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Sustainable Food and Shopping

Everything we consume has a carbon footprint. Food accounts for 10-30% of a household's carbon footprint, which can amount to an individual carbon footprint of 3 tonnes of carbon per year, or 8.2kg per day, from the food and drink we consume.

Clothing also has a huge impact: Across the full life cycle of clothing, the industry has an annual carbon footprint bigger than all of Europe at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2.

However, this does mean there are a lot of small changes we can make to reduce our emissions.


Eating more sustainably is an effective way to reduce carbon emissions. Eating local, seasonal produce is a tasty way to reduce emissions, while also supporting your local businesses. 

UK households waste over 6.5 million tonnes of food every year, 4.5 million of which is edible and worth nearly £13 billion. 

Throwing away food wastes natural resources and contributes to climate change -  This includes emissions generated from producing, transporting and refrigerating food, only for it to be wasted.

The average family of four can save just over £60 per month by reducing their food waste. Whether you’re doing the food shop or ordering a meal at a restaurant, every decision is an opportunity to save food from the bin.


  • Shopping - Check your fridge and cupboards, plan your meals and make a list before you shop. Avoid shopping hungry and buy only what you need. If you can, shop little and often to avoid wastage and keep food fresh.
  • Storage - 
    • Put food in the fridge or freezer as soon as you get it home. Store new items at the back of the fridge or freezer to ensure older items are used first. Love Food Hate Waste shares exactly how to store your fresh food to keep its at its best for longer.
    • Check the temperature of your fridge with a thermometer. Under 5ºC is recommended to keep food fresher for longer.
    • Use airtight containers to keep food at its best. Bees-wax wraps or silicone, airtight seals are a great alternative to single-use plastic. .
  • Know your date labels:
    • Use by dates - For food safety. Food can be eaten up to the end of this date but not after, even if it looks and smells fine. Always follow the storage instructions on the packaging.
    • Best before dates - refer to quality rather than food safety. Foods with a ’best before’ date should be safe to eat after the ’best before’ date, but they may no longer be at their best.
    • To extend the life of food, freeze it before the ’use by’ date. After defrosting, use it within 24 hours.

More information

The Love Food Hate Waste website has lots of food waste reducing tips. 

Food Unfolded shares how to avoid food waste.

Find out more about what happens to your waste at the RECAP website.

Avoiding foods that are transported from far away or have to be refrigerated for long periods of time reduces carbon emissions.


The transport of products, particularly by air, makes a significant contribution to climate change. The impact is even higher for products that need to be refrigerated from the point they are produced to when they reach the consumer.

Eating food that is both seasonal and local wherever possible can reduce your carbon footprint considerably. This is not only good news for the climate: through buying locally produced food you can also support your food economy. Foods that are in season can even taste better too.

Growing your own can be a fun way to reduce carbon. Window boxes for herbs or small garden plots can often fit more than you'd think. For those that are keen to expand their home growing, many of the District Councils also have allotments available for local residents. 

There are a lot of innovative and tasty ways to use up food that might otherwise go in the bin. According to WRAP, 70% of the food we throw away could have been eaten. Avoiding food waste by using up leftovers and donating your surplus food can make a considerable difference to your carbon footprint.

How? - Creative ways to use leftovers

  • Rescue leftover toast as breadcrumbs for fishcakes and stale bread for puddings, croutons or crostini
  • Throw vegetable trimmings into soups and stock
  • Use squidgy fruit in smoothies, juices, sauces and ice creams
  • Turn excess produce into chutneys, pickles, jams, compotes and sauces

Food waste is a valuable resource that can be recycled into compost and fertiliser for agriculture, as well as biogas which can be used to generate electricity or heat.

Pick the right bin....

If food waste goes into a general waste bin, it will end up in landfill. Here the food waste will decompose, producing greenhouse gases including methane. This gas is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming. As a result, sending food waste to landfill has a significant impact on climate change.

If food waste ends up in a household recycling (usually blue) bin, the whole load of recycling can be rejected and sent to landfill instead. 

By putting unavoidable food waste in the correct collected bin, food bin or composting at home, you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. Food and garden waste from your green bin is taken to be composted at the Thalia Waste Management site near Waterbeach. Here it goes through an intensive and fast composting process, producing soil conditioner which is sold for local agriculture.


Recycle unavoidable food waste where possible. Most types of waste can usually go into your bins, including:

  • All meat, fish and bones (cooked or raw)
  • Bread and pastries, dairy products
  • Tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds
  • Fruit and vegetable peelings
  • Plate scrapings and sink strainer scraps.

For full details on what to put in each of your bins, go to your District Council's website.

Use a food waste caddy in your kitchen to collect scraps, which you can then empty into your food waste bin. You can line your caddy and bin with newspaper or paper liners to keep it clean. 

Try composting your food waste at home and your plants will thank you! Recycle Now’s home composting guide has more information.


Whether it’s swapping, sharing, repairing, reusing or upcycling there are plenty of alternatives to buying new, and doing so can have a big impact on the environment. Globally 30% of  greenhouse gas emissions arising from the things we buy. 

Buying second-hand is cheaper, stimulates the local economy, helps charities, stops clothing from becoming waste and cuts out the need to use new resources. People consumed 60% more clothes in 2016 than they did 20 years previously and Britons buy more clothes than any other European country.


  • Charity or Second Hand Shops - check out your local charity and vintage shops, auction houses and reuse centres. You can often find some really good items!
  • Repair or tailoring services - may of the things we throw away can be repaired or, in the case of clothing, tailored to fit better

Love Your Clothes is great sources of info and inspiration around sustainable fashion.

Plastic is accumulating in our natural world rapidly - it washes from waterways into our oceans, causing a whole host of problems for marine wildlife. As plastic is not biodegradable, it hangs bout in the environment for years, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces.   These microplastic particles are then consumed by animals, which we in turn ingest - the impact of this on human health is not fully understood. 


The availability of refill is increasing - with new shops (both physical and online) springing up every day. Even the supermarkets are now selling refill pouches for many major brands.

There is a whole range of items that can be refilled, including toiletries, food stuffs and cleaning products. Many of these items can also be bought in bulk which can often work out cheaper by weight and volume and reduces waste.

Everything we buy adds to our carbon footprint because energy is needed to make, transport and sell it. This ‘embodied carbon’ can’t be recovered. Once it’s been used to make our stuff, that’s it. However, we can reduce the impact of embodied carbon  by making things last as long as possible. Many, if not most of our items can be repaired and be given a new lease of life.


Cambridgeshire continues to see a proliferation in Repair Cafés - community events where experienced volunteers can advise you on repairs and help you out. 

The internet is a goldmine for repair tips and advice. Simply doing an internet search on your particular item can help reveal whether others have had the same problem and whether spares are available. There are countless YouTube repair clips (some easier to follow than others) and iFixit is a fantastic repair resource, and grades its repairs by difficulty.

Remember to ask around your community too, in person or on social media like There’s bound to be someone, or someone who knows someone, with the skills you’re looking for, or who can recommend somewhere you can take your item to.

If you look at the energy consumption of a typical desktop computer over its entire life, half of that energy will be used during manufacture, so before it’s even out of the box. It’s an absolute no-brainer to give that computer as long a life as possible. By buying a second-hand or refurbished, you are making a genuine saving on carbon emissions. You’ll sidestep adding the electronic waste (e-waste) mountain too. The UK currently produces 1.45 million tonnes of e-waste every year!

Laptops, mobiles, tablets and computers all use scarce, non-renewable raw materials. So if you finally decide you really do need to upgrade, try to pass your tech on to someone who needs it.


MoneySavingExpert shares useful tips about what to look for and where to buy used and refurbished phones.

Many high street stores specialise in buying and selling second hand or refurbished tech and games. One advantage of buying from a shop is that you should get a warranty.

Check with the manufacturers too – some, like Apple and Dell offer refurbished products.