Breakfast Cereals: environmental and social impacts

Breakfast Cereals: environmental and social impacts


The environmental impact of breakfast cereals is determined by the impact of the ingredients used - including cereal crops such as wheat, corn and rice, as well as the other ingredients such as cocoa, sugar and palm oil. The primary cereal crops can contribute to 30-85% of breakfast cereals’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The secondary ingredients also have a negative impact in terms of land use change and loss of biodiversity. When it comes to the water footprint of breakfast cereals, for Kellogg’s for instance, 90% of it stems from the ingredients, as irrigating rice paddies is water intensive. On a consumer level, consuming breakfast cereals with dairy milk increases the total water, carbon and energy footprint of cereals.

The manufacturing and processing of ingredients, can contribute up to 50% of GHG emissions due to energy requirements. Packaging is also an environmental issue for breakfast cereals. For instance, 15% of Kellogg’s GHG emissions come from its packaging which also has a large negative impact on freshwater and marine toxicity. Although alternative packaging, such as sustainably sourced cardboard, is a feasible option for breakfast cereal products.

Finally, in terms of food waste in the consumption phase, WRAP found that 75,000 tonnes of breakfast cereals are wasted in UK homes annually.


Breakfast cereals, including porridge and muesli, contribute to more than 50% of the breakfast intake for the UK population. Depending on the product, these can have a high percentage of micronutrients compared to other meals, meaning that these can increase the nutritional profile of diets. For instance, the NHS notes that breakfast cereals containing wholegrains have vitamin B and fibre which helps keep digestive systems healthy. On the other hand, cereals which have high sugar, fat and salt content are more concerning as they negatively impact dental health. They can also lead to obesity, and related health issues such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. An article in the journal Nature has illustrated that most breakfast cereals sold in the UK contained high sugar levels with misleading claims that their products were healthier than they actually are. Considering nine out of ten children in the UK between the ages of seven and ten regularly consume cereals for breakfast, these misleading claims are particularly worrisome.