5 Ways to Be More Sustainable, Without Giving Up Meat

Tired of hearing to cut down on animal protein? This one is for you.

If you are tired of hearing to eat less meat, but still want to be more sustainable, this one's for you. Meat does have an impact on the environment, as do all foods, but some experts actually recommend against going completely meatless. There are several other was to cut down on your carbon footprint and cut down on waste associated with your lifestyle. From how you get where you're going to what is in your backyard, some items in this list may surprise you. With a little planning, these tweaks have big potential.

1. Start Composting

Edible and inedible food scraps make up around 20 percent of waste that goes into landfills in the US, and accounts for over 23 percent of the countries total methane emissions. Yet, it's estimated that only 3 percent of food matter is composted. Taking charge of what you do with your food scraps can have huge environmental ramifications. First and foremostly, be sure to only buy what you need (making a list is a huge help with that). However, for the inevitable things that get overlooked or can't be eaten, composting is a big help. Composting is a great way to reduce emissions, replenish nutrients in the soil and raise your awareness for how much food you are wasting in general. If you are not already composting at home, check out our Composting 101 guide to help you get started.

Not all things in the food system can be composted, like packaging materials. Lucky for us, recycling is becoming more and more commonplace. To ensure what your hoping to recycle can be reused, rinse out food scraps from containers and make sure you are only putting recyclables in your bin. If you don't have recycling in your home, most grocers have places to return cans and bottles so they can be reused (and you can make a couple bucks!).

2. Cut Down on Plastic

If you want to green up your routine, cutting down on single-use plastics is a good start. There are plenty of simple ways to cut back on the plastic you use for food and at home. Keeping a few extra reusable bags in your car can help remind you to use them at the grocery store. Also, reusable mugs and food storage containers will help you bring snacks or lunch anywhere, waste free. Here at EatingWell, we are obsessed with Stasher Bags in place of single use plastic bags like Ziploc. For more inspiration, check out Best Food-Storage Container Ideas to Break Your Plastic Habit. Here are some reusable products we love:

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Stasher Reusable Sandwich Bag

stasher bag
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YETI Rambler Tumbler, 20-Oz.

yeti rambler
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OXO 16-Piece Smart Seal Plastic Container Set

reusable containers

3. Plant a Garden

It is estimated that, in the US, food travels on average 1,500 miles to get to from farm to plate. To cut down on the environmental impact of food travelling from the farm to the store to your plate, grow your own! Even if it is just a pot of herbs in your kitchen or container garden in the backyard, it can save you money and cut down on the miles your food travels to get to your plate.

Gardens can also help pollinators that are crucial to our food supply, like bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Include flowers and even some plants native to your area; they will enrich the soil for your veg and provide a habitat for the pollinators we need. If you're never gardened before, we have tips on things you should know before starting your first garden to help you feel prepared.

4. Focus on Local Foods

Similar to planting a garden, prioritizing locally grown or produced foods can be an easy, sustainable choice. Not only does most of our food have to travel to get to the store, but also we then travel on average 4 miles to and from to pick it up. The national and global distribution of food uses a huge amount of fuel, energy (because most food needs to be refrigerated) and packaging just so that we can have the produce we love all year long. When you choose to eat local, you are already cutting down on the economic and environmental costs of your food.

Check out a farmers market, local food co-op or the farms themselves, as they may have programs like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares (websites like Local Harvest have databases to help you find a CSA program near you). This allows you to pay upfront for weekly shares of produce (usually around eight to ten pounds) for a season. If you are trying to keep costs down, many farmers markets accept food assistance programs and also have their own initiatives to make it more affordable for those shopping on a stricter budget.

Depending on where you live, options like a farmers market may not be available all year. Outside of peak season, most farms still sell produce (case and point, I live in Vermont and get a winter CSA share every week from October to March with various roots, squashes, alliums and hearty greens). Switching over to locally grown staples, like eggs, bread and dairy, can be a great option outside of produce.

5. Cut Down on Online Shopping

I know, this is a tough one. But recent research from MIT and Stanford has shown that there is a cost to the convenience of shopping online. Shopping in general has a surprisingly large environmental burden, and the convenience of doing it online is allowing us to shop more easily and frequently. Beyond car and truck travel, the warehousing and packing of your purchases can up the carbon footprint of your shopping. This carbon footprint is especially high if you use single-item purchasing platforms, like Amazon, and opt for speedy delivery. For comparison, one kilogram of beef produces a carbon footprint about 10 times the size.

Regardless of what you choose to eat, shopping is an area where we could probably all stand to cut down or be more intentional. There isn't a perfect solution, and we're not asking you to completely stop shopping online. But, next time you are perusing the online marketplace, think of places you could shop in person instead. You can support local businesses and also you get what you need without a wait. Planning ahead can help you build in the time you need to make the stop.

Bottom Line

Being environmentally-friendly can look different for everyone. Eating less meat is a great way to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with your daily life. However, if you are tired of hearing to eat less meat (or just looking for another way to green up your routine), try one of these many options. From cutting out plastic to starting a garden, this list shows that earth-concious choices are varied and can fit into your life. After all, sustainability should be, well, sustainable.

Keep Reading: 30-Day Sustainable Eating Challenge

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