As examined in recent posts, one reason that people lack motivation in addressing climate change is that they have difficulty in conceptualizing how their actions can affect amorphous global problems. Wearing your clothes longer or driving less doesn’t result in a discernible reduction in GHG emissions. We need help in quantifying how our individual actions can have positive cumulative effects.

One area where we could all make a contribution, at least in Austria, would be to stop wasting bread. In the past 15 years the sale of bread in Austria has changed dramatically. Between 2005 and 2019 the number of independent bakers dropped from 1,920 to 1,448 and the sale of bread concentrated in grocery stores. These outlets now account for 82.4% of all bread sold.

What has this shift in market dynamics brought? Industrial scale production, aggressive pricing, and profligate waste. Dr. Peter Lechner from the Institute of Waste Management at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna calculated that each year Austrian farmers grow 20,000 hectare of grain  to produce 60,000 tons of bread that is ultimately discarded by retailers and consumers. A full quarter of all products are not eaten.

Milling, raw material transport, kneading and baking, the shift to pre-baked products that must be cooled before final baking in outlets, in-store packaging, not to mention the actual growing of the grain itself, all carry a carbon footprint. Lechner notes that the CO2 costs associated with disregarded bread are equivalent to the annual emissions of 30,000 automobiles.

I am not arguing that we should stop buying bread. We just need to be more conscious and purchase only what we need or can eat. At the retail level limited restrictions in sales and marketing practices could help us stay on the straight and narrow. Some potential policies that could reduce GHG emissions include:

    • Limit multipack convenience packaging – multi packs are an incentive to buy more.
    • Set a minimum sales price for specific products – aggressive action pricing also leads to over consumption.
    • Aggressively track and tax overproduction at the retail level.
    • Inform consumers that just because the bread bin isn’t full doesn’t mean that the bread is old – we have a tendency not to purchase “straggler” products because of freshness concerns.

What other products could we easily consume less of to reduce GHG emissions? Leave a comment.

2 thoughts on “Our daily bread and GHG emissions

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