Food rests at the heart of our cultures and of our lives. It gives us energy and it brings people together, nourishing both the body and the soul. Unfortunately, the production, shipping, and disposal of food is responsible for much of the waste that pollutes the earth. The good news is that the food industry has begun to recognize this reality and has started to make changes accordingly. Here are a few of the ways that food companies can improve their practices to make the world a greener place.
The production and transportation of food products uses up a lot of resources. Farming requires water, which is not always used efficiently. Factory equipment must use electricity to operate, and the facilities that house the equipment generate pollution.
Transporting goods to their market destinations requires fuel. In such a complex industry, there are many areas where waste is rampant. Fortunately, that means there are many ways that companies can improve their practices to reduce their carbon footprints.
One way to approach this issue is to update facilities to make them more energy-efficient. Incorporating LED bulbs, updated windows, wind and solar power where possible can go a long way to reducing the energy used by large industrial buildings. Computerized and automated equipment may also be helpful in generating maximum production efficiency.
Another way companies can become more sustainable is to analyze their processes for sources of waste, and then eliminate these sources. For example, one New York food processing company was able to reduce its water usage by 74% a year simply by redirecting waste heat from its existing combined heat and power system.
Finally, companies can evaluate their food transportation systems. Optimizing route efficiency can reduce fuel waste and shorten shipment journeys. Using electrified vehicles that are properly maintained and enforcing good driving practices in their operators can also keep the vehicles running more efficiently over longer periods of time.
More Plants, Less Meat
Livestock agriculture is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. It seems almost impossible for people to cease farming livestock, since it is a critical component of food and livelihoods worldwide. However, there are ways to at least reduce the impact of livestock agriculture on the environment, one of which is for people to incorporate a higher concentration of plants into their diets. This would reduce the amount of resources that need to be dedicated to livestock agriculture, as well as allow land to be dedicated to more enriching crops.
If this cultural shift could take place, it would be revolutionary. Some companies recognize the impact that such a change would have, and are attempting to help make it happen. Hampton Creek is a food technology company that is dedicated to making the food we eat more sustainable and more nutritious. They have conducted extensive research into the properties of plants, hoping to find ways to use plants to replace animal products in food. For example, their mayonnaise substitute, Just Mayo, uses a pea plant to provide the structure usually imparted by eggs.
Landfills are packed with containers and wrappers that once held food. This is because many types of packaging mix pure materials, making them non-recyclable. Even materials that are recyclable are often produced unsustainably. For example, plastics are made of petroleum, and the process of turning oil into plastic water bottles requires an astounding amount of energy.
Instead of using plastics and other unsustainable types of packaging, some food companies make a point of housing their products in easily recyclable materials, such as glass and aluminum cans.
While this can make shipping more expensive, it can also reduce landfill waste. Other companies are hoping to phase out non-biodegradable materials and replace them with sustainable packaging. For example, some scientists are currently attempting to develop dairy-based packaging, which would use materials made of dairy-based proteins instead of man-made proteins.
Bringing Green to the Table
As the world continues to make sustainability a priority, food suppliers will continue to join and spur the movement. Consumers can facilitate the generation of better food production practices by making their desires clear to food companies. Businesses will find ways to respond to the demands of their markets, which will benefit everyone in the end. Maybe one day everyone in the world will be able to sit down at the table and enjoy food that enriched the planet on its way there.