Should emissions from food production be considered in the same light as those generated by disposable consumer goods?
IN an era of heightened climate awareness, the conversation about emissions has become a rallying point for collective action.
There’s little debate that reducing emissions is crucial for the survival of the planet.
However, what is often missing from the conversation is a nuanced discussion on the sources of the emissions.
So, I ask the question, should emissions from the production of essential items like food be considered in the same light as those generated by disposable consumer goods?
At the most fundamental level, the difference between food and disposable consumer goods lies in their essentiality.
Food is crucial for human survival.
Many disposable consumer goods are items of convenience or even luxury. Their absence would not imperil human life.
From an ethical standpoint, there’s a built-in justification for the emissions created in the production of essential items.
When it comes to sustainability, the two categories also differ considerably.
Food is meant to be consumed entirely, contributing directly to human well-being.
In contrast, disposable consumer goods often have a short lifespan and generate waste that extends their environmental footprint far beyond their emissions.
While both food waste and disposable product waste are concerning, the latter adds an additional layer of environmental degradation by contributing to the long-term waste problem.
Many disposable consumer goods end up in landfills, whereas food waste has the potential for composting and other forms of bio-recycling.
Food waste, though far from ideal, has natural decomposition pathways that can mitigate its long-term impact.
Food is not just sustenance but also a cornerstone of cultural identity and social cohesion.
Society is often more willing to address issues, including emissions, in food production due to its broader significance.
Disposable consumer goods seldom carry the same weight, making it easier for society to overlook their environmental impact.
The health implications of food are universally acknowledged. Nutrients from food are vital for physical and mental health.
In contrast, disposable consumer goods offer no such benefits.
If we examine the issue through the lens of social justice, another dimension emerges.
The benefits of food production are almost universally distributed; everyone needs to eat.
On the other hand, disposable consumer goods often cater to a particular segment of society, contributing to a skewed balance where the less privileged disproportionately bear the brunt of the environmental impact without enjoying the conveniences these products offer.
Consideration of food’s critical role means there is usually a greater willingness among agricultural stakeholders to invest in technologies that make its production more sustainable.
Efforts are continually being made to reduce emissions from agriculture through innovative farming techniques, waste management and energy-efficient machinery.
Conversely, the motivation to innovate for disposable items may not be as high, given their non-essential nature.
Food production also differs from disposable goods manufacturing in terms of scale and economic implications.
The large scale of the food industry offers unique opportunities for emissions reductions.
Modern practices like vertical farming, renewable energy-powered farms, or even regenerative farming have the potential for transformative change.
In contrast, smaller industries, like those producing disposable consumer goods, may not offer the same potential for large-scale reform.
Food production is often subject to more stringent regulations aimed at balancing the human need and environmental impact, whereas disposable consumer goods lack such a comprehensive regulatory framework.
This makes it easier to implement changes that could make food production more sustainable in the long run.
The resources used in food production like water and soil are often renewable, particularly when managed sustainably.
Many disposable consumer goods rely on non-renewable resources, like petrochemicals, making their emissions more damaging in the long-term perspective.
While I concede that all emissions contribute to climate change, not all emissions are created equal.
As we navigate the complexities of environmental conservation, a nuanced approach that distinguishes between essentials and disposables can help prioritise actions that are not just beneficial but also ethical.
I think it’s time we start viewing emissions through a lens that considers the broader implications of production, not just the numbers on the chart.
• Matt Dalgleish is co-founder and director of Episode 3 (EP3)