Want to be a greener food buyer? We seek advice from experts | Ethical and green life


We want to make the right decisions when we buy, but with so many different options on offer, how are we supposed to determine which one is best for the planet?

Guardian Money asked four experts. They are: Tim Lang, Emeritus Professor of Food Policy at City University, Center for Food Policy, London; Clare Oxborrow, senior sustainability analyst at Friends of the Earth; Isabella Woodward, researcher at the ethical comparison site The Good Shopping Guide; and Caroline Drummond, Executive Director of Leaf (Linking Environment And Farming.

Is it more environmentally friendly to go to the supermarket or to book a delivery?

Tim lang It depends on how much you are buying. In practice, it is difficult to know what the impact of this delivery van is. If you own your own van and fill it up in one trip, the carbon spent becomes proportionately lower per food than if you drive to the store and buy little. The best strategy is to walk or cycle: you exercise, use the energy in the food you eat wisely, and don’t pollute with your car. Electric cars simply push pollution elsewhere – to the source of production.

Friends of the Earth There are so many factors. For deliveries, there are several questions. First, where does the food come from – is it a warehouse? A store? And at what distance? Do they use refrigerated vans that consume a lot of energy? Many supermarkets are switching to electric vans, so it’s important to check what’s available locally. The fact remains that walking or cycling to the supermarket is the best choice, or opting for public transport.

THEeaf For a van to deliver to remote places it might not be more environmentally friendly, but that driver might be the only person an individual living in a remote area has seen during the whole week… He is really important to understand balance and tradeoffs. between impact on the environment, economic viability and social acceptability, even health.

Food deliveries have an impact on the environment – but some say there are economic or social benefits. Photograph: Kathy deWitt / Alamy Stock Photo

Is organic always better?

Tim lang Not always. Organic has the enormous advantage of not being associated with the use of pesticides. In July I saw organic spring onions grown in Mexico in a UK supermarket. It’s ridiculous. In truth, consumers receive virtually no information about the multiple forms of impact of our food. This is why I, and many people, are calling for a new ‘omni-label’ system that provides the spectrum of information: not only environmental data, but also health, social and economic data. We don’t know, for example, how much of what we spend actually goes to the primary producer.

Friends of the Earth Organic is the gold standard… so if you can afford it, this is a great option. When it comes to meat and dairy, this will almost always be the best environmental choice in a supermarket. It costs a bit more, but buying less and swapping meat in dishes with other high protein foods like lentils will take it further.

The right buying guide Overall, organic crops are better for nature and the biosphere. Organic farming minimizes the use of pesticides, which have a potentially negative impact on wildlife and the soil. In addition, pesticides can be harmful to agricultural workers. However, it is important to balance this with the food miles. Organic products shipped thousands of miles away can be more harmful to the environment. Therefore, we recommend that you purchase locally grown organic ingredients whenever possible.

Examples of supermarket fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic
Ditching single-use plastic can make a real difference. Photograph: David Forster / Alamy Stock Photo

Can packaging reduce food waste?

Tim lang Plastic packaging is often good news for retailers because they know it slows down the rotting process, but it’s terrible for consumers and the environment. I always say: good food goes wrong.

Friends of the Earth Wrapping fruits and vegetables in plastic can hide the fact that they are no longer fresh. And fruits and vegetables left in airless plastic packaging will often go moldy faster than loose items without unnecessary packaging. Considering that packaging is responsible for 70% of our plastic waste, there is a huge difference to be made. It is always best to buy fruits and vegetables in bulk, making sure they are as fresh as possible. Stored properly, they can also last longer.

Sheet Packaging has certainly created an opportunity to stretch our seasons and store fresh fruits and vegetables; however, fossil fuel-based plastics and single-use plastics that are not recyclable must be phased out. The longer we can extend the time that fruits and vegetables are tasty, nutritious and assured of their growing quality, the better. Canning, freezing, packaging, storage, using LED lights, and increasing capacity all provide this opportunity.

Morrisons Heavy Duty Paper Bags at Checkouts
Morrisons offers sturdy paper bags at checkouts, as it seems to be giving up all of its “plastic bags for life.” Photograph: Morrisons / PA

Which bags should I use?

Tim lang If you walk around the stores, invest in a good cart. Carts are all the rage. Plastic bags are bad news, but the avalanche continues and it’s hard to avoid them unless you get into the habit of carrying your own bag.

Friends of the Earth Those designed to be reused tend to have a lower environmental impact than single-use plastic bags, but most importantly, they must be used a sufficient number of times. For cotton bags, 50-150 times; paper bags, four-eight times; durable plastic bags like lifetime bags, 10 to 20 times. Cotton bags can be used for years, and can be washed and reused. So if you are looking at the long term, cotton is better and more durable than plastic, especially if it is unbleached organic fibers.

The right buying guide There are pros and cons to all types of shopping bags. The main problem is that a lot of people use them once and throw them away after. Regardless of their material, single-use bags are always unsustainable. Whatever bags you prefer to use, don’t forget to bring them to the store with you.

Sheet I’m a big fan of the cotton tote bag. We’ve seen a lot of people walk away from the people who always expect a new plastic carry bag when shopping, and our next step is to strive to ensure that the bags we use are durable, long lasting, and sturdy.

Raw meat refrigerator with steak, beef and pork in the Sainsburys supermarket
Reducing meat is one way to protect the environment. Photograph: Ed Brown / Alamy

what the best thing one buyer should do help the planet?

Tim lang Cut down on the meat. Eat it less often and buy high quality meat, such as pasture. Less but better.

Friends of the Earth Animal production has a huge environmental impact, contributing 14.5% of global warming emissions. Industry is also a key driver of deforestation and loss of important habitat, not to mention the huge amount of water and fertilizer needed, or the amount of waste produced in the process. This is why buying and eating less meat and dairy products is one of the best ways to reduce our own environmental impact.

The right buying guide Be aware of ethical issues. This not only applies to the supermarket you use, but also the brands you buy. We independently assess companies on their practices towards the environment, animals and people, providing a score out of 100 for each brand.

Sheet Naturally, research and buy Leaf Marque products. Quality fruits and vegetables grown with respect for the environment, improving biodiversity, improving the health of our soils and water quality, and cultivated by farmers engaged in more regenerative and more positive agricultural systems for the environment. weather. Plus, go visit a farm to see what farmers are doing to address the challenges of climate change.


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