The British meal deal is an institution.

It’s high stakes stuff. An unimaginative ham and cheese sandwich can only be rescued by a lavish crisp selection. An alternative drink choice can go with most combinations — many think Tropicana Orange is the new black. But there’s no hope for you if you’re what Meal Deal Talks (the experts) describe as a FBA (Fruit Bag Advocate).

Choices, choices, choices. Perhaps your decision would be easier if you knew the carbon footprint of your sandwich?

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Researchers at the University of Manchester have revealed that the “all-day breakfast” sandwich — featuring the classics of egg, bacon and sausage — is the worst for greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it’s as bad as driving a car for 12 miles.

The report looked at the carbon footprint of 40 commercial and homemade sandwiches, considering the production of ingredients, packaging, refrigeration, and food waste. It found that the impact of homemade sandwiches was two-thirds lower than those you can find in the shops — with reductions of up to 50% possible with some shrewd kitchen skills.

Keeping food chilled can add a quarter onto their greenhouse gas emissions, too, while transport and refrigeration were also common culprits.

Sandwiches with pork meat, cheese, and prawns were found to have consistently high carbon footprints. Meanwhile, the most environmentally friendly sandwich was also the most popular — a classic homemade ham and cheese, though it depends on the recipe.

Britain consumes 11.5 billion sandwiches a year, according to the British Sandwich Association. If you laid them all out, it would cover the whole planet 44 times — and we spend £8 billion annually, the equivalent to 36,500 brand new Ferraris.

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

That’s a lot of sandwiches — and a lot of carbon dioxide contributing to global warming.

But there are ways to address the problem: making sandwiches at home, removing ingredients like pork with a higher carbon footprint, cutting out food waste, and reducing anything that adds unnecessary calories. Reducing calories means reducing carbon — and leads to healthier lifestyles.

“We need to change the labelling of food to increase the use-by date as these are usually quite conservative,” Professor Azapagic added. “Commercial sandwiches undergo rigorous shelf-life testing and are normally safe for consumption beyond the use-by date stated on the label.”

Global Citizen advocates for prawn cocktail crisps as a mainstay of every meal deal combo — but we also campaign on the Global Goals, including Goal No. 13 for climate action. Take action with us here.


Defend the Planet

This British Sandwich Is the Worst for the Environment

By James Hitchings-Hales