We all make choices every day about how we want to live. For many of us, giving up single use plastic is a big step toward living in a greener, cleaner world. Driving electric cars, taking public transportation, riding our bikes more, and walking whenever possible are also great ways to cut down on our carbon footprints. By now we’ve all changed our light bulbs to be more energy efficient, learned to take our coffee cups with us to the coffee shop, and compost as much of our food and yard waste as we can. But did you know that even cutting back on eating animal products just a little bit can have a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions?
American diets, which are heavy on meat and other animal products, are resource hogs linked to higher greenhouse emissions. Eating meat at every meal is just not necessary, and the production of meat in factory farms is intensive on water and animal feed while also creating a problem with excess production of animal waste. Meat, eggs, and dairy are responsible for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Most people don’t realize what a huge impact their diets have on the environment. Packaging and transportation are a big part of that, and even recyclable containers are not making it to recycling and instead ending up in landfills. The best approach is always to use less whenever possible, whether that’s less packaging, less transportation, or less meat, eggs, and dairy.
One study showed that 83% of a household’s average carbon footprint came from the foods they chose to eat, while only 11% were due to transportation. Meanwhile, food waste is just as big of a problem, costing on average $680 billion a year worldwide. Taking small steps like only buying what you need, ensuring you are storing it properly, watching expiration dates and portions, and planning meals to use what you already have can help you seriously cut down on your food waste.
Plant-based diets, those that reduce or eliminate animal products, can also help you make a major impact on your carbon footprint. Across the six major plant-based diets, Mediterranean, Nordic, Pescatarian, reduced meat, Vegetarian, and Vegan, greenhouse gas emissions are cut by an average of 22%, land use is cut by an average of 28%, and water use is cut by an average of 18%.
These diets also can have a major impact on your physical health. Plant-based diets have been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, improve colorectal health, aid in the management and prevention of Type II diabetes, reduce cognitive impairments in people over the age of 65, alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and reduce hypertension and the risk of developing heart disease.
One study found that switching from a traditional American diet to a vegan diet with an emphasis on whole foods, particularly plants, can cut your CO2 emissions in half. Paying attention to where your food comes from can further reduce your carbon footprint, as buying as locally as possible is a great way to cut out the transportation pollution associated with a modern food system. Visiting your local farmer’s market and taking your own bags and reusable wrappings can make your carbon footprint tiny compared to those following a more traditional diet and lifestyle.
Plant-based diets have a lot of benefits, and even the health benefits can benefit the environment through less dependence on the modern healthcare system, which can use a lot of resources itself. Learn more about the health and environmental benefits of adopting a plant-based diet from the infographic below.