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Do Potato Chips Have a Larger Carbon Footprint Than Cement?


A recent report from the Carbon Trust notes that there are "more carbon emissions from crisps (potato chips) than cement." Although it may be a surprising bit of news at first, it conceals the greater issue of scale. Undoubtedly though, someone is certain to rail against potato chips and argue that we don't need to worry about cement production when snack foods are the bigger problem. While the Carbon Trust's statement is factually correct from one perspective, as the famous saying goes, there are "Lies, damned lies, and statistics", so let's talk about numbers a bit.

First, let's take a look at the amount of CO2 produced for each item. Producing cement releases about an equivalent amount of CO2 (producing one ton of levitra pill cement releases one ton of CO2), while producing potato chips releases about 2.3 times as much CO2 (producing one ton of potato chips releases 2.3 tons of CO2). What is key here is purchase cheap viagra that the factor of CO2 produced is in relationship to the weight of the finished product. Cement is much denser and heavier than potato chips, so a sack of cement has a much, much higher carbon footprint than an equivalent volume of potato chips.

Secondly, let's consider the annual production of each item. A figure for yearly global production of potato chips wasn't readily available, but just looking at relatively recent US consumption, roughly 3 million tons of potato chips are produced annually, yielding about 7 million tons of CO2. However, US cement production is around 100 million tons per year, yeilding about 100 million tons of CO2.

Even though cement produces less CO2 per pound, cement production is still nearly 15 times more significant to US production of CO2. Although there is more CO2 per unit of drug viagra potato chips, a lot more cement is produced, which helps make that the larger problem.

However, there's more to it than just that. Global cement production in 2000 was 1.56 billion tons. The US production is only about 6% of that total. On the other hand, the US is probably responsible for a higher percentage of total potato chip consumption, so the global figure for cement production is even more significant.

Big numbers and surprising ratios can catch our attention, but it's important to look at the overall picture. Although more CO2 per pound was released when the potato chips were made, a one pound bag of potato chips still represents less impact than an 80 pound sack of cement; the bags are far from equivalent to cheapest viagra price usa pharmacies one another.  And even though producing a pound of chips releases more CO2 than producing a pound of cement does, that doesn't make potato chips a greater environmental hazard than cement.

Thanks @MelStarrs

Image credit: CC-By-SA-2.5 by Paul Hurst

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Comments (15)Add Comment
Does the carbon intake of a potato during growth offset carbon further?
written by Joshua Mitchell, April 10, 2010
I'm not necessarily defending potatoes here, but does the buy real viagra online without prescription carbon footprint calculation include the cost of growing the potato? If so, does that also decrease by the amount of carbon a potato uses up during its growth cycle?

Cement does not have a growth cycle to use up carbon and produce oxygen. It is probably a safe generalization that food production has less of a footprint than the creation of where can i buy real levitra building materials that are not plant-based. (Except perhaps for the production of Peeps—I'm pretty sure they have little plant matter in them.)
written by Simone, April 11, 2010
There is a flaw in this argument. It does not take into account the density/efficiency of transporting the goods to their destination.

Chips are packaged in a way which is not volumetrically efficient whereas cement is (there is probably more air than solids in the typical chips packet). However chips are transported by truck to their destination. If we consider the amount of fuel burned doing this, it is cialis online usa likely that chips are possibly much worse than this article suggests.
written by Alex Charlton, April 11, 2010
One interesting point that this summary doesn't mention is that the report is comparing the chips to a product that has a carbon-neutral ingredient, the "Cemex's CEM II cement (Portland plus fly ash)". The fly ash that is added to the portland is a byproduct of coal power plants, and therefore has no real carbon footprint of its own.
written by Amy Thomson, April 11, 2010
Nice example of how statistics can be bent. Probably best to cialis online no perscription reduce consumption of both potato chips and cement. Never much cared for cement as a snack food, anyway, too gritty!
written by Carl Hage, April 11, 2010
Great article! What came to my mind was a question of the methodology. Carbon accounting for ethanol is very detailed, and peer reviewed papers come to quite different conclusions. Note, the Carbon-Trust figures supposedly include transport and disposal.

There is a goof above-- I think the units for potato are probably pounds, not tons, so potato chip emissions would be 30,000 times less significant not 15.

I followed the links and found the measurement on similar viagra potato chips (the only one in the "snacks" category). I was not able to use the database to find CO2 for cement-- good example of why database search is a poor (in this case unusable) user interface. The results also doesn't give much detail on the canada levitra online methodology or assumptions, but they supposedly use independent "experts".

What was more interesting was the link to the Pepsi page where they mention working with the Carbon Trust:

Working with Walkers since 2000, the Carbon Trust conducted an audit of lowest prices for cialis our energy use, from field to shelf. As a result of this process, we were able both to levitra cost work out our carbon footprint and to reduce our energy use per kilo by 32%.

Energy efficiency might be more important than just absolute pound-for-pound measurements. By performing these audits, companies see how to reduce emissions and cialis order 5 mg often save money as well. The 32% reduction in footprint is significant.

Rather than comparing potato chips to cement (or was it really concrete), compare products that can be substituted, e.g. potato chips vs pretzels, concrete vs steel. A CO2/kg isn't the best measure to compare, it would be CO2 per amount required for a lightpole, building wall, etc.
Numbers for the article
written by P Proefrock, April 11, 2010
The numbers I found were from a decade ago: US per capita consumption of potato chips (1997) was 21.6 pounds x 270 million = 5832 million pounds = 2.9 million tons.

Cement and concrete are not the same thing. Cement is one of the ingredients in concrete (along with water and aggregates, as well as additives which are used increasingly today). Cement is the most energy intensive part of concrete, and I was pretty certain that all the numbers I followed were for cement rather than for concrete.

I also think that having a base number of CO2 weight per unit weight of product is the best figure to have in order to do piece versus piece comparisons. That way, manufacturing efficiencies that reduce the weight of material in a finished product can more easily be compared.
Why compare?
written by Temujin Kuechle, April 11, 2010
We eat food every day, the food we eat consumes carbon directly or indirectly and it gets recycled, in a way, back into the take cialis environment.
Cement/concrete usually lasts quite a long time after it has cured/becomes hard. Transportation costs aside, they are equally significant (maybe not important or needed in all situations) to us, although there are alternatives that might be better for us in the long run.
written by ffarkle, April 12, 2010
We should definitely just eat all our potatoes raw. And everything else, too. No cooked foods ever, because of carbon. And we should just pass a law requiring that all structures - both commercial and residential - be built only of mud brick excavated from the building site itself. Just think of buying viagra in spain all the carbon we'll be leaving in place.

Anything that deviates from a pre-industrial age carbon cycle has to go, right now.

Of course, we'll all have to cheapest viagra prescription learn how to ride horses again, and weave our own flax shirts and cotton breeches. But I guess there's enough old tires laying around that we'll never have to use shoe leather again.

Taking things a bit too far maybe?
written by Louise Denny, April 12, 2010
It's unrealistic to state that we should never eat cooked food because it produces too much carbon emissions. I think it's taking things a step too far to rule out cooked food all together.

I am shocked to see the massive figures that crisps produced, but I do agree that our snack foods can't possibly be doing as much harm to the environment as building marterials are.
Snackfoods might be worse than you think.
written by MikeB, April 12, 2010
At least once the concrete has been used it stays in one place. Crisps become fat on people who then drive and fly all over continuing to burn fuel. Not to mention the waste involved in one hospital admission.
written by Knuckle Boom, April 13, 2010
Wow, I love all things potatoe but this sure helps kick that nasty habit.
written by hydrophilia, April 20, 2010
Interesting info. I wonder if the carbon in the fat and buy cialis pills starch of the chips is counted. I would hope not since it is released after digestion. That would amount to roughly a kg of CO2 per kg of chips.
written by Mina, May 17, 2010
To those who are saying that junk food might be worse because it makes people fat and allows them to be more wasteful, the same thing can be said to all foods or things that help sustain human life. Also if the idea that eating healthier does make you live long then that should also cause the problem of people being around long to waste.
Building science consultant
written by Harry, May 28, 2012
LOL you kind of messed up here. You forgot the aluminized potatoe chip bag. 75 cents worth of electricty goes in and every bag of chips. Now work out the cialis free delivery entire embodied than goes into a bag of chips - including the bag, the chips, the transport from the factory etc. Etc.
You can´t building houses with potato chips and you can´t eat cement.
written by Ben Kneppers, December 04, 2012
I am sorry but the idea behind this study is not appropriate at all and very misleading. From a life cycle assessment perspective, the ISO has international standards for these types of assessments and one of the first things you require is a common functional unit when you are comparing between two products/systems. The idea of using one tonne or one cubic meter as the functional unit in this study is pointless. You can´t build houses with potato chips and you can´t eat cement. In my opinion these two items are far too different to try and compare realistically.

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