Thought for food, food for thought; how sustainability fed its way into the food and drink industry, and why single-use plastic is becoming a thing of the past.
The food and drink industry is constantly under scrutiny for its practices, from groups such as animal rights activists for meat and dairy farming to the rise in criticism for single-use plastics and cups. To combat these criticisms, the food and drink industry is adapting to provide options that are better for us, better for the people who grow our food, and better for the environment.
As the demand for sustainable practices grows, it is no surprise the food and drink industry has seen an influx of sustainability-focused options. Demand for an increase of vegan and vegetarian options, organic and responsibly sourced produce, and a decrease in single-use plastics and disposable cups have influenced the ways in which we consume produce. As a result, providers of food and drink products have changed the ways in which they operate and the options they provide to meet this demand.
Studies have proven that the industries behind the food and drink we consume cause considerable environmental impacts. The agricultural industry alone contributes more greenhouse gases than any other industry through livestock methane. A further 80-90% of water consumption in the US is through the growth of crops. According to WWF, every $1m spent on food by consumers has an ecological footprint of around 1500 hectares. This is the highest ecological impact, compared to any other industry.
UK consumers are becoming more conscious of the background to the food and drink they purchase. In the last 12 months, Brits spent £8.2m on food and drink from ethical sources, including fairtrade, organic, Rainforest Alliance, and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified products.
You Are What You Eat.
With numerous ways to make sustainable food and drink choices, such as looking out for ‘organic’ and ‘fairtrade’ logos, you can know that they are responsibly sourced, with lower environmental impacts, and the people working to produce the items are being treated and paid fairly. This ensures social justice, as many agricultural workers in Europe are underpaid and overworked. Social justice is a major issue in the agricultural industry, as many workers are exploited, as they are often unable to challenge their pay or working conditions and have minimal support in the way of unions.
It’s not just people that are protected from making sustainable and ethical food and drink choices, as the land is protected too. Practices that are less intensive on the land are used in the production of these products, ensuring environmental justice by not using exploitative methods on the land. It’s no surprise that industrial agriculture includes large-scale farming systems that make intensive use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. In doing so, industrial agriculture negatively impacts the environment and human health due to the chemicals used in production that enter the atmosphere or the food chain, and doesn’t produce enough nutritious food or distribute it fairly. Industrial agriculture further contributes to environmental instability by consuming fossil fuels, water, and topsoil at unsustainable rates. This further contributes to numerous forms of environmental degradation, such as air and water pollution, soil depletion, diminishing biodiversity, and fish die-offs.
In buying sustainably produced products, a contribution to the protection of people and the planet is being made. The companies you choose to support gives your money agency.
This isn’t to say if you can’t afford to eat sustainably all the time you aren’t doing your bit to help the planet, as sustainable options are often more expensive due to the processes making them. If cost is a barrier, do not feel guilty! There are many other ways to employ sustainable practices, such as carrying reusable options such as coffee cups, straws, and cutlery, which all help to reduce single-use plastic; a major culprit in the food and drink industry's contribution to pollution. The below video outlines the effects single-use plastic has on the environment, and why we should avoid using it where possible!
The effects of single-use plastic; the facts.
Many companies are recognizing the need to adopt more sustainable practices into their production of food and drink. Understanding their collective responsibility to rethink the impacts their productions have on the environment, companies have begun to come together to combat these issues.
As part of this, in 2018, 42 businesses that are responsible for more than 80% of plastic packaging on products sold in UK supermarkets made joint commitments through The Plastic Pact to make unnecessary single-use plastic packaging a 'thing of the past'. As shown in the above video, single-use plastic has a severely detrimental effect on the environment, so taking these steps is a huge step for environmental justice. The Plastic Pact will also see signatories ensure that 100% of plastic packaging they continue to use will be recyclable, reusable, or compostable. This will reduce the amount of plastic creating plastic pollution or being sent to landfills. Asda, PepsiCo, and Proctor and Gamble (P&G) have all vowed to eliminate single-use packaging through redesign by 2025. Signatories will aim to ensure 70% of their plastic packaging is effectively recycles and composted, with an average of 30% recycled across all packaging. To make this viable, steps have been taken to create new business models and build a new recycling system to combat the UK's plastic pollution. allowing greater accessibility to sustainable choices.
It's not just plastic pollution that is a problem; plastic has a major impact on climate change! Almost all plastic is derived from materials made from fossil fuels (mostly oil and gas). The process of making plastic through extracting these materials creates billions of tons of greenhouse gases. The problems dont stop there - After the plastic has been used, it continues to emit more problems into the atmosphere. Sunlight and heat cause plastic to release powerful greenhouse gases, and as our planet gets warmer, the plastic breaks down into more methane and ethylene, which increases the impact of climate change. By reducing the demand for single-use plastic, we will reduce its production, in turn reducing the effects it has on our climate and our planet!
By making more sustainable and conscious purchases in the food and drink we consume, we can make the active decision to support companies that endeavor to make positive change through their practices.