Does vegetarianism help the environment?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Does vegetarianism help the environment?” and will discuss the potential benefits to the environment vegetarianism provides.

Does vegetarianism help the environment?

Yes, vegetarianism does help the environment. The quantity of land, water, and oil that people need to utilize and the pollution that they generate may be drastically reduced if they switch to a vegetarian diet instead of one that is heavy on animal products.

Currently, the worldwide prevalence of vegetarianism is not uniform. Asia is the continent with the highest prevalence, with 19% of the population adopting this practice. India, the single country with the highest prevalence in the world (almost 40% of the population), contributes to the results of the Asian continent. The prevalence in Africa and the Middle East is about 16%; and in Central and South America, 8%. The lowest prevalence of vegetarianism is found in North America (about 6% of the population are vegetarians) and Europe, where vegetarianism is adopted by only 5% of the population (5).

Advantages of vegetarianism to the environment

By 2050, if humans do not alter course, worldwide meat consumption will have climbed fivefold in the previous 50 years. It is just a matter of time until natural ecosystems and human populations are wreaked devastation by this extraordinary surge. As a result, if you want to help the ecology and protect the earth, you should consume less meat.

The environmental impact and use of natural resources in the production of foods differ greatly. Animal-derived foods, particularly meat and dairy from ruminants, are resource intensive and more taxing on the environment compared with the production of most plant-based foods (1).

Here are some of the environmental benefits of being vegetarian.

 Less Land Is Needed

Food production takes up more than half of the planet’s livable land space. Meat eaters, on the other hand, consume far more than vegans. Moreover, 80 percent of the world’s agricultural acreage is devoted to livestock, while only 20 percent of the world’s calories are produced by livestock. In the meanwhile, plants continue to provide us with more calories and protein, even though their habitat occupies only 23% of livable land

The production of 1 kg of beans requires 3.8 m2 of land, 2.5 m3 of water, 39 g of fertilizer, and 2.2 g of pesticide; however, the production of the same amount of beef requires 52 m2 of land, 20.2 m3 of water, 360 g of fertilizer, and 17.2 g of pesticide, i.e., ∼8–14 times more resources are needed to produce the beef (1).

Farmers will have to cut animal output as the human population expands to create a way for more humans. In addition, additional land will be needed for reforestation efforts across the globe. There is a direct correlation between how many trees there are and how much carbon they can store.

Reduces Pollution and Emissions

Crops, like trees, create oxygen, which has a positive impact on the atmosphere. As a result of their production of nitrous oxide and other gasses, animals contribute to global warming and climate change. A calorie from a cow produces four times as much GHGs as pigs or chickens. GHG emissions per gram of protein from beef are 20 times higher compared to those from typical plant proteins, therefore crops are more environmentally friendly.

Producing, packing, and transporting meat is also responsible for higher greenhouse gas emissions than processing factories. Over 17 percent of US fossil fuel is used by meat processors, with energy expenses accounting for the fourth-highest operating expense of these facilities. Energy generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, or natural gas is eventually released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas (GHG).

These emissions could be attenuated by reduction of meat consumption, illustrated by many studies showing that removing entirely meat from a healthy diet will result in a reduction by about one-third of GHG emissions, or that diet-related GHG emissions are twice lower for vegans than for meat eaters (2).

In a review study, GHG emissions related to omnivorous, ovolactovegetarian and vegan diets were compared. The results indicate that the median reductions in GHG emissions by shifting from the current diet to ovolactovegetarian and vegan diets were −35% (range: −13%, −85%) and −49% (range: −23%, −89%), respectively (1).

 Helps to Reduce Pollution

The non-atmospheric pollutants that vegetarianism reduces may also be reduced. With no need for antibiotics and hormones, plants are less likely to pollute soils and rivers than animals. It is also necessary to use more fertilizers and pesticides to grow feed crops than most other types of crops. As a result, substituting vegetables for meat may help to reduce the number of chemicals used and the pollution they cause.

Comparing 1kg of protein from beef and beans, beef protein requires 18, 10, 12, and 10 times more land, water, fertilizers, and pesticides (1). Livestock generates large amounts of wastewaters, containing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds that are discharged into natural waters. The daily output of excrement depending on gender and age group ranges from 0.5 to 12.4 kg per animal. The average moisture of cattle excrement can be from 86 to 97 % dry matter content – from 0.17 to 4.93 % for the day. All these become the agents of soil pollution (3).

 Ecosystems are also harmed by manure and wastewater containing animal feces. This means that most of the slope from industrial farms will find its way into lakes, rivers, seas, and soils due to poor sewage treatment facilities. Eventually, the garbage will poison groundwater sources with nitrogen, phosphorus, and nitrates, severely damaging ecosystems and threatening human health.

Protects the marine environment

The intensive farming of marine finfish, commonly practiced in cages or ponds, involves the supply of high quality artificial feeds and medication with consequent impacts on the environment, mainly due to the release of organic and inorganic nutrients and the release of chemicals used for medication. Marine aquaculture of finfish has become more intensive over the years. It is now widely acknowledged that this intensive development of the industry has been accompanied by an increase in environmental impacts (4).

Many individuals aren’t aware that if they decide to become vegetarian, they’ll also have to give up their favorite seafood dishes. Aside from saving marine habitats, avoiding eating seafood may help the environment by reducing the amount of waste produced. An 800,000-pound haul from one net may decimate coral reefs and decimate animal populations. Tuna and swordfish populations are being decimated by the overfishing of commercial items.

Marine habitats may be devastated by fish farming, which directly contributes to pollution in the water. Fish excrement may quickly infiltrate surrounding rivers if vast numbers of fish are housed in one spot. Others will use powerful antibiotics to avoid parasites and early mortality in their livestock. They may enter the food chain through consumption and contamination.

Preserves the Environment

As farming accounts for more than 70 percent of the world’s water resources, one in nine people lacks access to clean water. The majority of this water is used in animal production. As much water is needed for one pound of pork as it is for the whole population of a city to sustain a pig farm. Wheat, on the other hand, takes just 25 gallons of water to produce one pound. It is possible to save water and redistribute it in this way if the demand for meat decreases.

Still, vegans who are concerned about the environmental impact of their diet should keep an eye out for plant items that consume too much water. As an example, many vegetarians still like roasting coffee, although the process uses more water than raising chickens or pigs. Soybeans and rice, for example, may consume more water than maize and sugarcane. It is thus necessary to undertake some study before preparing a shopping list if you are seeking the most water-conscious option.

Thus, not all vegetarian diet scenarios yield favorable environmental outcomes when compared with the reference diets. For instance, if beef or lamb, foods with a high environmental impact, are replaced by larger quantities of dairy (cheese or butter), the environmental impact gains may be reduced or eliminated. Or if meats in the reference diet are replaced iso-calorically with vegetables grown in high-energy demand greenhouses or out-of-season fruits flown from afar, any GHG emissions offsets could be reversed. It has also been reported that the water used to obtain calorie equivalent amounts of nuts, fruits, and vegetables could be higher than several animal-based foods. Hence, the diets of some vegetarians could have higher environmental impacts than those of some omnivores (1).

Other FAQs about Vegetarian that you may be interested in.

Is absolut 3g vegetarian?

How is vegetarian cheese made?

How is vegetarian chicken made?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Does vegetarianism help the environment?” and discussed the potential benefits to the environment vegetarianism provides.

References

  1. Fresán U, Sabaté J. Vegetarian Diets: Planetary Health and Its Alignment with Human Health. Adv Nutr, 2019, S380-S388. 
  2. Rabès, Anaëlle, et al. Greenhouse gas emissions, energy demand and land use associated with omnivorous, pesco-vegetarian, vegetarian, and vegan diets accounting for farming practices. Sustain Prod Consump, 2020, 22, 138-146.  
  3. Radomska, М. М., T. V. Strava, and O. A. Kolotylo. The analysis of the ecological footprint of major diet types. Науковий вісник НЛТУ України, 2018, 28, 86-90.
  4. Read, Paul, and Teresa Fernandes. Management of environmental impacts of marine aquaculture in Europe. Aquacult, 2003, 226, 139-163.
  5. Hargreaves SM, Raposo A, Saraiva A, Zandonadi RP. Vegetarian Diet: An Overview through the Perspective of Quality of Life Domains. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2021, 18, 4067.