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  • Got questions? Ask the Green Geek.

    Green Geek LogoLooking for ways to reduce your food-related carbon footprint? Wondering how careful you have to be on separating your recyclables? And can those pesky plastic grocery bags be recycled?

    Ask the Green Geek.

    Pima County FYI has a monthly column featuring questions and answers on all things green. Our own Green Geek gets assistance on answering your questions from the sustainability experts in Pima County's Office of Sustainability and Conservation.

    Send your questions to fyinewsletter@pima.gov. And look for the column the second Friday of each month on the left sidebar of the newsletter.

    Dear Green Geek,

    I enjoyed June’s column on food and climate change, but can you provide some recommendations on ways to reduce our food-related carbon footprint? 

    Thank you,


    Hi, Julie,

    Certainly! There are several practical ways to reduce our carbon footprint from food -- many of which save money as well. Here are some of the many ways we can eat with the environment in mind: 

    Consume less (or no) meat and dairy. If going vegan is unappealing or not an option, try cutting down on beef, lamb and cheese, and opt for pork, chicken and eggs instead. These are animal protein sources with a smaller footprint.

    Minimize food waste. Between 30-40 percent of the U.S.’s food supply is lost or wasted. Eating what you buy, pre-planning your meals before going to the store, getting creative with leftovers and sharing your food with others are some ways we can reduce food waste.

    Eat organic when you can. There are various health, environmental and social reasons to choose organic foods, but from a carbon-intensity perspective, it typically requires 30-50 percent less energy for production than its conventional counterparts. 

    Be smart about what you buy locally. Eating local reduces the distance food travels to reach its destination. The energy it takes to store and transport food translates to carbon emissions. While buying locally can reduce a product’s ‘food miles,’ we also need to consider whether that food is in season or not. Eating local food that is out of season may actually have a larger footprint than importing food that is in-season for several reasons:
    • Storing food consumes electricity and may create more CO2 than transport.
    • Growing food in a non-native climate may require a hot house, which can be energy intensive.
    • Growing food from warmer areas in colder climate requires a lot of fertilizer, which produces CO2e gasses 
    Moreover, how the food is transported can be more important than how far the food traveled. For example, air freight is much more carbon intensive than ground transport. The movement to eat local is well-meaning but can be misleading if you don’t do your research. 
    • Minimize excessive packaging. Avoid food with unnecessary packaging and opt for products with recyclable packaging. Bring reusable grocery and produce bags as well.  
    • Avoid processed foods. The production of these products tend to have a higher footprint than raw or minimally processed foods. 
    • Practice energy-efficient cooking. If you have to cook, choose the stove-top or the microwave. Microwaves use about 50 percent less energy than the oven. 

    Seek help. If your anxiety around environmental issues begins to disrupt your daily life and well being, it may be time to speak with someone about it. There is even a small but growing number of eco-therapists that are trained in this specific area.

    Great question!
    Green Geek

    Dear Green Geek,

    Is it important to make sure what you put in the recycling bin is actually recyclable?

    Thank you, 

    PedroRecycling paper

    Hi, Pedro, 

    Yes! Putting items in the recycling bin that aren’t recyclable contaminate the recycling stream. After these non-recyclable items arrive at recycling centers, they can cause costly damage to the equipment and must be sorted out and sent to landfills, which raises costs for the facility. Often times, if a recycling bin is too contaminated with non-recyclables (usually 30 percent or more contamination), the recyclers will simply send all of the waste  to the landfill.

    So yes, it’s very important to know what is and isn’t recyclable. Search online or contact your local recycling company to see that they can and can’t accept.

    Hope this helps!
    Green Geek

    Dear Green Geek,

    Are plastic grocery bags recyclable?



    Hi, Steven, 

    I’m glad you asked this question. Many people are under the impression that because something is plastic (or cardboard or metal) it can automatically be recycled in your regular curbside recycling bin. This is not the case under current recycling processes. Plastic shopping bags -- as well as most plastic casings, liners, wraps, films, and sandwich bags -- cannot be recycled in your bin. This also means you shouldn’t put your recyclables in plastic bags. Instead, ensure they are properly cleaned and place them loose in the bin. 

    Now, this isn’t to say plastic bags are destined for the landfill. There are several convenient retail locations and programs that allow you to drop off your plastic bags for proper recycling.  A simple online search should lead you to locations in your area. This may require an extra step but it’s important we keep plastic bags out of the waste stream. They’re among the most prevalent sources of marine debris, kill approximately 100,000 marine animals every year, and will continue to pollute the environment once they degrade (which could take up to 1,000 years)! 

    Properly inflate your tires
Keep your engine well-tuned
Plan multi-stop trips ahead of time to ensure you’re taking the most efficient route
Avoid left turns when you can
Prefer roundabouts when available 

    Thanks for your question!
    Green Geek
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