How food packaging and climate change are linked

Does food waste have such a big impact on the climate?

Yes, food waste is a big part of the climate change problem. By some estimates, Americans alone throw away about 20% of the food they buy. This means that all the resources needed to produce this food have been wasted. If you buy more food than you eat, your climate footprint will be bigger than it could be. Thus, waste minimization can be a fairly simple way to reduce emissions.

How to throw away less?

There are many possibilities. If you’re cooking, start by planning your meals: Over the weekend, take 20 minutes to plan at least three dinners for the next week so that you only buy the food you’ll be cooking. A similar rule applies if you’re eating out: don’t order more than you need. Store food in the refrigerator so it doesn’t spoil. Freeze what will not be eaten soon. 

Should I compost?

If you can, it’s not a bad idea. When food is thrown into a landfill along with other garbage, it begins to decompose and release methane into the atmosphere, warming the planet. While some American cities have begun to capture some of this methane and process it for energy, most of the world’s cities are not doing so. You can also organize into groups by creating compost. In New York City, for example, centralized composting programs are being set up. When compost is done right, the organic material in leftover food can help grow crops and significantly reduce methane emissions.

Paper or plastic bags?

Paper shopping bags look a little worse in terms of emissions than plastic ones. Although plastic bags from supermarkets look worse in terms of degradation. As a rule, they cannot be recycled and create waste that lingers on the planet for much longer. But overall, packaging only accounts for about 5% of global food-related emissions. What you eat is far more important for climate change than the package or bag you bring it home in.

Does recycling really help?

However, it’s a great idea to reuse packages. Better yet, buy a reusable bag. Other packaging, such as plastic bottles or aluminum cans, is harder to avoid but can often be recycled. Recycling helps if you recycle your waste. And we advise you to do at least this. But even more effective is waste reduction. 

Why does the label not warn about the carbon footprint?

Some experts argue that products should have eco-labels. In theory, these labels could help interested consumers choose products with lower impact levels and give farmers and producers more incentive to reduce their emissions.

A recent study published in the journal Science found that foods that look very similar in the grocery store can have a different climate footprint depending on how they are made. A single chocolate bar can have the same impact on the climate as a 50 km drive if the rainforests were cut down to grow cocoa. Whereas another chocolate bar may have very little impact on the climate. But without detailed labeling, it is extremely difficult for the buyer to understand the difference.

However, a proper labeling scheme is likely to require much more monitoring and emission calculations, so it may take a lot of effort to set up such a system. At this point, most buyers will have to keep track of this on their own.


1.Modern agriculture inevitably contributes to climate change, but some products have a greater impact than others. Beef, lamb and cheese tend to cause the most damage to the climate. Plants of all kinds usually have the least impact.

2. What you eat is much more important than what bag you use to deliver home from the store.

3. Even small shifts in your diet and waste management can reduce your climate footprint.

4. The easiest way to reduce food-related emissions is to buy less. Buy only what you need. This will mean that the resources used to produce these products have been spent efficiently.

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