Due to the dire effects of climate change and resource extraction, many people feel a dire need to reduce their impact on the planet. One method is to reduce your carbon footprint, which is a measure of your total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources, including transportation and electricity consumption and lifestyle choices like clothing and the food.
While there are many strategies to reduce your carbon footprint, changing your diet is a great place to start. According to some studies, changing the Western diet towards more sustainable eating habits could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70% and water consumption by 50%.
Here are nine easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint by changing your diet and lifestyle.
1. Stop throwing away food
Food waste contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Discarded food decomposes in landfills, emitting methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane is expected to have 34 times more impact on global warming than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
According to current estimates, on average, each person on earth wastes 428 to 858 pounds (194 to 389 kg) of food each year. So one of the easiest ways to minimize your carbon footprint is to reduce food waste. Food can be saved by planning meals in advance, saving leftovers, and buying only what you need.
Reducing food waste is a win-win: you save money and the planet.
2. Forget the plastic
Using less plastic is a crucial aspect of a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Consumers and the food industry use plastic bags, plastic packaging and plastic storage containers to package, ship, store and transport food. Unfortunately, single-use plastic is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Here are some suggestions to reduce your plastic consumption:
- When buying fresh vegetables, avoid using plastic bags and packaging.
- Bring your own shopping bags with you to the store.
- Avoid buying bottled water by using reusable water bottles.
- Glass containers are ideal for storing food.
- Takeout meals are usually wrapped in polystyrene or plastic, so buy less.
3. Reduce your meat consumption
According to research, reducing your meat consumption is one of the most effective ways to reduce your carbon impact. In a study of 16,800 Americans, diets high in pork, cattle, veal and other ruminants generated the most greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, the diets with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions also contained the least meat.
These conclusions are supported by research conducted around the world. Indeed, animal production, particularly beef and dairy cattle, accounts for 14.5% of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
Limit your meat intake to one meal a day, avoid meat one day a week, or experiment with vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.
4. Try plant proteins
Eating more plant protein will help you significantly reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. For example, in one study, people with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions ate the most plant protein, such as nuts, legumes, and seeds, and the least animal protein. However, you don’t have to eliminate all animal protein from your diet.
Another study of 55,504 people found that those who ate average amounts of meat daily – 50 to 100 grams (1.8 to 3.5 ounces) – had a much lower carbon footprint than people who ate more meat. 100 grams (3.5 ounces) per day.
A serving of meat weighs about 85 grams (3 ounces). If you eat more than that each day, add more plant-based protein to your diet, such as tofu, beans, seeds, and nuts.
5. Reduce your consumption of dairy products
Another approach to reducing your carbon footprint is to reduce your intake of dairy products like milk and cheese. A survey of 2,101 Dutch adults found that dairy products were the second largest source of individual greenhouse gas emissions after meat.
Similarly, other research has shown that dairy production contributes significantly to climate change. Indeed, dairy cows and their excrement produce methane, nitric oxide, carbon dioxide and ammonia.
Since cheese requires so much milk to make, it’s linked to higher greenhouse gas emissions than eggs, chicken, and pork. Therefore, try to eat less cheese and replace dairy milk with plant-based alternatives such as soy or almond milk.
6. Increase your fiber intake
Eating more fiber-rich foods can improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint. The aforementioned study of 16,800 Americans also found that diets low in saturated fat and sodium and high in fiber-rich plant foods produced the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, these foods can keep you full longer, naturally reducing your intake of high-carbon foods.
Plus, increasing your fiber intake can help you lose weight, improve digestive health, and protect against diseases like diabetes, colorectal cancer, and heart disease.
7. Grow your own fruits and vegetables
Growing your own food on your balcony, backyard, or community garden has many benefits, including improved emotional well-being, reduced stress, and higher quality nutrition.
No matter how small, planting a garden can help you minimize your carbon impact. Indeed, the production of fruits and vegetables reduces your dependence on products shipped over long distances and reduces your use of plastic packaging.
Plus, practicing organic farming methods, composting, and recycling rainwater can further reduce your environmental impact.
8. Don’t overeat
Consuming more calories than your body needs can lead to weight gain and other health problems. It is also associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions. According to a study of 3,818 Dutch participants, those who emit more greenhouse gases consume more calories from beverages and food than those whose diets emit less greenhouse gases.
Another study found that people who produced the most greenhouse gas emissions consumed 2.5 times more calories than those who produced the least. Keep in mind that this only applies to people who overeat, not people who eat enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.
Your calorie needs are determined by your age, height and activity level. Consult a dietitian or health care expert if you are unsure whether you are eating too many calories. Cut nutrient-poor, high-calorie foods like candy, pastries, fast foods, and sodas from your diet to minimize your calorie intake.
9. Buy local food
Supporting local farmers is a great way to help the environment. Buying locally reduces your reliance on food shipped long distances and can improve your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, reducing your carbon footprint.
Other ways to reduce your carbon footprint include eating seasonal foods and supporting organic farms. This is because off-season foods are either imported or require more energy to grow due to the need for heated greenhouses.
Switching to local and sustainable farmed products such as eggs, poultry and dairy products will also help you reduce your carbon footprint. You may also develop a greater appreciation for foods specific to your region.
Changing your diet is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint while improving your health. You can significantly reduce your personal greenhouse gas emissions by making simple adjustments like eating more fresh produce, eating less animal products, reducing food waste and using less plastic. Remember that any effort can make a significant difference, even a small effort.