Food

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.

Food tips

  1. Don't waste food
  2. Compost inedible food waste
  3. Eat less meat and dairy produce
  4. Eat locally-produced food in season
  5. Drink tap water
  6. Reduce, re-use and recycle food packaging

Take care not to spend any money saved on goods and services with large emissions.

 

Overview

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”, i.e. the total distance that food is transported to our plates from the place in which it is grown or caught . This is a complicated topic because air freighting some food items from equatorial Africa may produce less emissions than growing them out of season in heated poly tunnels in Europe . So, 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).

CO2 impact

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.  Some of these emissions result from processing food so eating unprocessed food is better .

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.

Money aspects

By wasting less food, you could cut your food bills quite considerably . Despite a fall in the quantity of food thrown out by UK householders since 2009, it still costs the  average  UK household about £480  every year as the price  of food has increased.

Other benefits

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. In addition there is now evidence that it’s healthier to eat less meat, particularly processed meat.

Shopping locally helps the local economy, and  can reduce the pollution and traffic caused by food transport.

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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;
  • storing food properly means less is wasted.  For example,  potatoes last better in a dark cupboard rather than the fridge while mushrooms should be kept in a paper bag rather than a polythene one;
  • 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.

Remember that:

  • "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.

CO2 impact

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.

Money aspects

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. It’s worth remembering that different ways of cooking the same food can use very different quantities of energy, for example cooking  in a wok or frying pan on a gas stove can use much less fuel than cooking the same item in an oven. Although the energy efficiency of Agas and Rayburns have improved they are still use a lot of energy and are an expensive way to cook.

Other benefits

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. Changing from electric to gas cooking can save around half a tonne of greenhouse emissions per household each year.

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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. You can recycle more types of food waste if your compost bin is rat proof.  Many local authorities make compost from household food waste stored in a biodegradable plastic bag within an odour-proof box and collected at the curb side. Wouldn’t it be good to persuade Winchester City Council to do this?

Money aspects

Home composting bins start at around £20.

Other benefits

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. You can also bury bones and fish skin and the like in a vegetable plot provided that the hole is at least 18 inches deep to discourage dogs and foxes from digging them up.

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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, and veal because factory farming 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 eggs and dairy products as well, visit the Vegan Society website for ideas.

CO2 impact

Farm animals are an important 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.

Other benefits

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.

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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.

For more information about local food, contact Hampshire Fare which represents and promotes local producers of food, drink and craft, or visit BigBarn.co.uk.

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.

CO2 impact

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.

Money aspects

Food generally costs less when it is in season.

Other benefits

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.

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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.

CO2 impact

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.

Money aspects

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.

Other benefits

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.

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If you would like to give feedback on this site, or have any suggestions for improvement, please contact us. We are particularly keen to hear about other organisations and initiatives in and around Winchester which can help people reduce their carbon footprint.

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If you would like to give feedback on this site, or have any suggestions for improvement, please contact us. 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.