Chances are when you bite into a big, juicy burger, you’re thinking about how tasty it is and how juicy it is, not how much energy went into making it. Almost any time we consume energy, whether it’s to power a car, turn on a light bulb, or cook a hamburger, carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. We don’t think about the amount of electricity or fuel that is used to cook the burger, the amount of gas or diesel used to transport all of the ingredients, or even the amount of water that goes into making a burger.
Burgers are one of the go-to foods for many people. The average person eats between 50 and 150 burgers per year, and that adds up to a lot of carbon. Let’s look at the hamburger footprint from beginning to end to find out just how much carbon emissions go into making one of our favorite dishes.
Starting out, the beef comes from cattle. Food is needed for the cattle to grow and fertilizer is needed to help the food grow. Much of the fertilizer to make the food comes from the cows themselves. Each year, a cow produces about 242.5 lbs. of methane from manure. Methane is 23 times worse than carbon as a greenhouse gas. The average life of a cow raised for meat is about two years. That’s 485 lbs. of methane per cow raised for beef. This is equal to roughly 11,155 lbs. of carbon emissions. The average cow has enough meat to produce about 2,000 quarter pound burgers. That’s about 5.32 lbs. of methane per burger.
There is electricity used to separate the meat and store it in freezers, and fuel is used to transport and cook it. As far as transportation goes, assuming the transports use diesel fuel, it takes between 350-800 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per burger to get it from farm to store. When cooking it, gas powered cooking consumes between 416-1340 grams of CO2, and coal powered cooking (for electric ranges) takes between 676-2200 grams of CO2. That puts the CO2 emissions for transporting and cooking between 766-3000 grams.
Taking the low number of burgers consumed by the average American, 300,000,000 Americans eating 50 burgers per year, with each burger causing about 9.48 lbs. of emissions, that comes out to 142,200,000,000 lbs. or 71,100,000 tons of CO2 each year – a whopper of number!
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