This blog was originally based on a course ran by Professor Nick Gray of the Trinity Centre for the Environment at Trinity College Dublin who also wrote a textbook for the module Facing up to global warming: What is going on and what you can do about it. Now working as an independent consultant, Nick continues to work in the area of environmental sustainability and looking at ways of making a difference without recriminations or guilt. Saving the planet is all about living sustainably.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dinner’s on me

The food we eat everyday forms a critical component of our carbon emissions. How we get this food and what we do with the waste form the integral part of this problem.While as consumers we have limited control over the agricultural practices, food wastage is entirely down to us. What makes this problem even more dramatic is the fact that food wastage is a completely unnecessary and avoidable in today’s modern world. Coming from an agricultural background and working part time in a local supermarket, I have experienced first-handthe huge wastage that exists among society today.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s websites, 29% of Irelands total national carbon emissions in 2009 came from the agricultural sector while food wastage accounted for approximately 15 million tons of CO2emissions each year in the UK.  This area urgently needs to be addressed. Working part time in my local supermarket has given a prime insight into the food wastage that occurs there on a daily basis. Date checks have to be carried out on all products on a daily basis. When most products near their expiry date they are marked down in price, however meat and dairy products have to be removed a day before their ‘best-before’ or ‘use-by’ date, resulting in huge wastage. These products are simply thrown in the bin. Similarly, living on a farm has given me an insight into the wastage that occurs before products even reach the shops. Many perfectly healthy vegetables are deemed to be ‘unsellable’ due to their unusual shape or appearance. While food is wasted every day in first world countries such as Ireland, 239 million people in Africa go hungry every year.
Now that we are aware of the problem, what can be done in order to obtain our food in a more sustainable manner? Examples of sustainable initiatives at a nationwide level include:
·         In America, food collecting organizations have been established and collect food from restaurants, supermarkets and cafeterias that would otherwise be thrown out and distribute it to low income families and the homeless. If a similar plan was adopted in Ireland it would significantly reduce food wastage in supermarkets across Ireland.
·         Since the fall of the Celtic tiger in Ireland, there has been a growing trend towards allotment gardening where people can grow their own fruit and vegetables. I was interested to learn during the Living Sustainably course that anything grown in an allotment or garden in season is equal to 0g CO2e kg-1.If county councils across Ireland committed to supplying land for allotment gardening, carbon emissions would be significantly reduced.
·         In response to the emissions from agriculture, the Department of Agriculture has committed to a plan of planting new forests and maintaining good forest management in order to counteract CO2 emissions.
However real change is needed at the basic human level and it is up to each and every one of us to change our consumer habits to ensure a sustainable planet for the future.  By committing to buying only the food we really need, to buy food that is locally produced and in season and by avoiding unnecessary food packaging we can make a big difference to the planet.
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