Ever heard of eco-anxiety?
Many of us feel an urgency to reduce our impact on the planet given the global ecological crisis we are facing. You are not alone. We feel it too, and ask ourselves daily how we can play a part, small or large, in creating a better future.
But where to start?
Reduce your carbon footprint.
Your carbon footprint is a measure of all the greenhouse gases you emit, from your use of electricity, to driving a car, the food you eat and the clothes you wear.
There are many different approaches to minimising your carbon footprint. A great place to start is by making dietary changes.\
Research shows that switching from a highly processed Western diet to one that is more sustainable can substantially reduce the amount of water and greenhouse gasses associated with the food you consume. Here are a few suggestions to help you achieve a more planet-friendly diet and lifestyle.
1. Avoid food waste
Food waste is a major contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases. When food enters landfill, it decomposes anaerobically, emitting methane. It has been estimated that over a 100-year time frame, the impact of methane on global warming is 34 times that of carbon dioxide.
On average every individual in the world wastes 194 to 389 kg of food each year. Australian households alone waste around 2.5 million tons of edible food yearly.
So how to reduce?
- Buy only the food you need (bulk food shopping is a great way to do this!)
- Save your leftovers (stock up your freezer!)
- Plan your meals in advance (meal prep also ensures you stick to your health goals throughout the week by having portioned, nutritious meals and snacks available to you always).
2. Get rid of plastic
Ok, here we go. It’s time to talk about plastics.
Yes, it’s true: switching over to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle will require you to let go of plastics.
We use plastics more than we may think, as the goods we consume daily almost always are protected from damage, shipped, stored, and packaged and re-packaged in plastic. Reducing the quantity of plastic used in your household is a good place to start your personal war on plastic.
In reality, plastic is everywhere because it has become so essential to modern humans, and thus is very difficult to avoid entirely. Reducing your use of plastics is possible if you set yourself up for success!
- Avoid takeaway food since it is often packed in non-recyclable plastic or Styrofoam.
- Use glass containers (not plastic!) to store your food. Psst. also better for your health. Don’t trust our word for it – read the science
- Avoid bottled water – drink out of reusable water bottles instead.
- BYO grocery bags to (all) stores.
- When buying fresh produce, choose the fruits and veg that don’t come wrapped in plastic. Farmers markets are a great way to get some fresh air, support local businesses, and buy produce that isn’t plastic wrapped!
3. Eat less meat
One of the very best ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of meat that you consume. A study involving 16,800 Americans showed that diets associated with the highest greenhouse gas emissions were also high in pork, veal, beef, and other types of ruminants. Diets associated with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions were also the lowest in meat consumption.
These findings are supported by studies from all over the world including a recent Australian study that found global agriculture and food production contributes 19–29% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This study also found food grown in areas with high carbon dioxide levels had reduced nutritional content.
The production of livestock, especially dairy and beef cattle, makes up 14.5% of human-induced, global greenhouse gas emissions.
Try out a vegan or vegetarian diet, go meat-free one day per week, or try to eat meat just once a day. Start small, or go big!
4. Try plant-based protein
One way to significantly reduce your ecological footprint is to eat more plant-based protein, including seeds, nuts, and legumes.
A study conducted with 55,504 individuals found that those who consumed moderate levels of meat daily (50 to 100 grams) had significantly lower carbon footprints compared to those who consumed over 100 grams on a daily basis.
One standard serving of meat is about 85 grams. So, if you consume more than 85 grams of animal proteins daily, you may want to consider switching to more plant-based proteins.
5. Eat less dairy
Cutting back on dairy products such as cheese and milk can help you reduce your carbon footprint. The second biggest contributor to individuals’ greenhouse gas emissions is dairy.
Firstly, manure and dairy cows emit several harmful greenhouse gases including ammonia, nitric oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane.
Secondly, making cheese requires a lot of milk. This means that cheese is associated with higher greenhouse gas emissions than most other animal products including chicken, eggs, and pork.
Have you tried substituting cow’s milk for oat (the most eco-friendly option), soy or almond milk? Rest assured – almost every café in Canberra has these options today (and Local Press certainly does!).
Eating less cheese also has a plus side, believe it or not. It means you can buy higher quality, more delicious cheese in smaller quantities without breaking the bank!
6. Eat more foods that are rich in fibre
Not only will consuming more fibre-rich foods help to improve your health (and maintain healthy digestion), it can also lower your carbon footprint. Consuming plants low in sodium and saturated fats and high in fibre meant emitting fewer greenhouse gases.
High-fibre foods are a healthy and natural way to help keep you feeling full for longer.
Adding more fibre to your diet can help re-balance your gut bacteria, which may improve your digestive health, and protect you against illnesses such as diabetes, colorectal cancer, and heart disease.
7. Grow your own produce
There are numerous benefits associated with growing produce in your backyard or in a community garden, including improved emotional wellbeing, a higher-quality diet, and reduced stress.
Your carbon footprint can also be diminished by cultivating a piece of land, no matter the size.
Growing vegetables and fruits reduces your dependency on produce that has been packaged in plastics and transported over long distances.
Composting, recycling rainwater, and using organic farming methods can further cut down your personal environmental impact.
8. Buy locally
Supporting local farmers is good for the community and good for the planet.
To take it one step further, why not support organic growers and buy seasonal? Food grown out-of-season is generally imported from far away. If grown locally in greenhouses, it typically requires more energy to produce.
Your carbon footprint can also be slashed by switching over to sustainably produced and local animal products such as dairy, poultry, and eggs. You might also become appreciative of the unique foods that are native to your local area.
One great way to boost your health and lower your carbon footprint is to revamp your diet. By making a few lifestyle changes like minimising food waste, consuming fresh, local, and seasonal produce, using less plastic, and cutting back on your consumption of animal products, you can reduce your own ecological footprint. These efforts may seem small and insignificant, but they do make a difference, most especially if you can get your friends, family, and neighbours on board!
Best of luck 🙂
Written by Aisha Horner
Edited by Olivia St-Laurent