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Activity – Find the Footprint of Your Favorite Snacks!


In this activity, you’ll think about the amount of energy and resources needed to make your favorite snack food and get it to you fresh, delicious, and undamaged.

What is your favorite snack? Select one to start:

  • Cookies
  • Granola bar
  • Bag of chips
  • Chilled soft drink
  • Beef jerky
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Freshly popped popcorn
  • Fresh apple
  • Mini-carrots and dip
  • Fruit drink
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Ice cream
  • Other: ______________


Find out how “earth-friendly” your snack is by answering the following questions. You may have to do some research! The more points a snack earns, the larger its carbon footprint …  and the worse it is for the environment.


If “yes,” add these points

Energy and Ingredient Use

Is the snack in a package that can be washed and reused?

+ 1

Energy and materials to make, water and soap to wash and reuse

Is the snack in a package that is disposable?

+ 5

Energy and materials needed to make it, collect it as trash, and take it to the landfill

Is the snack in a package that is recyclable?

+ 3 

Medium to Large
Energy and materials to needed to make, collect, and recycle the material 

If the package can be recycled, do you throw it in the trash instead?

+ 2

Medium to Large
A recyclable package that does not get recycled has the same footprint as a disposable package

Is the snack in a package that is compostable?

+ 1

Some energy and materials to make the package, and a small amount of energy to compost it

Is the snack or ingredients shipped to you by truck or train?

+ 3

Energy costs for transportation

Is the snack or ingredients shipped to you by plane or boat?

+ 5

Energy costs for transportation

Is the snack or ingredients made in a factory?

+ 4

Medium to Large
Energy is needed to run production and packaging factories

Is the snack or ingredients made at home?

+ 2

Small to Medium
Energy for light, heat, and refrigeration at home, plus ingredients to make the snack

Does a farmer grow the snack or ingredients on a farm?

+ 2

Small to Medium
Farmers use water and energy to grow food

Did you grow the snack or ingredients in your garden?

+ 1

You still need water, seeds, and some energy

Is water part of the snack?

+ 1

Small, but not zero
Tap water is purified and distributed, which uses some energy

Does the snack need to be kept cold as it travels from the factory to the store, and in your home?


Refrigeration requires electrical energy

Are there other energy or ingredient costs  for your snack?


Small to Large
Meat or cheese snacks require much more energy to produce than vegetables




What do you observe?

Repeat the exercise above for a few more snacks. Which snacks have the smallest footprint? Which snacks have the biggest footprint?

Download and print this worksheet to record your observations.

How does it work?

Reducing our environmental footprint is important. But it’s about more than just making cleaner factories or more efficient cars. It also has to do with the personal choices we make. The snacks we choose (and the packaging they come in) make a difference. The amount of energy used to make, transport, and dispose of the snack also makes a difference. Even though the choices we make are small, the combined effect of all of us making good choices is huge!

Susan Hershberger, Ph.D. is Director of the Center for Chemistry Education at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.