Carbon Footprint Sources

If you’ve ever tried to find the carbon footprint of something, you probably know just how difficult it can be. The information is all over the place. You can find articles and studies about the carbon footprint of the same activity or product with huge variations in their findings. For example, this source says 1 kg of beef has a carbon footprint of 221 kg CO2e, while this one says it has a carbon footprint of 60 kg CO2e. The difference between those figures is the equivalent of burning 18 gallons of gas.

carbon footprint

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Why is Carbon Footprint So Difficult to Measure?

A lot of this discrepancy has to do with the fact that there seems to be no standard way to calculate the carbon footprint of a product. Do you just calculate the carbon footprint of how it was manufactured? Or do you add in the carbon footprint of using or consuming it? What about the carbon footprint of disposal? It’s often up to the consumer to decide how to use a product and how to dispose of it (recycled versus thrown in a landfill). As a result, that can lead to different carbon footprint measurements. Likewise, there can be a different footprint if it was shipped directly to the consumer or if the consumer bought it from the manufacturer. Also, there’s the matter of whether or not the consumer purchased the product locally.

Purpose of This Page

All of these things introduce a lot of variables, so I can see why it would be difficult to have a standard carbon footprint measurement. Nonetheless, it’s still important to have an idea of the relative carbon footprint of different products or activities. It may seem inconsequential to choose between a chicken taco and a beef taco, but it could mean a 10x difference in the carbon footprint of your meal. That’s why I’m gathering a list of every activity and product’s carbon footprint that I come across during my research. In the beginning this list will be small, but it will continue to grow as I look into more and more things. I’ll probably have multiple entries for the same thing too. If one study or article shows one number and another study shows a different one, I’ll publish both.

A Quick Word About Math

I know, nobody wants to hear about math, but bear with me. If I have to do any math to derive another number, I’ll show my work. If I find a source saying the carbon footprint of 2 items is 100 kg CO2e, and I want to find the carbon footprint of one of those items, I’ll just divide it by 2 to get 50 kg CO2e. The math will sometimes be more complicated than this, but I’ll explain it. The information here is always going to be from other websites, and I will cite my sources. I don’t have the equipment, team, knowledge, or honestly the willpower to do any of these studies myself.

Standard Unit of Measurement for Carbon Footprint

Kg CO2e is the measurement used on all of these carbon footprint values. That is, kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent. The reason it’s not just carbon dioxide, but carbon dioxide equivalent is because some products and activities produce greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. There are lots of greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride and more. Each of these can be compared to carbon dioxide. Methane is 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Therefore, 1 kg of methane has a carbon footprint of 25 kg CO2e.

One more quick example. If 1 kg carbon dioxide, 1 kg methane, and 1 kg nitrous oxide were all released into the atmosphere, that would be the equivalent of releasing 324 kg carbon dioxide. Therefore it has a carbon footprint of 324 kg CO2e. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide is 298 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So 1 + 25 + 298 = 324.

How to Read the Table Below

See the bottom of the page for notes because they are only referenced by number in the table. On mobile, you may have to swipe to the right on the table to scroll to the notes.

List of Carbon Footprints

Activity / ItemCarbon Footprint (kg CO2e)SourceNotes
Alcohol
1 pint of locally brewed beer at the brewery0.3theguardian.com
1 pint of local beer0.5theguardian.com
1 pint ofimported beer0.9theguardian.com
bottle of champagne2springer.com
Food
average restaurant meal8zerofoodprint.org
average home-cooked meal2.18greenrisks.blogspot.com1
can of whipped cream4.35greenlivingdetective.com2
1 kg beef221 insideclimatenews.org8
1 kg beef60visualcapitalist.com
1 kg lamb or mutton24visualcapitalist.com
1 kg cheese21visualcapitalist.com
1 kg chocolate19visualcapitalist.com
1 kg coffee17visualcapitalist.com
1 kg farmed prawns12visualcapitalist.com
1 kg palm oil8visualcapitalist.com
1 kg pork7visualcapitalist.com
1 kg poultry6visualcapitalist.com
1 kg olive oil6visualcapitalist.com
1 kg farmed fish5visualcapitalist.com
1 kg eggs4.5visualcapitalist.com
1 kg rice4visualcapitalist.com
1 kg wild fish3visualcapitalist.com
1 kg milk3visualcapitalist.com
1 kg cane sugar3visualcapitalist.com
1 kg ground nuts2.5visualcapitalist.com
1 kg wheat and rye1.4visualcapitalist.com
1 kg tomatoes1.4visualcapitalist.com
1 kg corn1visualcapitalist.com
1 kg cassava1visualcapitalist.com
1 kg soymilk0.9visualcapitalist.com
1 kg peas0.9visualcapitalist.com
1 kg bananas0.7visualcapitalist.com
1 kg root vegetables0.4visualcapitalist.com
1 kg apples0.4visualcapitalist.com
1 kg citrus fruit0.3visualcapitalist.com
1 kg nuts0.3visualcapitalist.com
1 kg peppermint1.6thelifeimpact.com
1 kg coconut oil2.1ethicalconsumer.org
1 kg oats0.31thelifeimpact.com
1 cup oats0.0279traditionaloven.com13
Household
100 ml tube of toothpaste0.43sciencedirect.com9
1 kg baking soda1.69acs.org
1 liter of water0.000298theguardian.com
15 ml peppermint essential oil0.73youngliving.com10
Load of laundry (86 F, line dried)0.6theguardian.com
Load of laundry (104 F, line dried)0.7theguardian.com
Load of laundry (104 F, tumble dried)2.4theguardian.com
Load of laundry (140 F, tumble dried)3.3theguardian.com
Bottle of shampoo0.6shrinkthatfootprint.com12
Clothes
jeans33.4ecotricity.co.uk
running shoes14ecotricity.co.uk
cotton t-shirt15ecotricity.co.uk
polyamide/polyester jacket18ecotricity.co.uk
underwear1.9ecotricity.co.uk
Sports
playing a round of golf18.19cleanfi.fi3
Transportation
driving a mile in a typical car0.411epa.gov
burning a gallon of gasoline8.887epa.gov4
burning a paraffin candle for an hour0.1csmonitor.com
air conditioning per day (averaged throughout a year)4.7energyusecalculator.com5
Evapolar for a day (averaged throughout a year)0.01evapolar.com6
Energy
1 kWh electricity0.449eia.gov7
Technology
spam email0.0003bbc.com
regular email0.004bbc.com
email with a large attachment0.05bbc.com
typical business user emails in a year135bbc.com
text message0.000014bbc.com
tweet0.0002bbc.com
laptop350dell.com
smartphone80getorchard.com
quick shipping online shopping1.8semanticscholar.org
slow shipping online shopping1.4semanticscholar.org
in-store shopping1.6semanticscholar.org
Greenhouse Gases
1 kg methane25climatechangeconnection.org
1 kg nitrous oxide298climatechangeconnection.org
Industrial
1 kg plastic6stopplastics.ca
1 kg 50% hydrogen peroxide1.14winnipeg.ca
1 kg calcium carbonate0.08267omya.com11

Notes

  1. Divided the average restaurant by 3.67 based on the source listed.
  2. Divided number from the source by 2 to get the value for 1 can.
  3. See the first chart on page 5.
  4. See the prior page of the source.
  5. I got the energy usage from this source and used that to calculate the carbon footprint by multiplying it by 0.449 (which is the carbon footprint of 1 kWh electricity, which is also cited in this table). The calculation was 10.5*0.449 = 4.7
  6. I got the energy usage from this source and used that to calculate the carbon footprint by multiplying it by 0.449 (which is the carbon footprint of 1 kWh electricity, which is also cited in this table). The calculation was 0.0075*3*0.449 = X. That is 7.5 W = 0.0075 kWh, times 3 hours per day = 0.0225 kWh, times 0.449 kg CO2e per kWh electricity.
  7. Converted 0.99 pounds CO2e to 0.449 kg CO2e.
  8. This is very different from the carbon footprint for 1 kg of beef that I found from another source, but I thought it was worth showing to illustrate just how difficult it is to get a good estimate.
  9. See table 4 in this article.
  10. Used this source to get the amount of peppermint needed to create 15 ml of peppermint essential oil (it’s 1 pound). I used the 1 kg of peppermint figure (earlier in the table) to calculate the carbon footprint of the essential oil. 1 pound peppermint = 0.453592 kg peppermint. 1.6 kg CO2e / kg peppermint * 0.453592 kg peppermint ≃ 0.73 kg CO2e
  11. See section “Carbon Footprint & Calcium Carbonate”
  12. If you go to the source for this figure, you’ll see that they cite the figure 16.6 kg CO2e as the carbon footprint of a bottle of shampoo, but this includes the footprint of the shower too. In fact, the shower is over 90% of that footprint. Since I just wanted to know the footprint of the bottle itself, I went with the 0.6 kg figure given later on in the article.
  13. Converted this from the 1 kg oats figure above using this converter from kg to cups.