Agriculture & Waste In the Fight Against Climate Change

The fight against climate change may seem daunting, but agriculture may be the best sector to start. Greenhouse gas emissions from modern agriculture are arguably the most consequential effect of climate change. Nitrous oxide from fertilizers in waste water and animal manure, methane from ruminants and cattle belches and waste (which occurs during enteric fermentation- the digestive process by which microbes break down plant materials), and landfill gases, including both carbon dioxide and methane, from decomposing organic materials in landfills make agriculture one of the greatest contributing sectors to climate destabilization.

ripe apple, avocados and banana

There are international conversations taking place that aim to tackle how we can fight climate change and prevent further impacts from it; such as COP summits and IPCC comprehensive reports. According to United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimations, nearly one-third of the food produced globally ultimately ends up as waste. Food and organic material costs more than lost profits for farmers and corporations, it adds to the environmental toll caused by human activity.

What Can Individuals Do?

Our relationship with agriculture, food and waste will be a pivotal if we are to reach the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. The individual citizen, or consumer, can do their best to eat sustainably. This could entail transitioning to a plant based-diet, shopping locally, buying seasonal foods and reducing food waste. Plant-based diets increase the amount of acreage available for human-consumable crops by reducing the demand for agriculture crops. Buying local and in-season foods lessens energy for transporting foods across long distances.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in 2018, more than 42 million tons of food wound up in landfills or combustion centers. Reducing waste can be as simple as tracking the foods (or the amount of calories) that your household regularly consumes between grocery trips. Once you know how much you eat, you can limit the amount of perishable foods that you purchase to fit your household’s consumption habits. This simple tip can save consumers money and reduce household methane-footprints. The way we store fresh fruits and vegetables can determine the rate at which they ripen and how long they ultimately last. For example, certain fruits ripen at a slower rate when stored separately from other foods due to ethylene. Ethylene is produced in multiple fruits, including apples, avocados, bananas, kiwis, peppers and tomatoes. Ethylene is a natural gas that is the apparent source of the ripening-and eventually the spoiling-process. As fruits ripen, the amount of ethylene that they emit can increase. This gas not only expedites the ripening rates in the fruits that produce it, but also in nearby fruits. Storing your fruits separately can extend the rate at which they ripen and allow them to last longer.

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