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Top 10 ways to reduce carbon emissions from food

How, what, and where you eat can all have a massive impact on your carbon emissions – did you know it can account for up to one-third of your overall carbon footprint? 

Luckily, there are a lot of small changes you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your carbon emissions from food.  

From eating more plants to starting a compost bin, we’ve compiled our top 10 tips to help make sustainable eating fit your lifestyle; whether you're a working mom, stay-at-home dad, college student, or anything in between. 

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  • Eat more plants and less meat 

Eating less meat in favor of more plants is one of the best ways to not only reduce your carbon emissions from food, but your overall carbon footprint. Some studies suggest that animal agriculture could be responsible for up to one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions from humans. This means replacing meat with lentils, beans, tofu, or other meat substitutes can be an easy and affordable way to reduce your emissions. You don’t have to go full vegan or vegetarian – even just sticking to Meatless Mondays can make a difference.  

  • Watch the calendar

Eating foods that are in season can help you avoid foods that are grown in greenhouses, which are responsible for a lot of emissions, or that are grown in climates across the globe, which requires a lot of fuel to get to your plate. Buying in-season produce can help you avoid these emissions, while saving you some money, too. See here for a great guide to in-season produce.  

  • Ditch the plastic  

When buying food at the grocery store, opting for goods packaged in materials like paper or aluminum instead of plastic can help lessen your carbon footprint. Aluminum products, like cans, have the lowest overall carbon footprint of any packaging material. And both paper and aluminum are much easier to recycle than plastic – making them even better for the planet.  

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  • Eat local  

If you go to a local market for your weekly grocery shop, it’s likely that all the food there is going to have a much lower carbon footprint than the food you’d find at a traditional grocery store. That’s because the food travels a much shorter distance from farm to table – over 60% of vendors travel less than 20 miles - and because over 75% of vendors at farmer's markets are more than likely using soil-friendly farming practices that can help reduce carbon emissions. It’s good for your community and the planet.  

  • Consider meal delivery  

Did you know that some meal delivery services have lower carbon footprints than meals you buy in a store? According to a University of Michigan study, the carbon footprint of a HelloFresh meal is 25% lower than a meal bought at the grocery store! They also aim to reduce food waste and source ingredients from responsible and sustainable suppliers. That’s why we partner with them – to help you access sustainable meals at the click of a button.  

  • Buy in bulk  

Buying large quantities of shelf-stable or frozen foods when you make a trip to the store can help you make fewer overall trips, and since transportation is such an emissions-heavy part of ours lives, making as few trips as possible can really help lessen your carbon emissions from food – especially if you drive. Plus, if you buy from bulk bins using reusable or compostable containers, it’s a double-win for the planet and your wallet.  

  • Compost, compost, compost  

Composting your food scraps instead of sending them to a landfill can reduce related emissions by more than 50%, according to one study. Setting up a compost system in your home may seem daunting, but it's actually easy to adapt to your lifestyle. You can freeze your scraps and drop them off at a local market or community garden, sign up for a curbside compost pick-up service, or build a worm bin on your patio or in your backyard. 

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  • Eat your leftovers 

According to Project Drawdown’s list of the best solutions to reverse the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, reducing food waste is one of the top 3 solutions. While a lot of food is wasted at the farm or industry level, a lot of it is wasted by consumers, too. Always eating your leftovers, eating or freezing produce before it goes bad, not buying more than your household can eat, and challenging yourself to cook with only what’s currently in your pantry can all help! 

  • Avoid palm oil  

Palm oil has one of the highest carbon footprints of any food. According to one study, land cleared in Indonesia and Malaysia for palm oil production has resulted in roughly 500 million tons of CO2 annually, which is equivalent to 1.4% of global net CO2 emissions. Before you buy a product, check the ingredients list to see if it contains palm oil – if it does, maybe think twice before purchasing. Foods that can contain palm oil include peanut butter, pizza dough, instant noodles, chocolate, ice cream, bread, and more.  

  • Drink more plant milk 

All plant-based milks have a smaller impact on the planet than dairy milk when it comes to land use, water use, and carbon emissions. Whether the milk is made from nuts, beans, oats, or seeds, it’s going to be a better choice for the planet than dairy. One 2018 study found that dairy milk results in three-times more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based milk. Making this swap is as easy as finding a plant-based milk you like, like oat milk or soy milk, and sticking to it.