A UK study has bad news for people who love a bacon, egg, and cheese

By Tim Nelson
Updated February 13, 2018
Breakfast sandwich
Credit: Photo by Cathy Scola via Getty Images

Just as scientists have come to realize that pretty much everything causes cancer, the contributing factors to climate change our turning out to be broader than we might have imagined. One of the latest such scientific discoveries suggests that our beloved breakfast sandwiches might be curing our hangovers, but harming the planet.

The revelation comes from a recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Manchester, and its findings are about as depressing as the musical output of area native and surly vegan Morrissey. They concluded that the 11.5 billion sandwiches that the British Sandwich Association (a real organization) says the country consumes each year generates 9.5 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent output of 8.6 million cars.

As if that revelation wasn’t already hard to swallow, the team has especially bad news for fans of the breakfast sandwich. In their analysis of 40 different sandwich combinations (considering factors like homemade vs pre-packaged, what ingredients were included and how they were produced, food waste generated, etc.), the bacon egg and sausage sandwich was the greatest generator of greenhouse gas. Making just one has the same environmental impact as twelve miles of driving. In general, the production and processing of ingredients was responsible for anywhere between 37 and 67 percent of all greenhouse gas associated with a given sandwich.

Despite the gloomy news, there were some useful learnings that could help us reduce our collective culinary carbon footprint. The homemade ham and cheese was the ‘greenest’ sandwich the Manchester team studied, and homemade options generated less emissions than prepackaged alternatives in general. This can be traced to the fact that store-bought options tend to generate excess food waste, use unnecessary packaging, and require more energy to keep cool in shops and supermarkets than your ingredients at home.

To that end, study co-author and sustainable chemistry professor Adisa Azapagic also proposed systemic changes to cut down on food waste, suggesting companies “change the labelling of food to increase the use-by date as these are usually quite conservative. Commercial sandwiches undergo rigorous shelf-life testing and are normally safe for consumption beyond the use-by date stated on the label.” Such a measure, Azapagic estimated, could ultimately reduce annual food waste by about 4.4 million pounds.

It might suck to start your day with a sense of guilt the next time you order that meaty breakfast sandwich. But just know that by making one at home (or skipping it entirely), you’re playing some small part in saving the planet. That certainly should feel (almost) as good as bacon tastes.