What You Can Do
What You Can Do.
Sustainable Table’s website is jam-packed with information about why we need to change the way we live and eat in order to build a food system that is fair, humane, healthy and good for the environment.
But sometimes all you need is a pretty list to tell you exactly what to do. Well, Voila!
1. PRIORITISE WHERE TO SHOP
Follow our Ethical Shopping Pyramid for where you should shop most, through to where you should shop least. Simply click on the pyramid for more detail on each of the shopping options:
Every dollar you spend is a vote for the type of food system and world you’d like to be a part of.
2. INSTIGATE HOUSEHOLD MEAT-FREE DAYS
A 2015 study concluded that a diet that is vegetarian 5 days a week and includes meat 2 days a week would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water and land use by about 45%. 
Australians chomp through more than their body weight in meat each year, which averages out to around 92kg per person – triple the amount of meat recommended by health guidelines and triple the average amount per person globally.
Meat consumption on this scale is environmentally destructive due to many factors such as extensive land clearing and loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions in the form of methane from the way cows and sheep digest food, the quantity of grain that must be grown and transported vast distances… the list goes on (see Environmental + Health Impacts of Our Food System)
Start today by instigating meat free days in your household.
3. BUY LOCAL, SEASONAL, ORGANIC PRODUCE
There are so many health and environmental benefits of buying organic, seasonal produce. You can read more about these in our Industrial vs. Organic Farming section.
Buying organic or biodynamic produce is better for the environment because no synthetic chemicals, pesticides or genetically modified organisms are used. Organic producers are often smaller family farmers, so by purchasing organic produce you are supporting them and the local economy.
Some farmers’ market producers are not certified organic, but follow organic farming principles, so always ask.
Buying produce in season is also important, and there are many reasons for this. Out-of-season foods (like tomatoes in winter, for instance) have been grown in artificial conditions, or grown far away, picked prematurely and transported long distances to get to your local shops, thus increasing their environmental footprint.
When we eat foods out of season, we miss out on eating food at its prime – when it tastes best and has a higher nutritional value.
We also miss out on eating a varied diet – when you eat seasonally, you break out of the rut of buying the same fruit and vegetables all year round. You learn to get excited and celebrate every time a new food comes into season!
Food in season is also cheaper as it is usually plentiful and fewer resources have gone into growing it, which should counter the increased cost of buying organic. And remember that often it’s not the organic fruit and veg that is price prohibitive, it’s when you add meat, cheese and dairy to the mix that you might have to take out a second mortgage. Keep these items in moderation and you might even have a few pennies left over for a meal out or a beer with mates.
If you’re unsure about what is in season right now, check out our Seasonal Produce Guide.
4. REDUCE FOOD WASTE AND BUY A COMPOST BIN
If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China. FAO, Food Wastage Footprint report, 2013
Each year Australian households generate around 400kg of food waste, putting Australia amongst the top generating countries of household waste in the world. A National Waste Report in 2010 estimated that Australians throw out 4 million tonnes of food each year; enough to fill 450,000 garbage trucks. And if that isn’t enough to shock you into action, then check out our Food Waste Fiasco page.
Here’s a quick roundup of what you can do
While there’s no doubt that systemic change is needed to curb food waste, we play a vital role in driving that change, and it all starts in the home.
|Set up a compost bin at home
Setting up a compost bin means that any food that does end up being wasted can be recycled in the form of nutrient rich soil for growing vegies at home. See our blog features on composting for more information:
Our practical guide to composting
How to compost
All hail the compost bin
|Get creative with leftovers
No one wants to eat the same meal three nights in a row. Purchase our Clever Cook eBook for creative ways to get the most out of your meals
|Plan your meals and change the way you shop. Head to your local farmers’ market and bulk food store to reduce packaging waste and only buy what you know you’ll get through. And remember, don’t get sucked into 2-for-1 deals if you really only need one! See our Where to Shop section for more ideas.|
|Learn to use parts of fruit and veg that you’d normally throw away. Check out our Downloadable Resources section for a handy guide showing you what you can do with carrot tops, cauliflower leaves and much more!||Learn how to store fresh produce so that it lasts. Check out our Downloadable Resources section for a handy guide with tips on how to best store your fresh produce.||Don’t be deterred by best before dates. Often the old sniff, sight or tiny-taste test will indicate if it’s really off. To learn more about the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates, visit our blog post on the topic.|
Remember: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle… in that order!
5. SOURCE ETHICALLY RAISED AND SUSTAINABLE MEAT AND SEAFOOD
When purchasing meat or seafood (as a treat of course!) always source free range and organic options from ethical and sustainable producers who sell at farmers’ markets or those similar to the ones featured in our Ethical Meat Suppliers Directory.
We raise over 500 million animals in factory farms each year in Australia alone.
Here are some scary pictures of sad animals in factory farms to keep you inspired to make meat a treat and source it ethically. And if you’d like to learn more, check out our Eating Animals section.
And here’s a beautiful happy pig to cheer you up again
6. GROW YOUR OWN FOOD
Growing your own food reduces your food miles to food steps! It reduces your contribution to climate change, enables you to eat seasonally, reduces the money you need to spend on food and gives you a greater connection with how food is grown.
Even if you only have a balcony or tiny courtyard, growing food is supremely satisfying and helps you build an appreciation of the seasons and how hard it is to actually grow great, perfect looking produce. You’ll be happy to pay a dollar or two more for fair food in no time once you gain even a tiny sense of the effort involved.
If you have enough space also get some chooks as they provide you with daily eggs and reduce your waste by eating your food scraps.
7. EAT WHOLEFOODS, NOT PROCESSED FOODS
Wholefoods are foods that have not been processed or fined. They include unpolished grains, fruit and vegetables and unprocessed meats. Whole foods do not contain added salt, sugar, flavouring agents or preservatives.
This means that less energy and resources have gone into producing them and because they don’t contain all sorts of unrecognisable nasties they are also better for you.
This Infographic pretty much sums up what we’re trying to say
And do you want to know the best bit? Most wholefoods can be bought completely packaging free, which brings us onto Step 8!
8. AVOID PACKAGING – ESPECIALLY NON-RECYCLABLE PLASTICS
Every piece of plastic ever made is still on the planet today. It never really goes away, it simply degrades into smaller pieces and pollutes our oceans, waterways and soil. Plastic is literally choking our planet and much of this is due to food packaging.
Image: Baby Albatross – Midway Atoll – North Pacific Ocean (between Hawaii and Japan, 3000 miles from nearest continent). This image depicts all the plastic that was accidentally fed to this baby by its mother who thought it was food. Over a million birds and marine animals die as an outcome of plastic entanglement or consumption each year. (c) Chris Jordan
To reduce your packaging waste:
- Make a rule not to buy fresh produce that has been pre-packaged and never place them in a plastic bag, they can go straight in your trolley or basket.
- Find a local co-op or bulk food store that sells non-perishable items such as rice and lentils in bulk and take your own containers, otherwise buy in bulk and distribute it amongst your friends and family. See our Bulk Food Directory.
- Take your own reusable shopping bags.
- Make food from scratch and freeze excess rather than buying packaged meals.
- Reuse glass jars for preserving food.
- Use fresh, rather than tinned produce where possible i.e. tomatoes.
- Shop at farmers’ markets where very little packaging is used.
See The Problem with Plastic for more tips and tricks.
9. REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE, REPURPOSE, RECYCLE
You’ve heard of the 3 R’s right: reduce, reuse, recycle? Well now there’s 5. And did you know they’re in order of preference?
Recycling is down the bottom because it’s a kind of ‘last resort’ if you can’t take the other four actions. That’s because whilst recycling helps to reduce landfill and virgin resources, it still requires a lot of non-renewable resources such as water, energy and gas, with most recycling in Australia being shipped to developing countries for processing in questionable conditions for the environment and workers (See The Problem with Plastic for more info)
Following the 5 R’s in their order should be the way we go about things instead. Let’s explore:
Chances are your home is filled with stuff you don’t need; stuff you haven’t touched in years; stuff that just collects dust. Everything we buy has an environmental as well as a human cost, so think twice before making your next purchase and ensure you really do need it.
Do we really need a different product for every single different application? How different is a bench cleaner to a floor cleaner? A floor cleaner to a bathroom cleaner? Marketers are great at convincing us we need different products for everything we do, but it’s simply not true.
Reduce the products you need and you’ll not only save a lot of money but help to reduce the embedded environmental cost too.
Swapping single use disposable products for reusables is one of the easiest ways to do your bit for the environment. Start with a reusable coffee cup, drink bottle and straw and then take it from there… like lunch kits, mesh produce bags, cloth bags and more. Here’s a lovely photo of lots of reusable items to think about.
Take what you’re no longer using and either use it for another application or give it away to someone in need or to an op shop so that others can enjoy your pre-loved item.
Finally, if all other options are not possible, go with recycling. You can recycle everything from plastic containers to old computers – check the Recycle Right Website for more.
What about soft plastics?
The best thing to do is to limit use of soft plastics altogether by refusing plastic shopping bags and buying as much produce as you can using your own packaging.
For the times when you do end up with soft plastics…
Most Councils around Australia don’t accept plastic bags and soft plastics like biscuit trays, pasta packets, frozen pea packets etc in the kerbside recycling bin BUT these items can actually be recycled via special recycling bins located in most major supermarkets.
These bins are called REDcycle and you can find one near you via the REDcycle Store Locator. Here they are turned into park benches and other hand items.
Things you can recycle in the REDcycle bins – think ‘soft plastics that you can scrunch’:
- Plastic shopping bags
- Bread, rice and pasta bags
- Biscuit packets and trays
- Frozen food bags
- Confectionery (lollie) packets
- Newspaper wrap
- Bubble wrap
- Dry cleaning bags
- Old green (and other re-usable) bags.
TIP: Store these in a reusable shopping bag under the sink and when the bag is full, drop the contents off at your nearest location.
10. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS
Some handy questions to ask:
- Is the meat organic or free range? What farm is it from?
- Is the produce organic/chemical free and where was it grown?
- Where was the seafood sourced? How was it caught? (download the Australian Marine Conservation Society Smartphone App for a handy sustainable seafood resource that lists species that represent a better choice)
- Can I please have my drink served without a straw?
- Can you please wrap my sandwich to go in this cloth bag/napkin?
-  Ruini LF, Ciati R, Pratesi CA, Marino M, Principato L and Vannuzzi E (2015) Working toward healthy and sustainable diets: the “Double Pyramid Model” developed by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition to raise awareness about the environmental and nutritional impact of foods. Front. Nutr. 2:9. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2015.00009 http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnut.2015.00009/full
-  National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council, https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/n55_australian_dietary_guidelines_130530.pdf
-  Tuckerman, Robert. Packaging the Statistics. Packaging Council of Australia. 10 November 2005. Accessed 25 July 2014. http://www.pca.org.au/uploads/00207.pdf
-  Dee, John. Australia Needs a Food Waste Strategy. ABC Environment. 5 Jun 2013. Accessed 29 Jul 2014. http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2013/06/05/3774785.htm