Revealed: the environmental cost of pre-packaged lunches

The UK workforce consumes a lot of plastic wrapped food. The impacts might surprise you...

Full-time workers in the UK spend more than £1,500 per year on their lunches, but a new study shows that is far from the only cost.


Research conducted by eco-minded Digital ID has discovered that workers’ pre-packaged lunches and hot drinks are creating more than half a million tonnes of CO2e every year. To put that into perspective, that’s around the same annual CO2 output of around 100,000 cars.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest net contributors were found to be large metropolitan areas including London, Birmingham and Glasgow.

The study also found that nearly half of working Brits (46%) are still using single-use plastic cups, which itself produces 91,728 tonnes of CO2e emissions every single year.

TEDxAmsterdam Award finalist Peter Smith with his plastic planet

So, with all this in mind, is it time to reconsider that convenient meal deal and afternoon latte?

It might seem like a small token gesture in the big scheme of things, but making modest changes like this can really play a part in helping the environment in the longer term – and that’s something Digital ID knows about very well.

Take their lanyards as an example. They are a ubiquitous part of office life these days, but the lanyards supplied are now made exclusively from recycled plastic bottles (rPET). It’s a seemingly small move, but one that is set to keep one million plastic bottles out of landfill in 2020 alone. The production process also uses less CO2 than lanyards made out of virgin polyester material.

Digital ID’s James Kelly said: “As a company that’s determined to offer the most sustainable product options to our customers, we’re aware how a change in purchasing habits can have a positive effect on the environment.

“Just like lanyards, pre-packaged lunches and single-use coffee cups are a generic sight in the typical workplace. We thought it was time to investigate the collective impact the working lunch has on the environment. It’s illuminating to see how simply using refillable cups and bringing your own lunch to work can really help reduce CO2 emissions.”