A study carried out by students from the business and environment schools at University College Cork has found that households who pay more for food, waste less of it.

Reducing food waste is a simple climate action that people can take on an individual level by making more sustainable choices when buying groceries.

By making the connection between the food we consume and the environmental impact it has, shoppers can make a big difference to carbon, land and water footprints globally.

Michael Kelly, founder of GIY (Grow It Yourself) and Grow HQ in Waterford said: "It all started for me with a bulb of garlic".

Mr Kelly was working as an IT salesman until he had a lightbulb moment while doing the weekly shop in 2005.

"I had an interest in food, but I wasn't really thinking about where it came from. I went to pick up a bulb of garlic to throw it into the trolley and noticed that it said product of China. I think it said, 'fresh from China’ actually on the label," he said.

Mr Kelly said the finding shook him out of his complacency about what he was buying.

"It was the first time I'd seen a food import from China. I decided to try and grow my own garlic and see why we were importing it from China. Can it not be done here?" he said.

The story of Grow HQ in Waterford

Mr Kelly says their research by GIY shows food growers develop food empathy, which has a profound effect on other grocery items, including reducing how much meat they buy and making other sustainable purchasing choices.

He said growing food takes a long time and a lot of effort and people are less likely to waste it with the knowledge and understanding of what it takes to produce it.

Mr Kelly believes growing just one vegetable can help change your mindset when buying food.

"It's quite a simple thing to grow. You stick one clove into the ground and eventually over about six months, that clove turns into a bulb," he said.

"The cloves are spaced about 10 centimetres apart in the ground. You could grow them in a window box, you might get three or four bulbs in there. It's ideal if you have a little raised bed in the garden or whatever, and actually it's quite good value for space so you could grow 50 bulbs of garlic quite easily.

They store quite well then, you can hang them up in a braid in your kitchen and congratulate yourself every morning on how amazing you are as you walk past."

More than half of food and drink in Ireland imported

Data from the CSO’s Food and Agriculture Value Chain analysis indicates that 51% of food and drink consumed by Irish households in 2018 was imported.

This figure does not include total food imports, which would also include restaurants, animal feed and raw ingredients for processing.

To date, no CSO data is available to indicate the impact of Brexit on our food and drink imports.

Dr Ultan McCarthy, lecturer at the Department of Science at Waterford Institute of Technology said that currently within our food systems, depending on the type of food product, you can waste anywhere between 30% to 50%.

"That figure relates right from the farm up to the consumer. Just to set the context, for every euro or dollar that's invested in that supply chain, you do expect to waste 30 to 50 cents of it," he said.

Dr McCarthy believes more emphasis is needed in engaging with the consumer to allow them to make more informed decisions on what they are buying and how they use it.

"The more information you have the better. That allows you to make your own personal choice because people do want to make choices about the food that they intake or that they consume," he said.

"We're imparting our money, our hard-earned money on this, so we do want that element of value to show them what we do buy, we do care about."

Globally, more than a quarter of food produced is wasted or lost, contributing 8-10% of total emissions.

It can be difficult for a consumer to decide if some food is more environmentally friendly than others.

Food that has been grown locally and is in season is one indicator that produce is likely to have less environmental impact, compared to food grown out of season using greenhouses or been transported long distances.

Growing just one vegetable can help change your mindset when buying food, according to Michael Kelly

Other indicators that might be less obvious to the consumer include how much land or water usage was involved in production.

Foundation Earth has launched pilots this Autumn to test consumer response to environmental labelling for food.

The aim is to make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices and to connect the dots at production level, to reduce the level of environmental impacts.

The founder of Foundation Earth, the late Northern Ireland entrepreneur Denis Lynn, had a vision to create a market driven solution to the food industry with transparent, credible, science-based, environmental labelling on an international basis.

The pilots, launched in September will trial a traffic light, colour-coded style labelling system, similar to the nutritional system, and an easy to understand 5-scale label A-E.

CEO of Foundation Earth Cliona Howie said: "it is very important to make it simple, readable and understandable for the consumer who only has about nine seconds to make a decision when they're choosing a product."

"The lifecycle assessment is very comprehensive. It comes from across water usage, water pollution, carbon use, transport, packaging, biodiversity, and much, much more.

"The consumer can also use a QR code to digitally go in and find out where that impact actually sits, whether it is because of transport, packaging or carbon use."

Ms Howie said consumers have the power to make more sustainable choices with better information.

"There is an absolute appetite for more sustainable products that is not realised only because there's a lack of trust in the current system," she said.

That lack of trust means that consumers won't quite be able to make the decision to bring in sustainable criteria when they're going to the shop."

The pilots will run over 12 months and Foundation Earth is optimistic it will provide vital data to scale the environmental labelling system over the coming years.

Without this type of environmental data, shoppers might still struggle with which products to choose given that two foods which look, taste and cost the same can have very different environmental impacts.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency is advising consumers that there is a simple way to increase their climate action within the home, by reducing food waste.

One million tonnes of food waste a year

Ireland produces 1 million tonnes of food waste every year, with a quarter of that coming from households.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Foodwaste Prevention Team Lead Odile Le Bolloch encourages meal planning, buying less and considering what resources you are throwing out every time you put food in the bin.

"You've wasted all the resources that go into that produce. To grow food, you need land, you need water, you need the farmers time, there's machinery to harvest, there's transport, refrigeration, so all those different steps along the supply chain have used energy and created global emissions to bring it to our homes," she said.

"And in fact, it's the food waste that is down at that end of the supply chain that has the most resources embedded in it, because it's come all the way down. So, it's actually really the important place where we do need to reduce waste."

Reducing food waste has been identified as the third most effective climate action we can take.

"People don't realise that there's something happening in our kitchen every day. So really, if you could look in your kitchen and, as we like to say, reducing food waste is the climate action you can take three times a day at every mealtime," Ms Bolloch said.

That would mean consumers have three choices a day, seven days a week to make sustainable decisions or how we choose, use or waste our food.

This ties in with how consumers can help to reduce global food waste on an international scale.

Goal 12 under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is committed to Responsible Production and Consumption.

Its target is to halve global food waste and reduce food losses in supply chains by 2030.

"It's a challenging target and you have some people thinking maybe that it's the retail sector, maybe it's the food supply chain, and really it's all along the chains," said Ms Bolloch.

"We need industry to play its part, we need retail to play its part, we need the growers to play their part, and householders need to play their part too."