Sustainable Food & Drink

We can all be fed with good quality food and drink whilst nature and the climate recovers.  By consuming sustainable food we can eat more healthily and waste a lot less.   We can all learn about different types of food and to eat a more varied diet that follows the seasons.

Food is costing us the Earth and it’s being wasted. The trend is for us to buy high-calorie fast food which has huge environmental impacts, as well as not being good for our health. We are also wasting very large amounts of food, with the average UK family throwing away 40% per year.

Here you will find a means to eat fresher, more nutritious, less packaged food, which has less of an impact on the environment and your wallet.

Environmental impacts of food and drink

Our source of food and drink is from the land.   As we consume more land-hungry foodstuffs, we take land that would have otherwise provided nature with a home and stored carbon.  We then use a great deal of water to grow food and employ both agricultural machinery and people to help manage the land and harvest the produce.   The product is then packaged and transported, from which point it is retailed.

There may be additional impacts depending on agricultural practices.  The ploughing of fields releases carbon and degrades topsoil, which pollutes air and water.  The addition of organic or inorganic fertilizer results in run-off which pollutes water sources, and the use of pesticides kills insects and other wildlife.  If meat or dairy is being cultivated, then there are additional carbon emissions and additional run-off, together polluting air and water.  Land is also used to grow grain to feed these animals.

Unsustainable food – the worst offenders 

The worst environmental impacts are from beef and lamb production, which requires incredible land use, carbon dioxide emissions and water use per kilogram of meat produced.  Dairy products follow these in terms of impacts, using an incredible 50 square meters of land, 300 litres of water and 12kg of carbon per litre of milk.  Fish, pig and poultry follow this, with the production of sweet and alcoholic drinks and eggs following after.

There is a full register of the impact of each foodstuff on our community site for those interested in exploring this further.

Sustainable food and diet

Human diet makes a huge difference.  Dairy consumption has the single biggest impact, simply because of the volume we consume (25% of weight shopped by an average UK consumer).  The purchase of meat also has an impact if you are cutting out meat that is farm sourced – with wild-sourced meat such as venison bearing little to no environmental impact.

The following table gives an environmental impact from an average annual British grocery shop, showing how various diets alter these impacts.

  tCO2e m3 of Water Hectares of Land
Impact of an annual UK shop 2.0 459.7 0.8
  As a percentage of Average
Vegan 45% 19% 20%
Vegetarian (no dairy) 46% 19% 21%
Vegetarian 81% 86% 72%
Pescatarian 83% 92% 73%
Meat 20% Reduction 98% 98% 95%

Our sources of food and drink

As food also bears an environmental impact from the methods of farming, transport and packaging used to bring products to the consumer – it also matters how food is sourced.

Purchasing organic food reduces impact as this does not use pesticides or artificial fertilizers in production.  Some farms also implement zero-till regimes whereby they do not plough and also set aside areas of land for wildlife, which reduces adverse ecological impacts and carbon emissions.  Eating meat which is solely pasture-fed reduces land use and has other nutrient benefits.

Sourcing food locally cuts out transport emissions.  If you are able to grow your own food, then land use and packaging impacts are almost nil.

Packaging also has a huge ecological impact from plastic being burnt, going to landfill or ending up in our oceans.  It is known that even if you recycle plastics, only 9% of it is actually recycled.

Top suggestions for sustainable food shopping from our community include using zero waste shops and getting seasonal veg boxes delivered.

Cutting impacts – zero waste food

In the UK 43 million tonnes of food is purchased annually, of which 6.7 million tonnes of edible food is wasted (Wrap, 2020).  The majority of the food wasted is from households, with around a quarter wasted being food bought by the hospitality sector and wasted through the production process.

Cutting food waste in the UK would dramatically reduce negative environmental impacts.  There are numerous apps and tools which people can use to help tackle this problem, some of which are recommended through this website.

Sustainable food & eating out

Where you choose to eat can also influence diet, how the food you eat is produced and how much is wasted.  There are some suggestions on how to reduce your impact from eating out on our community site.

Got ways to improve this page?  Chip in your thoughts into this topic and let’s improve it for everyone!

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Community referrals

Able & Cole less plastic packaging, 100% organic or sustainably grown, zero air freight. Deliveries in London are via electric bikes.UK Wide
Alara Wholefoods Ltd have spent over 30 years working out and implementing how they can create a sustainable food production system. Based on 4 pillars - Environmental, Financial, Social and Governance.UK Wide
Benugo with a conscience. Specifically ensure that all their locations: Use British and Irish milk only, Use British and Irish meats when practical and in season, Use free-range eggs throughout all products, Use fish from sustainable sources only (MCS Grade 3 or lower), Reduce food miles as much as possible through combined distribution and deliveries, Use fully recyclable packaging and reduce or recycle all waste including food waste wherever practical, Audit all sites to ensure they maintain the highest standards of sustainable food use and waste reduction, ensure that all suppliers also adhere to these standards and audit them against the same criteria and design all foods and menus throughout the business in line with existing healthier catering commitment accreditationsUK Wide
Boxxfresh of British and seasonal veggies, salads, fruits and herbs with minimal & recyclable packaging; Collect used Boxxes, recycling them for future deliveries. Any packaging has been carefully selected to get the produce to the customer safely, in top condition AND is 100% recyclable - Naked Veg PledgeUK Wide
Brew Tea Company Wide
Clipper Tea Tea SupplierUK Wide
Ethical Shop ShoppingUK Wide
Ethical Super Storehttps://www.ethicalsuperstore.comFull online grocery shoppingUK Wide
Eversfield Organic grocery shoppingUK Wide
Farmdrop sourced. From hundreds of local and independent producers. For people who enjoy great quality and care about the planet.UK Wide
Halo Coffee PodsUK Wide
Keep Cup CupsUK Wide
Milk & More are about encouraging people to eat well and live sustainably by championing smaller suppliers. Doorstep delivering including milk in glass bottles delivered by an electric powered vehicle.UK Wide
My Green Pod Green Pod Ltd is an independent, family-run UK business, founded by Katie Hill and Jarvis Smith. We offer ethical alternatives to mainstream products and services.UK Wide
Natural Balance Foods healthy cereal bars with only natural ingredients. Supports enviromental organisations by putting their logo on their packaging. Working with WeForest to offset their carbon emissions.UK Wide
Oddbox Delivery Ltd food waste. They work closely with farmers across the UK (& from abroad), rescuing fresh, seasonal surplus fruit & veg which are at risk of becoming food waste.London
Olio is a mobile app for food-sharing, aiming to reduce food waste. It does this by connecting those with surplus food to those who need or wish to consume such food.UK Wide
Planet Organichttps://www.planetorganic.comOrganic grocery store in the UK with the aim to be organic, natural and sustainable.UK Wide
Riverford provide local, organic food boxes. This reduces carbon emissions (short travel) and waste (you receive what you need only)UK Wide
Soda Stream Wide
Tenzing drink from natural sources; use natural ingredients & are Rainforest Alliance Certified. Their packaging is 100% recyclable. They put 5% of their profits back into environmental projects - the first one being providing sustainable bins along the trail to Mt Everest. They are working to make their suUK Wide
The Beeswax Wrap Company Ltd a natural food wrapping alternative to plastic cling filmUK Wide
The Clean Kilo Clean Kilo is the largest zero-waste supermarket in the UK; based in Digbeth, Birmingham city centre. Our ethos is to: sell plastic-free products, source as local as possible and reduce food waste. We set up to challenge the food system and its overpackaged supply chain by sourcing in bulk and selling without packaging.Birmingham
The Eco Larder Eco Larder is a Social Enterprise on a mission to create a Plastic Free Edinburgh. They are a Not for Profit Social Enterprise and offer volunteering opportunities with The Eco Larder.Edinburgh
Too Good To Go food that would go to waste to collectUK Wide
Viva Organic Food Ltd Organic is a zero waste shop in Cardiff that does a great line in plastic free cutlery, hard bar shampoos and essentials for your zero waste kit alongside the fruit, veg and dried goods. The key ingredients to the business were fresh, organic and local produce and products where possible. By offering bulk wholefoods, unpackaged we were able to pass on savings to our customers and also help reduce the plastic problem, or at least get people talking about it.Cardiff

If you have a referral of your own please share them on our community site. Start a new topic and list the supplier as well as a link to their website, and we’ll list them here.

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