How much CO2 do we emit depending on our type of diet?

Type of food vs type of diet

An important part of the greenhouse gas emissions of any person are those associated with their diet. It changes from one to another, but usually accounts for between 20 and 40% of the total personal emissions. It is clear that we cannot stop eating, but also that we can modulate and/ or vary what we eat.

Diets with a greater presence of meat induce higher greenhouse gas emissions and a greater environmental impact. This is especially acute in cases in which the meat has a source in ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep, or goats, and it is because devices digestive tract of these animals are not efficient, which makes digested incompletely their food, having to evacuate gases in the process, including methane (CH4), a gas with a potential greenhouse 28 times that of CO2.

But back to the topic at hand. From this it can be concluded, and of course it is confirmed by the data, that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the diet of vegetarians or vegans will generally be lower than those of those whose diets have meat content. The emissions associated with a vegan diet are usually half of those associated with a diet with meat content. And without going to extreme cases, where we compare with a diet with a lot of meat content, we can see that the ratio between the emissions of both can be from 1 to 3.

Beyond food… an interesting statistical correlation

During 2021 The Planet App published the results of its Carbon Mapping study, 2020 edition. This study aimed to understand how the carbon footprint of different groups of people is. One of the ways of grouping employed people was that related to the type of diet.

When launching the study we started with the prejudice (in this case reasonable and substantiated) that we would find lower food emissions in people with diets with less meat. But when we started processing the data we realized something that captured our attention.

And it is that we not only confirm our prejudice, but we also check how the emissions associated with the rest of the life habits of those vegan or vegetarian people are also on average lower than those who consume meat: frugality (literal) in the diet therefore extends to a more frugal life also in other categories, such as emissions associated with transport, home and lifestyle. That’s the fact. People who followed a vegetarian type of diet are on average 22% lower than those who eat meat frequently, even more so if they are vegan.

What could this be due to?

We interpret that factors related to the beliefs and way of approaching life by people that also condition the type of diet underlie. People with diets with less meat also consume less of other products, and emit less to be transported, for example by less use of the plane. It makes sense if we think that an important part of those who decide not to eat meat usually declare themselves aware of the care of the planet, and that is one of the main reasons (not the only one) to alter their diet, and as we see not only their diet.