Food & The Environment

Currently, the global food system is one of the most damaging human activities on our planet. This is mainly down to 3 main areas: how we grow our food, how we transport our food, and how much food waste we produce.



Eating a more sustainable diet is one of the biggest and simplest ways to reduce your carbon footprint, but ‘sustainable’ doesn’t necessarily have to mean becoming vegetarian or vegan. A sustainable diet can simply mean choosing organic, Fairtrade or locally grown food. It can mean deciding to eat plant-based meals a few times a week, growing your own vegetables, or making a conscious effort to create less food waste.

But why do we need to make such an effort to eat more sustainably? What’s wrong with how the majority of us consume food now? And why is it so important for us to make changes? We’ve broken this down to just a few key areas on this page.

sustainable diet at home
What is a sustainable diet?

When food decays it creates methane which is a harmful greenhouse gas, meaning it contributes to climate change. The UK currently produces around 6.6 million tonnes of household food waste a year. Compared to 2007, when we produced 8.1 million tonnes, we are making progress in the right direction however we are still producing far more food waste than we should be. Here are a few simple ways you could help reduce your food waste:

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– Different types of food go off quicker or slower depending on the temperature around them. Try setting your fridge to 1.6 degree Celsius, this temperature that keeps the most amount of different foods preserved for the longest.

– Check the best before and use by dates and what these actually mean.

– Use smaller plates. We naturally fill a plate up with as much as we can because we’re hungry, but our eyes are bigger than our bellies and we often end up throwing some food away. By using a slightly smaller plate, you stop yourself from doing this. Plus you can always go back for seconds!

– Keep a check on what foods are in the fridge and plan meals in advance before going food shopping. Good planning will help you buy only what you need, cut down on food waste and save you a surprising amount of money too!

– Freeze your food. Many types of food can safely be frozen and defrosted when you are ready to eat them. Be a freezer hero!

– Head over to the Love Food Hate Waste website to find some delicious waste-free recipes.

Food Waste
We need to cut down on food waste.

Some food waste is inevitable, fruit and veg peelings, coffee grounds and eggshells are great examples of food waste that we simply can’t help but create. However, by recycling our food waste, we can stop it from contributing to climate change and instead use it to power our homes.

This is why Chelmsford City Council offers food waste recycling service to households, flats and businesses. Once we have picked up your food waste, we take it all to an ‘Anaerobic Digestion Plant’.

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Here, tiny organisms speed up the process of breaking down food, releasing the methane which is then captured and used to generate electricity. What is left behind of the decayed food a nutrient-rich soil that local farmers then use on their fields to grow more crops.

To find out more about what goes in your food waste bin, as well as information about collections and bin replacements, visit the city council’s website.

food waste recycling
Recycling your food waste

The further our food travels, the more carbon is produced in getting it to our plate and the more we are contributing to climate change. Thankfully there are lots of ways you can reduce the distance the food you buy travels. Try growing your own fruit and veg, shopping at your local greengrocers, butchers or market, or only buy fruit and veg that is currently in season at the supermarket, as this means it will have been grown far closer to home.

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As consumers, we have the power to ‘vote with our wallets’ – meaning if we all choose to only buy locally grown produce, pretty soon the big companies would have to make changes to keep in line with what their customers are buying. This is just one example of how collective action can help stop climate change.

supermarket food
Our food is racking up its air miles

The process of growing crops produces huge amounts of pollution thanks to toxic fertilisers and pesticides, which often run off crop fields into our waterways when it rains, this then harms wildlife and destroys natural ecosystems.

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The best way you help stop this is to buy organic produce. When we buy organically grown food, we are helping to reduce the number of toxic fertilisers and pesticides in our natural environment. In order to produce a good yield, many farmers spread synthetic chemicals over their crops which are then washed into our streams and rivers when it rains. This, in turn, pollutes our natural environment and harms wildlife. However, with organic food no toxic fertilisers and pesticides are used, making it healthier for us and our planet.

farming crops on field
How do we grow our crops?

Due to our continually growing population, we are also constantly in need of more and more farmland for livestock, to feed those who eat meat and use animal-based products. This results in roughly 36 football fields’ worth of trees being cut down every minute due to deforestation to make space for farmland.

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Fewer trees mean less carbon being sucked out of the air, meaning our planet will continue to get warmer as climate change becomes more severe – deforestation is also a leading cause of wildlife extinction, this is because many species depend on specific ecosystems like rainforests to survive, meaning we are now seeing extinction rates 1000 times higher than the natural, historical rate before human industrialisation began.

farming deforestation
How do we grow our livestock?

One fantastic way to help reduce your carbon footprint is to try growing your own produce at home, whether it’s growing herbs on your windowsill, having a vegetable patch in your garden or even owning an allotment. It is very satisfying to cook and eat food you have grown from a seed, plus it will be fresher, organic and save you money too!

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Excellent starter crops are:

For the windowsill –

  • Herbs
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes

For larger areas –

  • Beetroot
  • Leeks
  • Climbing French beans – they are more reliable and need less space than runner beans

With simple to grow fruit and vegetables like these, you’ll discover just how easy, rewarding and enjoyable growing your own food can be. Check out the RHS website for tips and advice.

grow your own vegetable patch
Grow your own

A recent study found that almost half of the UK population now eats two or more vegetarian meals a week. For every person that does this around 13 square miles of forest avoids destruction and 550 kg less CO2 gas is released into our atmosphere per year. If everyone in the UK was to do this, it would be equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road!

If you’d like to go one step further and are considering giving a vegetarian or vegan diet a go, you’ll find plenty of support and advice online that can help you with everything from recipes and getting the right nutrients, to managing when everyone else in your household still eats a meat-based diet. You might find these websites a good place to start:

green eating salad
A healthy mix of meat and plant-based meals

If you don’t have the money or the ability to make the changes we talk about on this page, please don’t worry, the weight of the world is not on your shoulders. It’s important to point out that with all environmentally friendly choices that your best is always enough. This is not to say that we don’t all have a responsibility to make changes, but if your financial situation is your limiting factor then it’s okay that waste reduction and recycling is not your priority.