Your Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwiches Have a Hefty Carbon Footprint

iStock
iStock

Most people know that eating meat, especially red meat—say, hamburgers—is bad for the environment. Raising enough methane-farting, resource-intensive cows to satisfy our cravings for burgers and steaks produces an outsized carbon footprint that plays a significant role in climate change. But what about your breakfast egg-and-cheese? A new study says you should feel guilty about that, too.

Recent findings reported in the journal Sustainable Production and Consumption examine the carbon footprint of 40 different kinds of sandwiches—from the simple ham and cheese to tuna, BLTs, and breakfast sandwiches—both homemade and pre-packaged. Researchers from the University of Manchester calculated the carbon necessary to produce standard recipes, including the agriculture required for the ingredients, the manufacturing of the packaging materials, the refrigeration required to keep the sandwiches cold, and the waste generated. They sourced their estimates from previous studies on the carbon footprint of producing and transporting ingredients like bread, ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and canned tuna as well as the energy cost of manufacturing packaging, transporting materials, and taking waste to the landfill.

They found that of all the sandwiches, those that combined pork (or prawns, because prawn and mayonnaise sandwiches are apparently a popular thing) and cheese are the most carbon-intensive. A bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich clocked in as the most environmentally taxing sandwich of them all, with a carbon footprint of 1441 grams CO2 equivalent—a measurement of the global warming potential—per sandwich. (The diet of the average meat-eater in the UK produces about 7200 grams CO2 equivalent daily. For comparison, if you drive your car four miles, it emits about 1650 grams CO2, roughly.)

Chicken and tuna sandwiches were slightly less carbon-intensive, but vegetarian sandwiches didn't fare as well as you might think—depending on how much and what type of cheese was involved, they could have carbon footprints as high as some of the meat sandwiches.

The researchers suggest that some improvements to the way sandwiches are produced and sold might decrease their carbon footprint by as much as 50 percent. Reducing the amount of meat, eggs, and cheese used, excluding tomato, lettuce, or mayo, reducing packaging, and other changes could all contribute to shrinking a sandwich's carbon footprint. Unfortunately, here's a limit to how much a sandwich's environmental impact can be reduced. You can't really have a BLT without the B, L, or T.

But if you're making it instead of buying it, you're saving a lot of emissions. As you might expect given the environmental cost of packaging, ready-made commercial sandwiches had a much bigger carbon footprint than their homemade counterparts containing the same ingredients—2.2 times larger, in fact.

Just another reason to feel guilty about not bringing your own lunch from home.

The World's First Human Composting Facility Is Coming to Seattle

Simotion/iStock via Getty Images
Simotion/iStock via Getty Images

The state of Washington will soon be home to the world’s first human composting facility, reports IFL Science.

The facility is a project of Recompose, a Seattle-based company founded by architect Katrina Spade. When it opens in 2021, Recompose will offer $5500 services that turn a human body into one cubic yard of soil over the course of 30 days. Families of the deceased can take as much soil as they like—any remainder goes to sustaining conservation land in the Puget Sound region.

Recompose is one of several organizations working to provide more eco-friendly after-death options. Critics charge that more conventional choices, like embalming and cremation, have their share of issues. The formaldehyde used in embalming is carcinogenic, and Spade estimates that the combined formaldehyde found in all U.S. cemeteries could fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools. Plus, traditional burials take up land that’s quickly becoming scarce in urban areas. Cremation isn’t much better, environmentally speaking—a single cremation requires about the same amount of energy that an individual would use over a month, and it produces harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

“For every person that chooses to be recomposed instead of cremated or buried, it will save just over a metric ton of carbon, which is pretty significant,” Spade told CityLab in January.

Recompose was made possible by a first-in-the-nation Washington state bill, signed in May, legalizing the practice of the “natural organic reduction” of human remains. Now all that’s left is for Recompose to become a legally licensed funeral home (required before it can start taking people’s payments).

“I think in general, death is a really personal thing,” Spade told CityLab. “And people experience death of a loved one in so many ways. So our goal with recomposition is just to add more choice when it comes to death of a loved one, so that it’s still really personal.”

[h/t IFL Science]

Why Thousands of 'Penis Fish' Washed Up on a California Beach

Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0
Kate Montana, iNaturalist // CC BY-NC 4.0

Nature works in mysterious ways. The latest example materialized at Drakes Beach near San Francisco, California, in early December, when visitors strolling along the shore stumbled upon what looked to be the discarded inventory of an adult novelty shop. In fact, it was thousands of Urechis caupo, a marine worm that bears more than a passing resemblance to a human penis.

The engorged pink invertebrate, which is typically 10 inches in length, is native to the Pacific coast and frequently goes by the less salacious name of “fat innkeeper worm.” Burrowing in sand, the worm produces mucus from its front end to ensnare plankton and other snacks, then pumps water to create a vacuum where the food is directed into their tunnel. Since it builds up a small nest of discarded food, other creatures like crabs will stop by to feed, hence the “innkeeper” label.

You can see the worm in "action" here:

Because the worms enjoy a reclusive life in their burrows, it’s unusual to see thousands stranded on the beach. It’s likely that a strong storm broke up the intertidal sand, decimating their homes and leaving them exposed. The event is likely to thrill otters, as they enjoy dining on the worm. So do humans: Penis fish are served both raw and cooked in Korea and China.

[h/t Live Science]

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