How to reduce meat consumption and food waste

28 Mar 2018
7 min read
How to Reduce Meat Consumption and Food Waste

By making smart choices about the food we buy and put on our plate we can literally stop food costing the earth! Agriculture is responsible for around 30% of global carbon emissions.

The food choices we make can help to combat climate change, save us money and contribute to improving our health and wellbeing.

Have you ever stopped to consider the carbon footprint of some of your food choices? Simply switching from a latte to a flat white, beef to chicken or rice to potatoes can cut the carbon emissions of your meal fivefold!

The Carbon Footprint of Food

Considerably larger carbon emissions are produced from animal products compared with cereals, fruit and vegetables. The report below was produced by the World Economic Forum in December 2017 and highlights the huge difference between food groups so that people can cook meals without ‘cooking the planet’.

Change Your Coffee to Save the Planet

All food production requires some form of energy. The amount of energy required depends on the type of food, transportation, packaging and the production process. 

Let’s take coffee, a striking example. Next time you’re in a coffee shop, faced with a dazzling array of choice, remember that a simple white coffee has one-fifth the carbon footprint of a latte!

Infographic - The Carbon Footprint on Coffee
Reference How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Food and Drink By Mike Berners-Lee

Make Red Meat a Treat

Did you know choosing white meat, such as chicken or pork, instead of beef or lamb can benefit the planet and your pocket?

Greenhouse gas emissions from beef and lamb

The production of red meat and processed meat in particular, consumes a lot of energy and has a significant impact on the environment. Cattle and sheep (known as ruminants) belch out considerable quantities of methane, which is a harmful greenhouse gas.  Switching from lamb or beef to chicken or pork is not only cheaper for you but reduces the amount of carbon emissions produced from animals.

Saving Money on Food Bills

An average household spends £53.30 a week on food shopping. The cost of meat makes up the majority of this at a staggering 61% of a weekly food bill. Meat is expensive to buy but also contains a lot of saturated fat, which contribute to heart disease and diabetes. By replacing meat in one or two meals a week there are financial, health and environmental benefits.

Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes

Vegetables on a chopping board

There are plenty of great vegetarian and vegan recipes to try. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to make more use of nutritious nuts, bean, lentils and vegetables.

In the UK, over a quarter of evening meals now contain no meat or fish at all, as healthy, delicious alternatives have become mainstream. Not only is there a wider availability of plant-based products in the supermarkets but there is a greater understanding of the health benefits of eating less meat.

There are traditional favourites such as vegetarian lasagne, vegan curry and classics such as mushroom risotto or tofu stir fry. Increasingly, you’ll find vegetarian options in the supermarkets and many restaurants now cater for vegetarian and vegan diets.

Meat Free Mondays

One of the many websites that offers great vegetarian and vegan recipes is Meat Free Mondays:

Meat Free Mondays is one of the growing initiatives to encourage everyone to try alternative meals. Set up by Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters Stella and Mary they are part of a growing number of celebrities who promote vegetarian food. Meat free Monday is a catchy way to think of meal planning without meat for at least one day of the week.

In this film Sir Paul talks about the contribution of livestock and farming on climate change and how eating less meet can help featuring Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone.  

Never Underestimate the Humble Potato

Farmer holding potatoes

As well as reducing red meat consumption, don’t overlook the humble potato in favour of other carbs which can impact climate change. Rice needs a lot of water and is often grown in paddy fields in Asia that are submerged in water. This process produces a lot of methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas. In contrast, potatoes are grown in fields in the UK and have a far lower carbon footprint.

The Benefits of Eating Local, Seasonal Food on the Planet

As well as tasting great one of the many benefits of buying local food grown in the UK is that it reduces the amount of energy used to transport the food compared to food imported that is transported by road, ship or air. Food miles are a major contributor to the carbon footprint of many common foodstuffs, especially if it is in heavy packaging or refrigerated. 

Food in the UK also adheres to long established rules on animal welfare and use of pesticide, see Nine Benefits of Buying Local, Seasonal and Sustainable Food.

7 Top Tips to Reduce Food Waste

In the UK in 2015 alone, £13 billion of edible food, or 7.3 million tonnes, was thrown away! That’s a staggering figure. Keeping this food out of the bin would benefit our pockets and would have the same environmental impact as taking one in four cars off the road.

The most commonly wasted foods are bread, potatoes, chicken, fruit and vegetables. And the two biggest food-wasting behaviours are:

  • Buying too much food.
  • Storing food incorrectly.

So here are seven easy ways to help reduce food waste in your home.

  1. Make a shopping list. It’s the best weapon against over spending in supermarkets and resisting those tempting for foods that you probably won’t eat.
  2. Plan your menu for the week. Planning, not just what food you want to eat, but also how much food you need to buy will ensure food isn’t wasted and thrown in the bin.
  3. Store food properly. Store cold food in the fridge and place the food with the shortest shelf life at the front.
  4. De-coding the date stamp. Best before dates are just guidelines. Food does not need to be thrown out immediately past this date. It may well stay fresh for days or weeks afterwards depending on the product. However, use by dates exist to protect your health so it’s definitely worth respecting those.
  5. Don’t ditch the leftovers. Eating leftovers from the previous day, for a lunch, is a convenient way to save time, money and reduce waste. Consider turning leftover vegetables into a tasty soup.
  6. Use your freezer. If your plans change or you have too much food, almost everything (except lettuce) can be frozen. Freezing provides a way to keep food for a longer period of time and prevent waste.
  7. Recycle essential waste. Some food waste is inevitable, from vegetable peelings to tea leaves. Putting this waste in the food bin ensures the nutrients are recycled, turning waste into a resource.

For more information please see these great websites:

The Impacts of Climate Change on Farming

Cartoon of cow in a drought

Global warming has a negative impact on food production. Hotter weather, less rainfall and extreme events such as flooding, and hail stones damage crops. The less food produced, the more expensive food becomes.

Without water crops cannot grow. Drought reduces crop yields and therefore, increases food prices. Animals also suffer from heat stroke and produce less meat and milk. A lot of agriculture relies on irrigation so in times of water shortages demand between human consumption and farming can compete.

Climate change has also increased the risk of pest and diseases. With milder, wetter winters there is less frost and in the increased damp conditions certain species of pest can thrive.

Secondly, as the temperatures increase birds and insects are migrating north to cooler climes bringing with them a whole host of new risks to plants and animals.

Only four crops provide 65% of the energy consumed for the entire population in the world (rice, wheat, potatoes and maize). Therefore, the increase in pests and disease pose a real threat to food supply, costs and the global food chain. This can be alleviated by building resilience into the food chain. This involves using a wider variety of types of plants and grains and ensuring local food is available where ever possible.

But ultimately prevention is better than cure therefore, the only real solution is to stop burning fossil fuels and switch to using clean, renewable energy. That way we can prevent millions more people going hungry due to famine and the rising cost of food.


The information in this article was correct at the time of writing and is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.

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