Another benefit of zero waste: how it can help us to tackle climate change

WHAT YOU CAN DO

In 1992 at The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, also known as The Earth Summit, world nations agreed to create the very first international treaty against climate change – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol and the recent Paris Agreement. The UNFCCC objective is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.[1] Since then there have been held multiple conferences and meetings regarding climate action, however none of them led to drastic changes to prevent climate change from happening.

During this period, we have released into the atmosphere almost as much carbon as in the whole of the previous century. The record high heat waves and other extreme weather events are now occurring more and more often than in the past.[2] A large part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, as reported by scientists, is destined for destruction, which means that sea levels will rise by at least 1.2 meters in the coming centuries and possibly much more.[3] Air pollution, water-related diseases and shortage, hunger and malnutrition will only increase. We are already changing the map of the planet, especially in areas where animals, plants and people can live.

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In the last half century, we have created a world where people cross the ocean within a day, use single-use plastics even not paying attention to it and use a personal car to commute daily. Fossil fuel has contributed to this – but if we want to prevent a climate disaster, we must go ahead without it by the second half of the 21st century.

Zero Waste is a recent movement. It aims not only to restrict consumption of goods, recycle or repair things, but also to avoid other polluting practices less related to waste – such as refusing excess energy consumption, buying eco certified goods or not purchasing products containing palm oil. Personal consumption does matter.

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One of the important but less discussed principles of Zero Waste movement is to reduce energy consumption. Swiss scientists say humanity could limit its environmental impact if only 2 kilowatts of energy were consumed each year per person.[4] On average, the US population consumes almost 13 kilowatts per capita. In Bangladesh, this figure is 0,31. [5] This implies that the main challenge is to reduce consumption in the Global North. Changes in lifestyle, such as the abandonment of exclusive housing or switching to green solutions, would help to reduce these figures. Energy choices now and in the nearest future will have a major impact not just on the global climate, but also on water supplies and the resilience of energy systems that currently depend heavily on them.

Due to climate change, we will experience greater drought, more rain in the off-season, and less snow in mountain areas. The problem is that we “eat” more water than we drink. It is estimated that the average American uses about 7570 liters of freshwater per day. However, only five percent of this water (about 380 liters) runs through the taps and toilets. The rest of it is “hidden” in the food we eat and the products we buy.[6] It takes 1670 liters of water to produce 0.45 kilos of beef. And the demand for meat is on the rise. More important than water consumption of the animal farming is its carbon and methane footprint. The livestock sector is estimated to account for 15% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.[7]

Zero Waste movement can also reduce the meat and dairy consumption. The supporters of zero waste are usually more aware of meat or dairy alternatives as they have better knowledge and cooking skills, acquired by the practice of avoiding ready-made meals.

The way we produce, transport, consume and dispose of all our stuff accounts for huge percentage of total greenhouse (GHG) emissions. Consumers are responsible for more than 60 percent of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions.[8] If we would consume less, our carbon footprint would also decrease. Minimizing excess consumption provides both psychological and financial benefits. Getting rid of unnecessary items might result in smaller bills, cleaner rooms, having more time spent outdoors or having a good time with family.

Recycling is one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. It uses less energy and produces less pollution than making things from raw materials. For example, for glass bottles, 315kg of CO2 is saved per tonne of recycled glass even after taking into account the transportation and processing.[9] Reducing food waste and composting also helps a lot. If not composted, the waste has to be transported and it also produces methane as it decomposes in landfills. Methane is more efficient at trapping radiation – it contributes 25 times more to global warming than carbon dioxide per kilogram.[10]

The choices we make about our consumption has a larger impact than driving a car or heating our homes. However, in addition to your everyday zero waste efforts, to ensure the future of mankind, we need a global move towards a circular and sharing economy. We need long-lasting goods, while looking beyond business-as-usual model and discarding planned obsolescence. By switching to circular economy, we could reduce the demand for energy, raw materials and fossil fuels, and, consequently, the volume of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere would be significantly reduced.

 

1.U. N. (1999, April 23). United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from http://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/background_publications_htmlpdf/application/pdf/conveng.pdf
2.Mora, C., Dousset, B., & Caldwell, I. R. et. al. (2017, June 19). Global Risk of Deadly Heat. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate3322.epdf?referrer_access_token=g_uVry3TdI-vDGR1xw8ERtRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0Nlcpopxh1V5GdQz8yAIWjClhZpJZ3HomV0Tkd0DRw8Cj2FQlWgefEGoctB6FYqCzxr7OgIBPKFQOsopiaLsqCkbTaLCt3g8whoBEjAk0uLOmn1wzsjR226DYcPohEchHFjbO2RT4maHEacsnDT5eOVS4RWes3JvpLpBxFyf1bDeFgUorRjNvGJbw7txwHXQvj3oGpAkhIEL9UF-uYCQwvx&tracking_referrer=edition.cnn.com. doi:10.1038/NCLIMATE3322
3.Gobbatiss, J. (2018, February 20). Global sea level to rise by up to 1.2 metres despite Paris agreement, say scientists. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/sea-level-rise-climate-change-paris-agreement-global-warming-greenhouse-gas-a8219681.html
4. Morrow, K. J., Jr., & Morrow, J. A. (2008). Switzerland and the 2,000-Watt Society. Sustainability, 1(1), 32-33. doi:10.1089/SUS.2008.9992
5.Trading Economics (2014). United States – Electric power consumption (kWh per capita). Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/electric-power-consumption-kwh-per-capita-wb-data.html
6.Modern Agriculture. (2015, January 25). Climate Change and Your Hidden Water Footprint. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://modernag.org/water-conservation/climate-change-and-your-hidden-water-footprint/
7.Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (2016, February 24). Consumers have huge environmental impact. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/nuos-chh022416.php
8.Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (2016, February 24). Consumers have huge environmental impact. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/nuos-chh022416.php
9.Carbon Footprint. (n.d.). Recycling. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://www.carbonfootprint.com/recycling.html
10.Climate Change Connection. (2007). CO2 equivalents. Retrieved June 21, 2018, from https://climatechangeconnection.org/emissions/co2-equivalents/

 

Laura Treimane Written by Laura Treiman.

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And you, how much carbon do you “eat”?

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Food production is a major pollutant for our planet: soil impoverishment, desertification, deforestation… It is also a big source of greenhouse gases (GHG). Today, agricultural sector is the second largest emitter of the world, after the energy sector.

Changing our consumption is a way to act pragmatically against climate change, and turning to vegetarian and vegan diets can help us to reduce our personal carbon footprint. We hear a lot about carbon footprint. But what does it actually mean, especially when it comes to food?

What is carbon footprint?

Carbon footprint corresponds to “the total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).”, per year.

Carbon footprint takes into account direct emissions, as well as indirect ones. If we think about a car, direct emissions are the ones we produce by using it. On the contrary, indirect emissions happen during the production (energy required, transport of the materials, etc.).

“Carbon foodprint”: what does carbon footprint mean when it comes to food?

The carbon “foodprint” of what we eat mainly derives from agricultural production, that contributes 80%–86% of food system emissions. The “pre-production” (ex. fertilizer production), and “post-production” (processing, packaging, refrigeration, transport, but also retailers, catering, domestic use, etc.) activities also emit a significant amount of greenhouse gases.

  • Direct emissions

The main source of direct emissions of greenhouse gases is of course related with the transports. We should add as well all the means of production and cultivation, that still work a lot on petrol. Apart from CO2, direct production of greenhouse gases can come for example from the production and use of fertilizers.

  • Indirect emissions

The food system is very energy-intensive. An awful lot of energy is needed, for example for the refrigeration of products.

Another important source of indirect emissions is the “land-cover change”. Agricultural production implies using more and more lands, which means deforestation. Beyond the huge impact caused to biodiversity, replacing trees by crops means getting rid of very efficient CO2 catchers, which means more CO2 in the atmosphere.

Why reducing/cutting meat and animal products could drastically reduce our carbon footprint?

Remember that as long as we eat animals and products derived from animals, it means that we need to grow even more food in order to feed them. Therefore, it implies even more greenhouse gases coming from fertilizers, transport, cultivation…

Some emissions are also proper to animal breeding industry. They involve for example transport, processing of feed, etc. and all the energy used in the breeding process itself.

Even stopping to eat beef meat makes already a big difference: ruminants require more food to produce one kilogram of meat. Pigs and chicken, who have only one stomach, involve less emissions per kilogram of meat.

The infographics below shows how it is possible to reduce efficiently our emissions, just by changing some everyday habits.

Office cuisine Carbon Foodprints

Remember! Even if there is a focus on greenhouse gases and carbon footprint, let’s not forget that climate change is not the only concern! When it comes to food, there is also soil impoverishment, desertification and overuse of water, impact of fertilizers on the ecosystems… All these problems cannot be compensated by planting some trees. But reducing our footprint is definitely a start, and our planet is worth it!

 

Coline MAlet
Written by Coline Malot.

Article originally published on YEE food blog.