Shopping is an activity that we either love or hate but few people can get away without doing on a regular basis. As well as thinking about the cost of shopping, and the time and effort it takes, more people are now thinking about the environmental impact of their shopping habits.
Food shopping has evolved enormously in the last 100 years. Back in the days of our grandmothers and great grandmothers, shopping had to be done each day, or most days, as there were no freezers and fridges were just starting to come into homes. Usually only the wealthiest families could afford them, so most people were still using a cold room as a larder, and tin boxes with net covers to keep meat. Vegetables were usually grown in the garden, so not picked until they were needed to make sure they were fresh. Our eating and cooking habits were much less adventurous, so a daily trip to the market or local shop involved buying meat, eggs, milk, bread and vegetables.
Food Shopping has Transformed in the 20th Century
During the 1960s the first supermarkets started to open and during the 1970s to 2000, the pattern of food shopping changed. The weekly shop became the norm, with families travelling by car more frequently to pick up their meat, fresh food and, increasingly, processed meals and food items. The environmental impact of food buying during those 30 years rose dramatically. More food was imported from different parts of the world, increasing the frequency of air freight, more food was elaborately processed and there was an explosion in the types of food available.
The resources used to either bring food into the UK or to process it increased, as did the carbon footprint of food production and provision. In the last 10 years, most consumers have become more environmentally aware, but few of us stop to think how many air miles have been clocked up by the strawberries we buy in December or the baby sweet corn we get marked as having their origin in Kenya.
Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Food Shopping
One major change in the last 10 years that has enabled consumers to make their food shopping more ecofriendly – and more convenient – is online internet shopping. This is now offered by most of the leading supermarkets in the UK and most addresses can have their Tesco, Sainsbury or Asda shopping delivery to their door within a pre-arranged two hour time slot.
As individuals and families don’t travel to their supermarket to buy food, and the delivery van brings out 3 or 4 loads of household shopping at a time, the amount of fossil fuels used in a weekly shop is reduced. There are other advantages too – shopping in the comfort of your home on the computer is a lot less stressful than spending an hour rushing round the crowded supermarket after work or at the weekend. You can control more what you buy (no nice smells to tempt you to get those doughnuts) and you can consider your choice of food more carefully. Using the online information wisely, you can avoid all those vegetables brought in via air travel, choosing only locally sourced fruits and vegetables in season.
Environmental Issues and Other Shopping
Perhaps a better way of thinking about clothes and consumables shopping is to consider ethical buying practices. Cheap clothes from massive chains rarely last and there are doubts about their origins in sweatshops that employ children. Electrical goods and gas appliances need to have better energy ratings and be more efficient these days, but it is important to compare different models to get the best for the environment as well as your budget.
For many people, shopping is fun and retail therapy is a great way to spend some free time. It may be unpopular but many of us may have to rethink shopping as being so much fun as the recession seems here to stay and more people question whether we need so much ‘stuff’. Cutting down on our carbon footprint may mean shopping less, shopping more wisely and only buying the things we really need, with just some of the things we want – preferable online.