Here’s why you should think twice before buying a pre-packaged sandwich

Posted by
Susan Devaney

The number of pre-packaged sandwiches consumed every year in the UK has the same impact on the environment as eight million cars, scientists have found. 

Like us, you probably pick up a sandwich from your favourite lunch spot without considering its impact on the planet.

But according to researchers at the University of Manchester, consuming one pre-packaged sandwich a day has the same harmful impact on the environment as eight million cars.

The study, published in the journal Sustainable Production and Consumption, looked at the carbon footprint of 40 different sandwiches – both homemade and pre-packaged. Taking into account how the ingredients were produced, the outer packaging, and the food waste involved in consumption.

And it’s official: sandwiches are bad for the environment.

The worst offender is the beloved all-day breakfast pre-packaged option. The sandwich containing egg, bacon and sausage has the highest carbon footprint of 1441g of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of driving an average car for 12 miles. The researchers calculated the carbon footprint based on the ingredients, agricultural production, having to chill sandwiches, the outer packaging and the transportation involved.

And it’s official: sandwiches are bad for the environment.

The worst sandwiches in terms of carbon footprint:

1) Ready-made all day breakfast: 1,441 CO2 eq.

2) Ready-made ham and cheese: 1,350 CO2 eq.

3) Ready-made prawn and mayo: 1,255 CO2 eq.

4) Ready-made egg and bacon: 1,182 CO2 eq.

5) Ready-made ham salad: 1,119 CO2 eq.

But don’t despair. For all you organised individuals out there, sandwiches made at home are less harmful to the environment. Researchers found that a homemade ham and cheese sandwich, made from 58g of bread, 8g of ham, 20g of cheese and 13g of mayo, is less detrimental in terms of its carbon footprint. Although researchers advised avoiding ingredients with a higher carbon footprint such as tomato, cheese, lettuce and meat. 

“Given that sandwiches are a staple of the British diet as well as their significant market share in the food sector, it is important to understand the contribution from this sector to the emissions of greenhouse gases,” said Professor Adisa Azapagic, from the university’s School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Sciences.

“For example, consuming 11.5 billion sandwiches annually in the UK generates, on average, 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 eq, equivalent to the annual use of 8.6 million cars.”

About 11.5 billion sandwiches a year are eaten in the UK, according to the British Sandwich Association (BSA). Around half are pre-made at home and the remainder bought elsewhere.

This should be some food for thought next time you think about having a sandwich for lunch.

Images: Raphael Noqueira / Carly Jayne