Understanding the Carbon Footprint of Foods

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A Guide to Food Carbon Footprint

When we discuss food carbon footprint, we have to consider food transportation, manufacturing, and cooking. All of these processes use power and therefore contribute to the carbon footprint of foods.

Food waste is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from food. This is largely because food production and decomposition emit the potent greenhouse gas methane.

While methane only has an atmospheric residency time of 9 years compared to up to 20-1000 years for carbon, methane is 28 times more effective at trapping heat via the greenhouse effect, making it worthy of our attention.

This article will cover the following:

  • Source of food emissions
  • Carbon footprint of different meats
  • Food carbon footprint rankings
  • Potential food footprint solutions

Where Do Food Emissions Come From?

Food’s carbon footprint is affected by gas emissions associated with rearing, growing, farming, transporting, processing, disposing of, and cooking the foods we eat.

In the U.S. alone, the average household produces around 48 tons of greenhouse gases per year. Housing, transportation, and food are responsible for our three largest contributors.

Food can be attributed to eight of those 48 tonnes per household. Globally, it’s suggested that livestock agriculture causes half of all human-made emissions.

Changing your diet and the foods you purchase can significantly impact your overall carbon footprint.

Removing or reducing animal products in your diet can preserve the environment, reduce pollution, and slow down global warming. Switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet can also save money and make you more carbon neutral.

Carbon Footprint of Different Meats

The carbon footprint of meat varies according to farming, rearing, processing, storing, and cooking. For example, lamb has more of an environmental impact than beef’s carbon footprint.

That said, the carbon footprint of beef is much higher than that of pork, turkey, and chicken. If you want to eat a low emissions diet, we recommend eating less meat or switching to more sustainable meat such as fish.

How meat is farmed and harvested impacts emissions.

For instance, the world’s highest-impact pork and chicken have an environmental impact of 14 and 12 kg carbon dioxide equivalent, which is only slightly higher than the world’s most sustainable lamb or beef producers.

It makes a difference where you purchase your lamb of beef. However, if your top priority is reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll want to swap them for pork, chicken, or non-meat alternatives.

Ranking the Carbon Footprint of Food

When we rank food’s carbon footprint, the farm stages and land use in the supply chain account for over 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

For example, in beef production, there are three main contributing factors to the carbon footprint:

  • Land conversion
  • Animal feed
  • Methane production from cow

In the U.S., beef production is accountable for 40% of all livestock-related land use.

Then we must consider transportation. This stage of the supply chain is responsible for 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Therefore, although we’re advised to eat locally produced food, this provides more community economic advantages than environmental.

To truly improve our food carbon footprint, we must change the foods that we purchase.

Food Footprint Solutions

Which of the following will allow for the greatest reduction in an individual’s carbon footprint?

  • Reducing beef consumption by one meal a week
  • Driving 20 miles less per week
  • Adding a solar panel to your house
  • Switching one lightbulb to LED

The energy savings from switching to one LED bulb is just a little behind the correct answer of eating beef one fewer times per week. Changing the whole house over to LED is an overwhelming reduction.

Over the course of the year, eating beef once a week is equivalent to burning 42 gallons of gas, and you would need two or three solar panels to offset that carbon footprint.

When it comes to reducing your food carbon footprint, three of the simplest things you can do are:

1. Stop Wasting Food

Minimizing food waste is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Saving leftovers, planning food ahead of time, and purchasing only what you need all reduce food waste.

2. Use Less Plastic

Plastic bags, storage containers, and carrier bags are commonly used in the food industry to ship, pack, and store food. However, single-use plastic is one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

3. Cut Back on Dairy

Dairy production is a significant contributor to climate change. Dairy cows and their manure emit carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and nitric acid.

Start Your Carbon Offset Journey With Cool Effect

We advocate a broad range of planet-saving carbon offset projects worldwide. Each is ethically validated and scientifically validated to improve the health of the planet. Projects include forest regeneration and protection activities designed to offset and reduce carbon emissions.