excessive, packaging
  • buying products in packaging that can be recycled (and recycle it)
  • choose food packaging that is labelled as biodegradable or compostable – it will break down quickly rather than remaining in landfill sites for many years

Ask your retailer

Showing an interest, and choosing food from retailers who are trying to reduce the environmental impact of their products will give you greener choices and help encourage them to do more.

Some things you could ask retailers include:

  • do their food production standards include environmental criteria
  • what are they doing to reduce waste in their supply chain
  • are the premium prices often charged for greener food passed on to producers to encourage this type of production

If you cannot find greener choices like sustainably sourced fish or recycled products, then you could ask managers in your local shops to start stocking them.

If you cannot download the PDF file then you can request a copy from:
National Consumer Council, 20 Grosvenor Gardens, London,
SW1W 0DH
Telephone: 020 7730 3469

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