Many eco conscious people are looking for ways to lower their carbon footprint, or the direct and indirect amount of CO2 that is produced by each of our activities and measured in tons emitted per year. Reducing your carbon footprint requires lifestyle changes. You will have to change some old habits. You’ll probably always be on the prowl for new ways to reduce your impact on the environment. The numbers of ways you can decrees your carbon footprint are almost endless. Some are more obvious, like reducing the driving you do, or making your home more energy efficient. It may surprise you know however, one of the largest of your CO2 emissions are coming from your pantry.
The food we eat constitutes a huge portion of the carbon that is created for our ‘benefit’. It’s production, transportation, packaging, consumption and disposal all combine to spew millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. Some of this is indeed unavoidable. A zero footprint is impossible. But there is certainly room for almost anyone to reduce the amount of carbon released for food.
One big way to reduce your carbon footprint is to buy your food from local producers if possible. The closer you can buy food from the place it was grown, reduces the carbon produced from transportation. Farmers markets are a good place to go to buy from local growers.
Beyond this obvious step to reduce CO2 emissions, additional attempts to reduce emissions related to our food become considerably more ambiguous. This is because at this point, there are no standard measures to determine the actual footprint of various packaging materials or individual food items. Because there are so many variables and interdependencies in the production processes, determining the exact amounts of carbon released by individual items is an exceedingly difficult if not impossible task.
Since we can’t empirically say that this package has a higher or lower carbon footprint than that package, the best we can do as consumers is to make an educated guess. This means we need to at least have a basic understanding of what goes into the manufacturing process of packaging. There is of course the plastic, metal, paper or other material the package is made of. There could even be a combination of materials. Then there is the printing. The ink used in printing creates a considerable amount of CO2 in its manufacture. Also be ready for the counterintuitive. An example is the milk jug. Made of plastic, a material that does not biodegrade. Even if it is recycled plastic, there is a carbon cost to recycle. Many have a paper label, which left a carbon print when produced (not to mention the trees lost to produce the paper). Next is the printing ink on the label. Finally, there are the other contributions this container makes to CO2 emissions through the transportation to the retailer as well as raw materials to the manufacturer and the finished package to the bottler. See the problem? So the best you can really do is be cognoscente of what actually goes into creating the packaging and make informed and educated estimates of a packages carbon footprint.
Lots of people like to use boxed dinners, packaged side dishes and other quick cook foods. But next time you break open that box of quick rice, remember that there was energy used to par cook that food before it was packaged and so carbon emissions were created. Another carbon producing food is located in your grocer’s freezer section. Frozen foods have not only contributed to carbon emissions in it’s preparation and packaging, but for most of us, heating it to eat will entail using the biggest power hog in your kitchen. The microwave oven is hands down, the biggest user of power in your kitchen and the power it uses produces literally thousands of tons of CO2 over its lifespan.
When it comes time to prepare food in a manner that reduces your carbon footprint, not cooking is the best method. A salad takes zero carbon to cut up and put into a bowl. Grilling can be an alternative, if done right. Propane or electric grills can be used with far less carbon emissions than charcoal grill. Your oven is still one of the more efficient means of cooking in your kitchen. They are well insulated and controlled by a thermostat. Yes, there is carbon released as a result of the power consumed, but who wants to eat raw meatloaf. When it comes to your stove and oven, using gas over electric will produce lower overall emissions as well. One big reason is that gas is used directly with little waste. Electricity is normally produced from a distance and a percentage of electricity is lost during its transport to your home. Toaster ovens may be an alternative, but remember that smaller isn’t necessarily better. Toaster ovens aren’t well insulated and the heating element is not very efficient. As stated earlier, avoid the microwave were ever possible.
With Americans producing millions of tons of carbon every year, the efforts of every person can collaboratively help reduce our impact on the environment. But it starts with you. Go online and search for carbon calculators and you begin to see where you produce carbon and what steps to take to lower that footprint.