During the month of Ramadan, upwards of 1.8 billion Muslims across the world fast from sunrise to sunset. But for the past eight years, a growing movement has pushed for a green Ramadan. For Dr. Sayid Masroor Shah, chair of the Islamic Society of North America’s Green Initiative, going green means wasting less of everything, including meat. “Over consumption is a violation of the Quran,” he says. You shouldn’t abstain from food when you break your fast, he adds, “but you shouldn’t waste it either.”
Ramadan Generates Food and Plastic Waste
Despite the month-long fasting, people eat a lot more during Ramadan than the rest of the year, especially since observers can only eat after sundown and before sunrise. Food bills increase significantly and in some places, 15 percent of annual food sales occur during that month alone. Studies also show sales of staples like bread and chicken go up by more than 60 percent.
Increasing food sales mean increased consumption but also a significant uptick in wasted food. In Malaysia, celebrants are likely to waste an extra 75,000 tons of food by the end of Ramadan this year. Meanwhile, in Egypt it’s not unusual for 60 percent of food to go to waste during the holy month.
In mosques when observers break their daily fast, meal organizers often serve food with single-use plastics such as water bottles and cutlery. “Changing cultural habits is not easy,” says Dr. Shah, yet after three years of effort, the organization’s Islamic Center has successfully eliminated single use plastic water bottles.
Mosques and Islamic Centers around the world are moving away from using plastics. A global switch would mean each one of these mosques could save a ton of plastic during the month of Ramadan.
How Green Ramadan Combats Waste
Muslims in the Green Ramadan movement are also working to curb food waste. “We tell people to give leftover food to the homeless or to their guests instead of trashing it,” says Shah, who also points to the prophet Muhammad’s teachings that one third of your stomach should be filled with food, one third with water and one third with air, left empty.
Kamran Shezad, Director of UK-based Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, points out in A Guide to an Eco-Conscious Ramadan, “Unfortunately, the month of Ramadan for many of us has become a month of wastage. In our endeavors to perform iftar, recite Quaran and take part in prayers, we unintentionally create excess waste in food, water, energy and even time.”
In the U.S., 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted. Once food reaches landfills and starts to decompose, it releases methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. Rotting food is behind one fifth of all methane emissions in the U.S.
“It’s a global culture problem. The waste from households totals more than industry, but changing cultural habits is not easy,” says Shah. “It’s difficult for people to imagine the impact that personal change can have.”
Green Ramadan and Cutting Back on Meat
A growing number of Green Ramadan advocates are especially critical of over-eating and wasting meat. “Meat is very high on the food chain, and the more of it we eat the more damage we do to the environment,” points out Shezad in the guide.
Though muslims do not consume pork, the animals they do eat — and eat a lot of during Ramadan — is crippling to the environment. Beef consumption is a leading driver of food-related emissions, and the livestock industry as a whole is responsible for between 14.5 and 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
Chicken, also popularly-served at the break-the-fast meal called Iftar, releases ammonia that pollutes waterways, harms wildlife and is one of the worst types of animal farming for the animals themselves.
“The consumption of meat is not necessary, and is not healthy,” says Shah. He too encourages people to reduce their consumption of meat during Ramadan. Prophet Muhhammad himself had a diet consisting mostly of grains, dates, water, milk, honey, fruit and vegetables. Meat was not something that he consumed on a regular basis, points out Shah.
“My hope is that people change their habits, not just related to food but to be more environmentally conscious over all”, says Shah. He encourages people to go beyond reduce, reuse and recycle to reflect on how all of their decisions affect the environment.
Grace is a journalist who covers farming and agricultural policy, including how factory farms impact environmental and human rights in her writing. Her reporting has been published in Truthdig, the Good Men Project and Sentient Media. Born, raised and living near the Florida Coast, she holds her MS in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University. She can be reached by email to [email protected].