5 high impact changes to achieve net-zero eating

By Judy Cooper


The five basic human needs are considered to be food, water, shelter, sleep, others (human connection) and novelty. Unfortunately, the modern human no longer hunts and gathers their food. In our quest to save time we are now using up a disproportionate amount of the earth’s resources to produce the food and drink we consume.

The global agricultural sector accounts for about a third of the world’s carbon emissions and the UN estimates that a third of the food produced is then wasted – often sent to landfill where it will produce methane, an even more harmful greenhouse gas.

What are the highest impact changes you can make in your eating and drinking habits to reduce your impact on the earth? We have based this list on Project Drawdown’s ranking of the solutions most likely to have the biggest impact on carbon emissions.

1. Reduce food waste

In Project Drawdown’s list reducing food waste was the top action to take to reduce the largest amount of carbon emissions compared to all other solutions. The good news is this is something every single person can do no matter their budget or lifestyle. By simply buying less, planning more and finding alternative waste options we can massively reduce our impact on the planet. Sign up to websites such Love Food Hate Waste or download apps such as No Waste or Olio which help track the food in your home and share food with neighbours.

2. Consider meat a luxury food

Eating plant rich diets and reducing the amount of meat in your diet is the second highest impact change you can make. Consider going vegan or vegetarian. This is likely to demand a huge mindset change so resign yourself to spending time experimenting with more vegetarian and vegan recipes to find taste-winners to replace meat favourites. Some of the best we have found are More Plants Less Waste by Max La Manna, How to Go Vegan by Veganuary, and Jack Monroe’s Vegan(ish). The most damaging meat to the environment comes from large scale, intensive farming so steer clear of cheap, imported meat. Find your local butcher and ask where the meat is sourced from. Butchers are also a great source of information about how to cook some of the less popular cuts of meat to avoid waste.


3. Reduce consumption of palm oil products

Tropical forest restoration ranks highly in Project Drawdown’s list as they are major carbon sinks. Palm oil production is one of the biggest reasons vast acres of tropical forests have been destroyed, particularly in south east Asia. Simply replacing palm oil in products with alternatives such as coconut oil is not a solution as these crops often use far more land and resources than the palm oil plant. Look to reduce consumption of products that use palm oil as much as possible but be careful as to what other ingredients are contained. Whilst far from ideal, look for RSPO certified sustainable palm oil and Rainforest Alliance certification as the first step. An awareness of how many products in your store cupboard include palm oil is a second step. Apps such as Giki can help in doing an audit of products as they will recognise names that are not automatically connected with palm oil, for instance Palm Kernel or Palmitic Acid. For a complete list of names check here.


4. Support sustainable farming practices

Project Drawdown lists a range of improved farming and agricultural practices that would cut carbon emissions. You can support this by buying from local farmers who are investing in more sustainable methods of farming. Local farmers markets are often the best way to do this although some have their own farm shops. Using organic veg and fruit and meat boxes is next best particularly those that source from the UK such as Riverford. If supermarket shopping is your only option spend some time researching brands and options and use certifications such as organic, soil association, red tractor and lion eggs to help distinguish between marketing claims. If you are buying imported food look for those that use fair trade practices to ensure you are at least supporting overseas farmers with ethical trading practices and production techniques.


5. Phase out plastic packaging

Plastic is a wonder product and there are many benefits from it including the ability to reduce food waste. However, because it doesn’t breakdown it is proving a catastrophic invention for the planet. Only two types of plastic are able to be recycled easily (those with the numbers 1 and 2 inside the recycling sign). Plastic cannot be recycled forever so eventually it will end up in landfill or the oceans. The only option is to invent bio-degradable alternatives and phase it out of our lives. Have you got a zero waste shop nearby? Save your big glass jars for storage of a whole range of products around the house. Can you use your own bags for buying loose fruit and vegetables. Can you reuse some of the single-use packaging you already have such as ice-cream containers or squeezy bottles? Once you have reduced your single-use plastics, try to phase out use of plastics that can’t be recycled. Check out this handy guide to recycling and the different types of plastic. Some food citizens discard the plastic packaging of food in the supermarket itself to try and encourage supermarkets to change more quickly.