Almost everyone has a refrigerator in their house and it’s on all the time. So, what’s the impact of cooling down our food? 

Megan Hall: So, why are we talking about refrigeration today?

Max Kozlov: Well, it’s been hot! We know that air conditioners use a lot of energy, and fridges are basically ACs but for a small space. Pumping all that hot air out uses a lot of electricity.

Megan Hall: But, I mean, it’s not like I’m going to stop using my fridge! 

Fatima Husain: Well, household refrigerators are only a tiny part of how we keep our food cool. The bigger energy hog is a system called the cold chain. 

Megan Hall: The cold chain? What’s that?

Max Kozlov: Ok, so, there are a lot of things that need to be kept cold before they reach the grocery store or the pharmacy — like medicines, vaccines, and fresh food.

Fatima Husain: The cold chain is the process that keeps those things refrigerated on their way to you. It can include processing plants, distribution sites, refrigerated trucks, airplanes, boats, coolers, and fridges.

Megan Hall: Wow, it’s huge! What can we do to help the cold chain use less energy?

 Max Kozlov: To find out, we talked to Brian Dean, the head of energy, efficiency, and cooling at Sustainable Energy for All located in Vienna, Austria.

Fatima Husain: He says one way to improve the cold chain is to shorten it.  

Max Kozlov: Instead of transporting and refrigerating food from across the country, which uses up a lot of energy, we can work to get more of our produce from somewhere nearby. 

Brian Dean: The shorter the cold chain, there'll be less cooling needed. So Buying local is certainly a huge part of that story.

Fatima Husain: We could also do things like making sure refrigerated trucks and boats are better insulated. 

Megan Hall: Does Brian have any other ideas?

Max Kozlov: Yes, he also says that wasting less food is another great way to reduce our climate impact.

Brian Dean: Just finishing our food, I think is, really oddly, one of the biggest things we can do.

Megan Hall: Eating our food? How does that do anything?

Fatima Husain: Well, here in the US, most food waste happens because we throw out a lot of the food that we buy or that makes it to the grocery store.

Max Kozlov: Think of all the greenhouse gases that are created in the process of growing, harvesting, transporting, and cooling food before it gets to your fridge. When food spoils, all that energy is wasted.

Megan Hall: So, other than eating my groceries before they go bad, is there anything else I can do to reduce all the energy we use to keep food cool? 

Fatima Husain: Your home refrigerator uses relatively little energy compared to the entire cold chain, but you can still try to make it more efficient. So, when you buy your next fridge, try to get one with the Energy Star logo.

Megan Hall: Should I change my buying habits?

Max Kozlov: One thing you can do is switch to versions of your favorite foods that don’t need to be refrigerated until you open them.

Fatima Husain: For example, some types of almond, soy and even dairy milk come in special packaging that keeps it fresh outside of the fridge.  

Max Kozlov: You can also shorten the cold chain by buying fresh food from local farmers, and try to not let that food go to waste.

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio. Subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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