Our supermarket shopping choices affect more than just the content of our dinner plates. Jane Hall looks at how we can make our weekly shop more environmentally friendly.
We all know we should be doing more for the environment. But when it's 10pm and you've run out of milk, sometimes all you can do is jump in the car and scream down to the local supermarket.
But our supermarket shopping choices affect more than just the content of our dinner plates - every decision from how to get there to what to put in the shopping basket has a knock-on effect for the long term future of our planet.
So what can we do to help things? Everyone needs to do their weekly shop, but there are ways of making sure we do things a little greener.
Research carried out by Somerfield shows that although 67% of us have a grocer within walking distance of our homes, the average shopping journey by car is 2.4 miles long.
Driving to the shops may be convenient, but the carbon dioxide emitted on regular short journeys makes it bad news for the environment.
Seventy-four per cent of Londoners walk to the shops, but elsewhere the statistics aren't so promising.
Find out where your nearest convenience store or grocer is and try walking there. Not only is it good exercise, but local retailers tend to sell more local produce, which is fresher and often cheaper than buying products sealed in plastic and flown half-way across the world.
Many supermarkets have set up cycling racks to encourage greener modes of transport, and more and more local shops - especially in city centres - have limited parking spaces available, making driving less of a convenience and more of a chore.
Making what your food is transported in uses vast amounts of energy, especially if it's plastic.
Think twice before buying pre-cut food: items such as sliced carrots in a bag require more energy and more manpower than buying loose carrots and preparing them yourself. James Colwill, from Packaging Europe, is keen to point out the problem: "Consumers tend towards convenience, but in so doing can work against themselves."
As a general rule, the more complicated the packaging, the more wasteful it is, and the more it's trying to make up for something. Try to avoid overtly attention-grabbing packaging, such as toothbrushes in boxes three times their size.
But it seems we may already be turning away from unnecessary wrapping.
At one point, Sainsbury's offered a pre-peeled orange as part of their fruit range. Sales were strong for the first few weeks, but after the initial high, customers backed off. In making a sealed item without the natural protection, more additives and chemicals are needed to keep the food from going off.
AT THE CHECKOUT
The major battleground for supermarkets of late has been the world of plastic bags. In the pursuit of a more environmentally conscious shopping experience, these white polyethylene sacks are key, and the statistics are astonishing: six billion bags are wasted every year.
Tesco, for example, has recently been charging home its new `Green' campaign, offering clubcard points for customers who buy fair trade products and recycle ink cartridges, mobile phones and, notably, plastic bags.
Somerfield, like the Co-op, has been using biodegradable bags for more than five years now.
The Republic of Ireland has charged 10p per bag since 2002. Now firms in the United Kiare following suit, with Ikea, Aldi and Lidl all taxing customers for bags to encourage environmental responsibility.
Waste plastic bags account for 20% of the nation's landfill volume, so buy a `Bag for Life' and keep reusing it - shops will offer free replacements if they wear out.
Better yet, buy a solid shopping bag (more and more are available, with many designers creating their own).
WHAT MORE CAN WE DO?
Believe it or not, you can change the way supermarkets work.
Supermarkets keep a very close eye on what's being bought and what's not. Loyalty cards allow them to see just what you're buying - so vote with your card.
If you buy more fair trade and environmentally friendly products for example, they will take notice.
Here are a few more ways to make a difference:
* If you are going to drive to the supermarket, do it with a friend.
* Make sure when you drive to the supermarket that the boot is full of everything recyclable you've used that week.
* Check where your food comes from - products should have country of origin details, and some shops, like Marks & Spencer, now carry air miles information.
If your local supermarket is selling produce that could easily be grown nearby, try and make sure you buy local to discourage them from buying abroad.How do supermarkets compare?
the National Consumer Council recently carried out research into the green credentials of the major supermarket chains.
Results were disappointing for Somerfield and Morrisons, which scored the lowest in the tables, taking into account environmental standards on transport, waste and sustainable farming.
The chairman of the NCC, Lord Whitty, has said: "We all need to understand that food is the typical household's number one contributor to climate change. By throwing away 10 billion carrier bags each year and transporting carrots from Egypt and strawberries from New Zealand, we hit the environment hard. But shoppers are increasingly keen to do their bit."
Here's how the chains rated in the Greening Supermarkets report:
* ASDA: Food transport: B; Waste: E; Sustainable Farming: D; Overall: D
NCC said: Asda was top for sourcing and promoting UK in-season vegetables, but had room for improvement across the indicators.
* Co-op: Food transport: C; Waste: D; Sustainable Farming: C; Overall: D
NCC said: The Co-op was praised for showing potential with seasonal vegetables, the smallest amount of `long distance' fruit and reducing the use of pesticides. However, it needed to improve its range of sustainably sourced fish and extend recycled packaging.
* Marks & Spencer: Food transport: D; Waste: D; Sustainable Farming: C; Overall: C
NCC said: Marks & Spencer sells only sustainably sourced fish, had good in-store information and knowledgeable staff. However, it could do more to promote in-season British fruit and vegetables and cut the proportion of air freighted fruits.
* Morrisons: Food transport: D; Waste: E; Sustainable Farming: D; Overall: E
NCC said: Morrisons was top for UK-sourced seasonal vegetables, but let itself down by failing to promote them. It rated poorly in all other areas.
* Sainsbury's: Food transport: D; Waste: C; Sustainable Farming: B; Overall: C
NCC said: Of the big four supermarkets, Sainsbury's received the best green rating with a C. It had the highest percentage of organic products in the range looked at, and the widest selection of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fish. It used recycled paper in packaging, toilet rolls and kitchen towels.
* Somerfield: Food transport: C; Waste: E; Sustainable Farming: E; Overall: E
NCC said: Somerfield did well on stocking in-season UK vegetables, but was weak on recycling.
* Tesco: Food transport: D; Waste: C; Sustainable Farming: C; Overall: D
NCC said: Although Tesco had UK-sourced in-season vegetables, it needed to do more sign posting and promotion. Tesco needed to raise its game on sustainable sourcing - it had only one MSC product out of over 150 items surveyed.
Tesco had taken steps to cut plastic bag use and promote recycling.
* Waitrose: Food transport: C; Waste: C; Sustainable Farming: B; Overall: B
NCC said: Waitrose came top overall with a B rating. It did well for selling MSC-certified fish, with helpful, informed counter staff, and with a good range of organic foods.
It had a good variety of in-season vegetables, but also sold the highest number of air freighted fruit.
* Rating: A= excellent - E= poor.
Source: The National Consumer Council.