Author: Dr Eden Lurie
There are many reasons that people turn to a vegan lifestyle, with the most recurring themes being centred around switching to a healthier diet, moral and ethical justice for all species and to lessen the environmental impact of our daily carbon footprints on the planet. One could discuss each of these topics at length for many months and still not tire of talking points, however this article is going to focus on the environmental benefits of changing to a more plant based diet and how we can lessen our footprint by making informed choices.
Eating a vegan diet could be the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact on earth, a new study suggests. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%.
According to a recent article published on Our World in Data, by geoscientist Hannah Ritchie, the expansion of land for agriculture is the leading driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss. In addition, the beef and dairy industries account for the use of 33% of the use of earth’s fresh water, 45% of arable land use, and 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Half of the world’s ice- and desert-free land is used for agriculture. Most of this is for raising livestock – the land requirements of meat and dairy production are equivalent to an area the size of the Americas, spanning all the way from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. The land use of livestock is so large because it takes around 100 times as much land to produce a kilocalorie of beef or lamb versus plant-based alternatives. The same is also true for protein – it takes almost 100 times as much land to produce a gram of protein from beef or lamb, versus peas or tofu.Research suggests that if everyone shifted to a plant-based diet we would reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. This large reduction of agricultural land use would be possible thanks to a reduction in land used for grazing and a smaller need for land to grow crops. The research also shows that cutting out beef and dairy (by substituting chicken, eggs, fish or plant-based food) has a much larger impact than eliminating chicken or fish.”
Whilst one could write a book about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, I am going to share 10 pointers on ways that you can make a change for good today and in the future.
10 simple swap outs to lessen your daily environmental impact
1. Switch to non-dairy milks
- According to the University of Oxford study on the environmental impact of food, the production of dairy milk contributes the largest amount of land and water usage for food production. It also emits the most carbon of any milk source.
- Soy milk and oat milk have the lowest environmental impact (looking at land use, water use and carbon emissions)
2. Cut out or reduce red meat consumption
- 3000 liters of water is required to produce the equivalent of 1 beef hamburger- this is the equivalent volume of water used to shower for 2 months
- Livestock is responsible for 65% of nitrous oxide emissions (a greenhouse gas 296x more destructive to the ozone than CO2)
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of deforestation
3. Eat more plants: legumes, grains, fruit and vegetables in season
- Eating in season means that you consume what fruit and vegetables are grown locally and in season, according to the region in which you live
- This reduces your carbon footprint by decreasing the distance your food has to travel from farm to plate.
- It also helps support local infrastructure and farmers, improving the local economy .
4. Start a compost heap
- Food waste that ends up in landfills breaks down anaerobically, producing large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide.
- Over a 20 year period, one ton of methane causes 72x more warming than 1 ton of CO2.
- Municipal solid waste landfills are the thirst largest source of human related methane emissions in the U.S.A according to the Environmental Protection agency (E.P.A)
- By making a compost heap at home, you are mitigating the production of methane as well as producing home made fertilizer than can then be used to grow more fruit and vegetables
5. Save your vegetable peels and scraps to make a vegetable stock
- Save the peels of onions, carrots, limp celery, garlic, herbs which are no longer fresh, cabbage leaves and any other vegetables that are less than fresh and put them in the freezer
- When you have sufficient scraps, boil them in water with some salt and simmer for an hour until rich and flavourful. Strain off the soft veg and use the stock for soups, stews or pasta meals.
6. Support local farmers or plant a herb or veggie patch of your own
7. Become conscious of your plastic use: start an eco-brick
- Eco-bricks are recycled plastic bottles (usually 1.5L or larger) that non-recyclable plastics and other materials are squeezed into, until no more space if available in the container. These “bricks” can be dropped at your local drop off spot and used to build low cost sustainable housing or structures.
8. Invest in a non-plastic water bottle
- Ditch the plastic bottle and its leeching chemicals and opt for a sustainable option instead – glass, stainless steel or bamboo will do.
9. Ditch the coffee cup: bring your own
- Most coffee cups sold around the world are either lined with polyethylene plastic that can not be recycled, even if the outside of the cup looks like paper. The two materials are not easily separated and thus contribute to significant waste and leaching of chemicals when hot liquid is poured into the cup.
- Luckily most shops now sell re-useable coffee cups and coffee shops encourage you to bring your own.
- The most sustainable option however is not to go out and buy a trendy bamboo cup but rather to just bring along a mug from home.
10. Meal prep to reduce your food & money waste