March 26, 2013

Food — the biggest contributor to environmental damage


The report summed it up well:

  • The biggest impacts that people have on the environment is through the food we eat — food choices could make a much bigger difference to household sustainability than direct water and energy use.

Our food choices account for:

  • 50% of an Australian urban household’s water use
  • 28% of household greenhouse gas emissions
  • 47% of municipal waste to landfill is organic (food and green waste).

The report these statistics are drawn from — Sustainable and Secure Food Systems for Victoria — contains much of national relevance. It was produced by Melbourne University’s Victorian Eco Innovation Lab, part of the Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society. It makes clear the relevance of our food choices to the sustainability of our environment and the resource base we rely upon. In its statement on water use, the report took into consideration the totality of water consumed in the production and processing of food products.

Not only is agriculture by far the major consumer of fresh water in Australia, it contributes 16.8 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions (2005 figure). Add emissions from the entire food chain — production, processing and consumption, with all of the transportation links between these‚ and the emissions figure rises to 23 percent.

The report identifies emerging risks to the Australian food system in the form of a scarcity of water, land, oil and agricultural inputs such as fertiliser. These resource constraints will affect the capacity of the food system to continue to produce an affordable and accessible food supply.

Among the facts disclosed by the report are:

  • the depletion in fish stock due to overharvesting; 76 percent of global fisheries are now at full exploitation and some have been driven into overexploitation; approximately a quarter of global fisheries have collapsed (Worldwatch Institute, 2008) and “it is also likely that fish imported to Australia is from depleted stocks” (Greenpeace International; Worldwatch report)
  • the decline in the genetic diversity of agricultural crop and animal species (known as ‘agricultural biodiversity’) is due to fewer species being used in farming and to a reduced genetic diversity within species); this depletion is likely to increase vulnerability to environmental change and resource constraints
  • wasted — uneaten — food is a significant waste of water, land, oil, agricultural chemicals (both synthetic and organic), food packaging and the other resources that go into our food supply; Victoria sends a total of 47 percent of its total waste stream to landfill as ‘green’ waste — food and garden wastes; the figure is similar for NSW.

The ageing of Australia’s population and the increase in one and two person households has an influence on the large amount of food that is wasted. Portions offered in supermarkets are often too large for small households to get through before the food goes stale or detoriorates. 

To avoid wastage, people sometimes buy more modest quantities from delicatessens, food cooperatives, greengrocers or bulk suppliers, making purchases of unpackaged foods by weight or quantity rather than having to buy packaged quantities part of which go to waste along with the packaging. 

Food is at the heart of our cultures, traditions, landscapes, ecosystems and identity. It is too precious to be sold off. Eating local food connects us to where we live and to each other. It is also a powerful way to resist the dangerous model of industrial farming served up by the global economy. 

Local Eastern Suburbs community food groups

You can pick up your local organic or pesticide free food in the eastern suburbs from:


Story by Russ Grayson

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