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The Fast Food Industry and Climate Change

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From food production to food waste and improper disposal, the food industry has a significant impact on climate change (Vetter, 2021). It is agreed upon internationally that the average global temperature rise must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to prevent the most destructive climate change situations. However, even if this goal is met, many climate change scenarios such as sea level rise will still continue for many centuries (Driver & Health, n.d.).

Food production

Food production contributes around 37 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Our diets have a significant impact on climate change as seen through this statistic. Animal based foods such as meat from ruminant animals (ex. Cattle and goats) are said to produce about twice the greenhouse emissions compared to plant-based. Food production contributes about 17.3 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and about 57%, the majority, comes from the production of animal-based foods, and about 29% is accounted for by plant-based food production. The rest of the emissions are attributed towards converting agricultural land from non-food crops like cotton to food production. South and Southeast Asia have the highest plant-based emissions and South Africa has the highest animal food related emissions (Charles, 2021).

Solutions to help reduce this problem
  • Adopt a healthier and a more sustainable diet.

  • Gearing towards more plantbased substitutes such as Beyond Meat, Impossible burgers and non-dairy milk = lower emissions footprint.

  • Composting wasted food reduces methane emissions significantly (epa) .

  • Only purchase what you need by planning ahead.

Food waste and improper disposal

Food is the biggest component in US landfills. When food is wasted and ends up improperly disposed of in landfills, it creates methane, a greenhouse gas which is 25% more powerful/vigorous than carbon dioxide. Every year the food we waste costs North America about 278 billion us dollars which could have been used to feed 260 million people. Food waste causes a cascade of events that most people are not aware of. When food is wasted, land, energy and other resources are also impacted. Firstly, food waste takes up 39 million m3 of landscape each year which is equivalent to 13 football stadiums. 193 million tonnes of gasses are emitted without a purpose, which is equivalent to driving 41 million cars continuously for a whole year. Over 32 million hectares of wildlife habitat is lost to farmland to grow food that is never eaten in US alone. This causes loss of biodiversity and ecosystem which are also essential to maintain the healthy state of the environment by controlling climate change (Food Waste, the Environment + Climate Change, 2018).


Individual choices regarding diet itself can significantly reduce the food industry’s emissions. However, in order to change diets on an INTERNATIONAL scale will require more than just educating consumers. National policies will need to shift in ways to support and emphasize plant-based diets. Reforming the food system requires new corporate practices, new laws and regulations at national and international levels. If change does not start on an international scale, it is highly predicted that the average global temperature will rise and exceed 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which can cause catastrophic climate change scenarios.

(The Fast Food Industry) References
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