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Chips aren’t for (carbon) free: carbon labeling hits the shelves in the UK


How do you measure the carbon footprint of a bag of crisps? A bag of what? Walkers crisps. Or in American English, Lay’s Chips.

I’m writing this from the UK where, just to make things very confusing, a bag of chips is known as a bag of crisps, and where Frito Lay sells its “crisps” under the brand name Walkers. There’s one other major difference that has interested me — and it isn’t that the salt and vinegar flavor comes in green bags over here.

Walkers have been working with a government-funded organization called The Carbon Trust to calculate the carbon emissions caused by one bag of chips. It is the first company to begin carbon-labeling as part of a pilot scheme to label products with their environmental impact.

It isn’t clear just how long or costly this process has been, but Walkers (and its parent company PepsiCo) must have learned some interesting things along the way. When the company announced the new label earlier this month, it announced at the same time that it would now be sourcing all of its potatoes from the UK in the hope of reducing these emissions.

In the UK the standard size for a bag of chips is 34.5 grams (1.2 oz). Amazingly, the calculations made by The Carbon Trust suggest that this one bag of chips is responsible for over twice its weight in emissions — 75 grams per bag.

You can read more about the process on Walkers’ carbon footprint web site. Here’s a breakdown of carbon emissions from various stages in the production process of a bag of chips:


  • Raw materials (44%): potatoes, sunflower oil and seasoning
  • Manufacture (30%): producing chips from potatoes
  • Packaging (15%): chip packets and boxes for distribution
  • Distribution (9%): transportation to retail outlets
  • Consumer packaging disposal (2%)

It appears that Walkers and The Carbon Trust have made a pretty thorough assessment of the supply chain of a pack of chips. Two other UK companies are also taking part in the pilot with the Carbon Trust; Boots plc is assessing the carbon impact of its Botanics and Ingredients hair shampoos and the smoothie company Innocent is examining the carbon footprint of its entire business.

This seems to me to be a great initiative, although the workload involved probably means that it will be a while before we see the whole supermarket labeled with carbon footprints. Walkers has managed to do this in the UK. Can we expect its sister company Frito Lay to do the same in the US?

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