Many of us already recycle paper and water bottles, and as a nation we drive fewer miles than a few years ago. However, we can influence our environmental footprint even further through the foods we purchase and eat every day.
In this article I will discuss several ways to reduce our impact on the Earth. Many of them aren’t perfect solutions, and we might need extra research to really make a difference, but we have to start somewhere. And while the Earth already sustains over 7 billion people, and the United States is coming in third as the most populous country behind China and India; we can make a larger impact with our fork than we might realize…
We all have heard: “buy local” to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide through transportation of purchased foods”, but the real story might be more complicated. By including the purchase of seasonal fruits and vegetables we could make a larger environmental impact. Buying local influences the carbon dioxide produced, but it doesn’t take into account growing methods or storage methods of the purchased foods. Tomatoes grown in a greenhouse on a nearby farm could use more energy than fresh tomatoes grown during the summer and transported from a little farther away. For the same reason; apples in season, imported from a different state or country by train, might use less energy than apples being stored for several months in a cooler. If you are lucky and you live in California there will be many local and seasonal choices year round, but if you live in New York weighing your options will be different. Ultimately, for some people buying local and/or in season might be an easy decision when seasonal and local fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round. For others it means delaying the purchase of certain fruits and vegetables until they are in season, and for some it might mean choosing fruits and vegetables traveling by boat over traveling by air over locally offered produce. It takes an informed customer to make the right choice in their situation.
Choose foods mostly on the outside of the perimeter of the grocery store and extra packaging can be avoided. Fresh fruits and vegetables often have their own protective skin and don’t need to be packaged in extra bags. Meats, breads and diary, also often found at the perimeter of a grocery store, often have only one layer of packaging. An added benefit to the products found on the outside of the perimeter is that they will provide all essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein for general health as well. Products on the inner isles often require extra packaging such as plastic for freshness and carton for looks.
Bring reusable grocery bags to take groceries home. However, wash your bags regularly to keep germs at bay and keep meats products, poultry, fish, and eggs separate from fresh produce by using separate bags.
Combine grocery shopping with other errands or make a meal plan and buy ingredients for several days at the time to cut down on gasoline emissions and time spent.
Consider meatless Monday, and/or cut down on meat during several days of the week. Protein coming from animals is far more energy intensive on the Earth than plant proteins, such as legumes, edamames (soy beans), and whole grains.
Drink tap water in a reusable bottle or glass instead of using bottled water or canned sugary drinks. Considering that only 8% of the 31 million tons of plastic waste produced in 2010 is being recycled according to the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency); using fewer plastic bottles and cans is a no-brainer.
Cook/order just enough to fulfill your (and your family’s) appetite, or save leftovers for lunch the next day instead of throwing uneaten food out. According to the EPA: ”In 2010 alone, more than 34 million tons of food waste was generated, with only three percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.” This is food produced, washed, and not even always prepared but still going to waste; producing methane gas and not feeding people.
When packing lunch; use reusable containers and a washable lunch box, keep cool with an icepack and wash the lunchbox and containers with warm soapy water after use.
Save recipes on mobile devices or make use of recipe apps instead of printing out recipes in order to reduce on paper.
Consider Earth friendly cleaning supplies such as low phosphate soaps, lemon and vinegar and use cloth instead of paper towels or sponges while cleaning the kitchen. A cloth can be hygienic if washed with water and soap often, while sponges can become germ growers and can create extra trash.
Many of my readers might want to add buying organic to this list. However, I would like to include a word of caution: buying organic doesn’t always guarantee Earth friendliness. Organic apples might still be stored in cooling facilities for a long time, and organic lettuce might still travel from the other side of the country to be sold in the local grocery store. Therefore when considering organic foods; I still would like to refer back to many of the earlier suggestions mentioned.
One last word; some of the recommendations mentioned are easier to apply than others. Therefore; start with the ones that are easier to stick with most of the time, research tricky ideas, and slowly introduce the harder recommendations. Thank you for not printing this page and have a happy Earth Day every day!
picture sources: http://www.mass.gov and 1000greensteps.org