Breakfast of champions: an LCA example of the English versus the continental breakfast

What is the environmental impact of your breakfast? We performed an LCA study comparing the English and continental breakfast.

In this article, we explain our life cycle assessment example of your breakfast. As case study in this example LCA, we compared two different types of breakfast. On one side of the channel there is the popular continental breakfast. And on the other side, on this beautiful and wet island, people enjoy sausages and tea with their English breakfast. Our team at Hedgehog Company became curious about the differences, in breakfast then, and performed a comparable LCA study.

Download the full LCA report below.

The environmental impact of coffee versus tea

First part of the job is comparing coffee and tea on their environmental impact. We compared a 200 ml cup of coffee and 7 grams of roasted coffee to a cup of tea of 200 ml water and 2 grams of dried tea. Raw materials, production, and transport are considered in this analysis. Kitchen processes, like boiling water, are included as well.

The impact of both our cup of coffee and cup of tea is calculated with an LCA study. The environmental impact of both is expressed in sixteen impact categories. These categories are calculated by making use of the Environmental Footprint (EF) method. This methodology is developed for the Product Environmental Footprint of the European Union (the PEF). The PEF is developed to replace all the different LCA methodologies. It will become the future standard within the EU.

The EU developed this method to overcome confusion around the correct impact assessment method and harmonize the LCA methodologies. This is done in order to assess the environmental impact of products. In addition, the EF tackles the lack of uniform calculation rules for specific product groups.

The LCA shows that the environmental impact of tea is much lower than that of coffee, see figure 1. The impact on Climate change is 0.017 kg CO2-eq. per cup of tea. While it is 0.071 kg CO2-eq. for coffee. Thus, the LCA shows that the impact on climate change is a factor 4 higher for a cup of coffee.

Only for two impact categories the impact of tea is higher: water use and land use. The water used for tea production and transport is around 180 litres, while coffee uses 110 litres of water. Although your preferred hot beverage contains only 200 ml, the total water used is much more. Coffee and tea plants use a lot of irrigation water to grow and produce beans and leaves.

Figure 1: Normalised, environmental impact of coffee and tea

An environmental comparison between an English and a continental breakfast

A cup of coffee or tea naturally tastes a lot better with a nice breakfast. We wondered what the environmental impact would be of one full breakfast. That’s why we decided to compare a traditional full English breakfast with a continental breakfast by conducting an LCA study. The recipe for a traditional English breakfast in our study is: 

English breakfast recipe

This recipe is compared with a Continental breakfast, known as the breakfast buffet you’d often find at hotels. This breakfast does not have a fixed recipe. That’s why we assume the most common ingredients and the same caloric value as the English breakfast. The ingredients are picked in a manner that both recipes contain around 800 kcal. That means you would get the same amount of energy from either breakfast. This way the comparison is as fair as possible, despite the different ingredients.

Continental breakfast recipe

Not only raw materials, production, and transport are considered. We also incorporate the preparation of the ingredients in the kitchen. This could be gas used by the furnace, electricity for the kettle, oven, etc.

Figure 2: LCA results on our environmental impact of continental and English breakfast

The environmental impact of your breakfast

On most categories, the English breakfast has a higher environmental impact. It represents a carbon footprint of 2.30 kg CO2-eq while a Continental breakfast emits 1.40 kg CO2-eq. In the categories water use and land use, the Continental breakfast is more intensive. This is mostly caused by the apple in our breakfast. Fruit is, after meat, the most intensive food group for land - and water use. A lot of water is needed for the production of wheat for the bagel as well.

We get a better understanding of which ingredients contribute most to the environmental impact when we take a closer look. For the English breakfast, the sausage, and black pudding have the biggest share in multiple impact categories. Meat products have a relatively high impact. The RIVM (Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) confirms this as well (de Valk et al., 2016, p.10).

The high environmental impact of animal products is caused by the large amounts of feed an animal eats to produce products like meat and dairy. Feed is made from soy, which needs land to be cultivated. A lot of deforestation is caused by the cultivation of soy (Milieu Centraal, n.d.). 

On top of this, manure is needed in order to produce agricultural products, which again emits laughing gas (N2O), phosphate, methane and ammonia. When animals digest their feed, more methane is released. This largely explains why the impact of an English breakfast is higher than that of a continental breakfast. 

For the continental breakfast, the biggest contributors turn out to be the bagel and the yogurt. Yogurt is also an animal product. The environmental impact of dairy is also higher than for example fruit and vegetables.

Figure 3: Contribution per PEF impact category for each English breakfast component. The total impact per category is always 100%.
Figure 4: Contribution per PEF impact category for each continental breakfast component. The total impact per category is always 100%.

How to (still) enjoy your Sunday breakfast

Would you like to eat an English breakfast, but limit the impact on our planet? By replacing meat products with alternatives like tofu, vegetarian minced meat, or vegetarian burgers you can prevent 65% of the carbon emissions. These carbon emissions contribute to global warming. Especially in the production phase of these ingredients, you can prevent environmental impact. 

When we split the impact in production, transport and kitchen processes, it becomes indeed apparent that the production phase has a huge contribution to the total impact. By eating meat alternatives, a big share of this impact is prevented.

Figure 5: Impact of production, transport, and kitchen processes for the continental breakfast

Figure 5 shows that the kitchen processes play a big part in several impact categories as well. Gas and electricity have a large impact because they use fossil resources. By cutting out natural gas from the preparation steps, you can prevent a part of the impact. An induction stove uses electricity and eliminates the use of gas. Or, even better: An induction stove (and other kitchen appliances) powered by a ‘green’ electricity mix.

By replacing a gas stove with an induction stove and green electricity you can prevent 58% of the impact in ‘Resource use, fossils’. It results in a big difference in other impact categories as well. You can save 30% of the carbon emissions of an English breakfast, or 40% of a Continental breakfast. 

All in all, the most environmentally friendly option is to prepare a Continental breakfast with an induction hob and green electricity.

REFERENCES AND LINKS

[1] de Valk, E., Hollander, A., & Zijp, M. (2016). Milieubelasting van de voedselconsumptie in Nederland. 10. https://www.rivm.nl/bibliotheek/rapporten/2016-0074.pdf

[2] Milieu Centraal. (n.d.). Vlees en de impact op het klimaat. Milieu Centraal. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from https://www.milieucentraal.nl/eten-en-drinken/milieubewust-eten/vlees/

Download the full life cycle assessment report on the comparison between English and continental breakfast
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Zoë
Zoë
Sustainability Expert

Zoë is a born sustainability queen. With her background in bio-based innovation, she’s mostly analysing the life cycles of products and materials in this field. Zoë loves far travels and good food, of course flying on bio-based fuels…

‘My ambition? To be a driving and supportive force in adopting bio-based materials replacing non-renewable materials.’

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