Carbon Footprint of Sandwiches

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Is being a meat-loving environmentalist an oxymoron? For many people, being mindful of their carbon footprints means simply eliminating meat entirely from their diets; however, in order to be truly cognizant of the environmental impact behind their meals, people must gain a more thorough understanding of energy use before the food arrives on the plate. In the scientific research article, “Understanding the impact on climate change of convenience food: Carbon footprint of sandwiches”, Namy Espinoza-Orias and Adisa Azapagic, perform life-cycle assessments of both commercial and homemade sandwiches. With that data, the authors then evaluate the extent of improvement through modifications to the production process and recipes.

The study is crucial to the field of environmental science since sandwiches are “ubiquitous food items” and therefore contribute significantly to consumers’ carbon footprint (Espinoza-Orias 1). By reporting the sandwiches’ environmental impact along with their nutritional values, the study intends to educate consumers about the impact of their dietary choices and assist them in making more informed food choices (Espinoza-Orias 2). This study regarding the carbon footprint of sandwiches is unprecedented, though the authors utilize previously established methods to calculate the data. The research successfully compiles a set of environmental impact data from 40 different sandwich recipes, a breakdown of the carbon footprint from sandwich production, and effects of modifications on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

For the study, the authors analyzed 24 different kinds of commercial ready-made sandwiches and 16 types of homemade sandwiches to record their compositions and collect empirical data of nutrition values. Following previously established regulations 14040/44:2006 by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and PAS 2050:2011 by British Standards Institution (BSI), the study estimates the carbon footprint of total 40 sandwich recipes (Espinoza-Orias 2). The researchers then analyzed the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions that were contributed during sandwich production. Based on this information, the authors perform a sensitivity analysis to examine each parameter’s influence on the overall carbon footprint.

The areas of research all demand quantified data; thus, the authors do not explicitly express their expectations and there is no clear hypothesis prior to the research’s completion. The cultivation of plants and rearing of animals are similar for both types of sandwiches; however, commercial-made sandwiches require more preparations and stricter refrigeration condition to ensure freshness before arriving at the retail store. The protocols for hygienic standards require more energy use and inevitably lead to waste products before the prepared sandwiches reach the consumers.

Homemade sandwiches, on the contrary, only require raw materials to be transported to retail stores and there is less food waste from customers who prepare and consume sandwiches at their own disposal (Espinoza-Orias 4,5). Typical plastic and cardboard packaging for ready-made sandwiches in the UK, the models of which are assumed in this study so that the researchers could calculate the number of sandwiches stored in each refrigerated storage cabinet and the amount of energy used in the transportation of each product (Espinoza-Orias 6,7). The carbon footprints of four sandwiches: pork, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian. For each sandwich in each category, the vertical bars indicate its total carbon footprint and its breakdown to clarify the contribution from ingredient production, preparation, retail, packaging, transport, and waste management (Espinoza-Orias 7,8).

The carbon footprint of different homemade ham and cheese sandwiches in a similar style as that in the bar graphs for the premade sandwiches (Espinoza-Orias 9). Sandwich masses against carbon footprints and energy content; however, there is no direct relationship between these three parameters (Espinoza-Orias 9,10). Overall, the study successful fulfills the authors’ goals with quantitative results. The rank of sandwiches by their carbon footprints shows that homemade sandwiches have a significantly lower average impact than the commercial equivalent with the same ingredients (Espinoza-Orias 10). The agricultural production and processing of ingredients are the biggest contributors to environmental impact among others such as packaging materials and waste management (Espinoza-Orias 10-12).

Sandwiches are regarded as a high-risk food product that requires a cold chain, which further adds to the amount of greenhouse gases produced (Espinoza-Orias 4,5). In their research into carbon footprint reduction through modifications, the study finds that variation in cultivation practices and changes in recipes have significant influences, whereas excluding certain ingredients, reducing the amount of food waste in the supply chain, and having better sandwich packaging have moderate effects (Espinoza-Orias 12).

Overall, combining all improvement options could reduce the carbon footprint of commercial sandwiches by up to 50% (Espinoza-Orias 14). The authors acknowledge that while potential alterations to sandwich recipes and improvement in productions could curb greenhouse gas emissions by half, this feat is easier said than done. Condiments such as mayonnaise play significant roles in not only consumers’ expectations in taste, but also in automated assembly lines where they have practical purpose as carriers (Espinoza-Orias 12). Therefore, eliminating mayonnaise in sandwiches would decrease the carbon footprint of sandwiches at the expense of consumer satisfaction and production efficiency.

Similarly, reducing the amount of ingredients may have unintended consequences in the form of a consumer “rebound effect”, where customers consume more products in compensation of smaller portion of ingredients (Espinoza-Orias 12). The authors imply that further studies are required to find an ideal set of changes to sandwiches that reduces carbon footprints while continuing to satisfy consumer demands and not disrupt commercial production. The study shows us an environmentally sustainable menu does not necessarily mean devoid of animal products. Such an approach may contribute to temporary improvement, but lead to unintended consequences such as rebound effects.

To decrease carbon footprint from food consumption, one must become more aware of diet and makes series of adjustments including purchasing produce from natural unheated or waste-heated greenhouses, moderately reducing the serving portion, buying raw materials to prepare food instead of pre-made products. By becoming more conscious of daily food choices, one will contribute much more to reducing carbon footprints while enjoying a hamburger once in a while.

Cite this paper

Carbon Footprint of Sandwiches. (2022, Mar 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/carbon-footprint-of-sandwiches/



Does bread have a high carbon footprint?
Bread has a relatively low carbon footprint. The main inputs are water, flour, and yeast, all of which have very low carbon footprints.
What food has the highest carbon footprint?
Foods with the highest carbon footprints are typically those that require the most energy and resources to produce. This includes foods like beef and lamb, which have high methane emissions, as well as foods that are transported long distances or require a lot of water to grow.
What is the environmental impact of sandwiches?
The environmental impact of sandwiches is twofold. First, the production of bread and other sandwich ingredients requires a significant amount of energy and water. Second, sandwiches generate a lot of solid waste, including packaging, which can end up in landfills.
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