Fast food lamb curries have carbon footprint of 140 million car miles

( -- Supermarket lamb curry ready-made meals eaten in the UK amount to an annual carbon footprint equivalent to 5,500 car trips around the world or 140 million car miles.

The figures were calculated using a new carbon footprinting tool known as CCaLC developed by researchers at The University of Manchester.

The estimates - calculated to illustrate the tool- are based on the figure of 30% of adults in the UK who eat ready-made meals at least once a week. Curry is one of the nation’s favourites, accounting for up to 10% of ready-made sales.

The academics in the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science found that the meal generates the equivalent of 4.3 kg of per person.

The meal’s ingredients are responsible for 65% of the , with lamb contributing half of the total. Meal manufacture contributes on average 14% and packaging 4% of the total carbon footprint.

The contribution of transport is small at 2%. However, storage at the retailer contributes 16%.

The research was carried out as part of the Carbon Calculations over the Life Cycle of Industrial Activities (CCaLC) project at The University of Manchester.

The £1 million project is led by Adisa Azapagic, Professor of Sustainable Chemical Engineering at The University of Manchester and funded by organisations including the Engineering and Physical Research Council, and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Previous work by the same research group showed that, surprisingly, the Christmas turkey meal prepared at home is a greener offering, coming in at only 2.5kg carbon dioxide emissions per person.

One of the reasons for this, they say, is that preparing food at home can in some cases reduce the carbon footprint.

“The same lamb curry prepared at home has a 20% lower carbon footprint, mainly because of the elimination of the stage at retailer needed for the ready-made meals,” said Professor Azapagic.

In addition to food products, the CCaLC carbon footprinting tool can be used for estimation of carbon footprints of other products, including packaging, biofuels and various chemicals.

A chemical sector version of the tool for estimating the carbon footprints of PVC products is available for free at

The PVC CCaLC tool will be launched tomorrow (18 May) in London, where the team demonstrate it on a number of case studies to show its uses and benefits.

Professor Azapagic said: “Measuring carbon footprints of industrial and other human activities is a first step towards a better understanding of our impacts on climate change. Because, what can be measured, can be managed.

“But, the devil is in the detail - measuring carbon footprints is not a trivial task. Industrial and human activities are notoriously complex, so capturing that complexity is a challenge.

“It is particularly so if we expect businesses - and consumers - to make everyday decisions based on the estimations of carbon footprints of their activities.

“And yet, this should be the ultimate aim as only then can we hope to make a real contribution towards mitigating the effects of climate change.

“We have considered all stages in estimating the carbon emissions - including long-distance transportation for imported food and short distances related to food shopping.

"Food production and processing are responsible for up to three quarters of the total carbon footprint for most food products - so this sector is an important part of our work.”

Explore further

Scientists should look at their own carbon footprint

Citation: Fast food lamb curries have carbon footprint of 140 million car miles (2010, May 17) retrieved 23 August 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 18, 2010
This research is utterly meaningless without comparative study of the whole range of ready-made meals and caned foods on the market. And I wonder at the choice of choosing fast food lamb curry. Racism and prejudice against tradition western diet perhaps?

May 18, 2010
Concerning the rise of carbon dioxide, assigned to farming of poor countries, often neglected point is, many animals are able to collect proteins from life environment more efficiently, then the agricultural plants by using of solar radiation, because they can consume even the plants growing in wild, which people cannot. Which is the reason, why people in rain forests, deserts or arctic areas are feeded by meat preferably - the farming of moose is apparently more economical - and therefore ecological(!) - there, then the growing of plants.

May 18, 2010
For example, for production of rice 2552 m3 of water/ ton rice is required, whereas for production of one ton of poultry 3809 m3 of water is required.


Therefore the consumption of meat may sound like ineffective waste of water for someone - but the content of proteins in rice is ten times lower, then in meat! This explains, why people from deserts in Chad or Mongolia are living from pasturage, instead of agriculture. I even suspect, farming is more ecological then the agriculture as a whole, providing it doesn't use another agricultural products (which usually does). Methane released by cows or lambs on pastures is negligible with compare to amount of methane, released by annual decomposition of plants without these animals during common rotting at the end of vegetation period.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more