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The environmental impact of transport on the direct sale of food

The environmental cost of transport accounts for 6% of the total impact of all factors in the entire life cycle of a food item. The factor that generates the most greenhouse gases is the cultivation process. To significantly reduce the negative environmental impact of what we eat, we should above all care about how our food was grown and what natural resources were used in the different stages of its life cycle.

The increase in the direct sale of food from producer to consumer has sparked a debate about whether the carbon footprint of these deliveries is higher or lower than that of selling food via the ‘mass market’ channel with intermediaries.

To measure the environmental impact of transport, we need to consider the method of transport used, the distance covered, and the time span from when the product is harvested until it reaches our homes. When these three variables are combined perfectly, receiving your food directly from the producer can be the most environmentally friendly way to buy your produce.

How long does it take from harvesting the product to it being delivered?

From the moment we harvest the product from the tree or plant, the fruit begins a period of natural degradation. Any action we take to try and extend its shelf life or its appearance will generate an environmental cost. 

In the food chain with intermediaries, the products spend time in warehouses and distribution centres before reaching the shelves. To make sure that the fruit stays fresh and withstands distribution, it’s usually harvested before its optimal point of ripeness and subjected to physical (e.g. storage in cold rooms) and chemical (e.g. fungicides and waxes) treatments.

In the direct sale of fruit and veg, farmers harvest on demand (when the consumer has already placed the order) and all the produce leaves the farm on the same day. It isn’t placed in artificial ripening chambers or given any type of post-harvest treatment. This reduces delivery times and eliminates residues on the skin of the fruit.

Does buying directly from producers emit more CO2 than going to a supermarket?

No. If you drive two hundred kilometres to go and buy five kilos of potatoes, the environmental cost for each kilo of potato will be enormous.

However, if the potato farmer receives enough direct orders from consumers, they’ll be able to harvest their potatoes, pack them, put on the labels and deliver them to a DHL or UPS van that will deliver them to all households in one go.

What pollutes more: a vehicle delivering to one hundred households or one hundred households driving to a supermarket?

If we know the destination of the product from the source, we can calculate the most efficient route and avoid more time on the road than necessary. 

impact transport from producer food


What materials are used for packaging?

Not only is the journey important, but also the material used for distribution. In the case of fruits, several types of packaging are used throughout their shelf life: the box in which they’re harvested, the plastic mesh bags in which they’re packed, and the cardboard box in which these mesh bags are delivered. 

In the direct sales managed by CrowdFarming, no plastic mesh bags are used. The fruit is distributed in a cardboard box. What’s more, plastic seals were replaced by paper seals in 2021.

Conclusions

When it comes to environmental impact, direct sales between farmers and consumers have the following advantages over sales with intermediaries:

● The time between harvesting and consumption decreases.

● The transport distance is reduced: the products are sent directly to the consumer from the source, on efficient delivery routes, taking advantage of the networks of courier companies and their extensive coverage.

● No skin preservation treatments and fungicides are used.

● Direct sales don’t waste energy on keeping fruit in preservation chambers.