Making zero waste sandwiches

Filed in Blog by on May 10, 2010 10 Comments
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British sandwich week

British sandwich week

It’s British Sandwich week from May 9th – 15th

Who doesn’t love a good sandwich for lunch? No longer limited to cheese and pickle, sandwiches can be as simple or elaborate as you choose.

With more and more people eating on the run, the sandwich has become a popular ‘convenience food’.

The Earl of Sandwich

The sandwich was created in 1762, when the 4th Earl of Sandwich called for his manservant to bring him some ‘cuts of beef’ between two slices of bread. The Earl’s motive was that he wanted something to eat but did not want the inconvenience of having to stop gambling!

Sandwich packaging

Each year we eat over 11.5 billion sandwiches. Unfortunately many shop bought sandwiches are sold in unmarked plastic triangular boxes. I wonder how many of these end up in the dustbin every year?

Some companies have moved to cardboard boxes and some of these have compostable plastic windows. h

More eco friendly ways to buy sandwiches on the move are to go into a sandwich bar and ask for your sandwich to be wrapped in a paper napkin – at least you can put the napkin in your compost bin afterwards.

In a bakery you’re more likely to be offered a paper bag or you could take something with you, like a stainless steel sandwich container to carry your purchase in.

Reduce clingfilm

According to Santander, however, 8 out of 10 of us have cut our outgoings during the recent recession which means one in five of us are making daily packed lunches. This is great because we can determine the amount of waste we produce. We can use paper bags, old cereal packets or old bread bags instead of clingfilm and we can find ways to reduce the waste from the fillings.

Here are some ways to make zero waste sandwich fillings


As you know, Mr Green and I take our own reusable containers to the deli. Here we can get any sort of cheese we want without packaging. The upside is we can choose exactly the amount we want, which reduces food waste AND it’s usually cheaper because we don’t have any packaging.


According to the British Sandwich Association, the number 1 favourite filling for sandwiches is chicken salad. You can take your own reusable container to al local butcher and ask them for raw or cooked chicken straight into your box – this means no plastic waste from meat.
By cooking a joint at home and cutting it up yourself, you’ll save heaps of money too.

Egg and cress

Egg boxes can be taken back to some farm shops for reuse or shredded and added to the compost heap. Failing that, offer them to a person with chickens or recycle the cardboard.

Grow your own cress at home! It’s a great way to grow a little of your own food and you could branch out into other sprouted seeds too.

Bacon, lettuce and tomato

Off to the butchers again for some bacon in your own containers. Lettuce can be bought in polythene bags which are recyclable with carrier bags in some large supermarkets. Alternatively, lettuces are one of the easiest crops to grow. You don’t even need a garden – a window box or patio pot will do. Likewise, tomatoes can be grown in a hanging basket or you can buy them loose.

Tuna and sweetcorn

Easy to do sans waste. Recycle the tuna and sweetcorn tin and reuse the glass jar from the mayo – simple!

Salmon and cucumber

What could be more British than a salmon and cucumber sandwich? Cut the crusts off if you must and mix them with seeds for the birds. Recycle the salmon tin and be sure to buy a naked cucumber.

Ham and mustard

Currently our 12th favourite choice in Britain, sliced ham can be bought in your own container from a deli or butcher. This is great beecause you can buy just the amount you need, resulting in less food waste. I used to find that packet ham went off very quickly after opening; it would start to glow greeny blue in the fridge! Buy mustard in a glass jar and Freecycle or recycle the jar after use. Alternatively buy a cute tin of colmans mustard powder and make up your own.

Outside the sandwich box

I must admit I’m a bit more exotic when it comes to sandwich fillings – avocado and sprouted seeds is good (again simple to do sans waste), hummous and salad can be made from home made hummous, dahl is delicious; it sets like pate once cold or even last nights dinner mashed into a paste – chick pea curry is especially good for this!

British sandwich week

British Sandwich Week is intended as a trade event which can be used by commercial sandwich makers to promote themselves in whatever way suits their business.
Maybe we could help guide the direction this goes by giving a shout out to local bakeries and sandwich makers who care about their packaging and responsible disposal of waste.

Fun sandwich facts

  • The record for creating the most expensive sandwich ever made is claimed by chef Tom Bridge whose Lancaster Cheese Sandwich which was sold on ebay in 2006 for £345. The creation included white Umbrian truffles at £1700 per kilo.
  • The world’s largest ‘pre-packed’ sandwich is believed to be one created by Roberts Bakery in Norwich that was 2.5 metres long. It was filled with Marmite, Princes Tuna & Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and weighed the same as 1,000 loaves.
  • Chicken remains the No. 1 most popular filling in commercially made sandwiches – we ate some 68000 tonnes of chicken in sandwiches last year.
  • Cold meat is the favourite sandwich filling in home-made sandwiches followed by hard cheese.
  • The UK sandwich industry employs more people than the UK agricultural industry.

What about you – what’s your favourite sandwich filling and is there a sandwich bar near you who deserve a mention for their zero waste policy?

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About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (10)

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  1. Carole says:

    Hi guys,
    Not been around for a long time, moved house, got married, now got a garden and am making the most of it, growing lots of veggies this year. Hopefully will be around a bit more now.


  2. I love a good chicken mayo salad or cheese and tomato

  3. Sooz says:

    I like falafel and salad, vegan sausage and ketchup or vegan pate sarnies! yum!

  4. greenlady42 says:

    favourite zero waste sandwich fillings – where do I start ! They are my favourite food. If it sits still for longer than 10 seconds I’ll put it in a sandwich.

    Leftovers is the obvious one I guess – including things that you might not necessarily think of as sandwich fillings. Hopefully most of the original food will have been zero or low waste as per packaging anyway, so using odd bits of casserole, sheperds pie, fish pie, curry, cooked sausages, potatoes, roasted veg etc in sarnies will just add to the less waste total !

    Mashed potato is actually a great base for many sandwiches, cold or hot. Helps stretch oddments of food into another filling meal or snack. Mashed spud, chutney & cress. Mashed spud, garlic mayo, tomato & sweetcorn. Cooked bacon ( or any other cold meat, including cooked sausages ) crumbled up, mash, chopped spring onion, touch of mayo. And a great toastie is mash, cheese & onion, with or without baked beans ! Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it…

    I can’t emphasise the use of fresh herbs in sandwiches enough as a zero waste addition, both for taste & looks. Easy to grow even if you have no garden or much space. All just great at stretching our or cheering up that last spoonful of something or other, to make a sandwich filling. Parsley, lovely fresh and green & iron rich, sprinkle it with luxurious abandon ! Basil, lovely with tomato based sandwiches of course, and various cheeses and meats. Chives, everyones mild mannered oniony friend. Coriander – again great with tomatoey fillings, and a lovely fresh flavour with anything spicy or citrussy ( leftover chilli & salad sammich with plenty of coriander and a spritz of lime – yum ! ) Even some of the shrubbier herbs can be used – a few crispy fried sage leaves go great with anything porky or cheesey.

    I’m going to stop now before I a) start drooling all over my keyboard b) use up all poor Mrs G’s bandwidth banging on about food 😛

  5. Mmmmm Egg mayonnaise – thank goodness we’ve got chickens 😀

  6. Karen says:
    For a bit of fun check out the sandwich art on this website

  7. Mrs Green says:

    @Carole: Carole – how lovely to see you! I hope everything has gone well for you; getting married and moving house must be 2 of the most stressful things! I hope your garden is behaving itself and you enjoy it – I know you were looking forward to having some growing space.

    @maisie dalziel: Chicken mayo salad – LMG loves that too!

    @Sooz: Falafel in sandwiches is a great one – thanks!

    @greenlady42: I agree, curry sandwiches are fabulous things and mashed potato, cress and chutney sounds amazing and basil is definitely a winner; I have a few tiny leaves growing on my first basil seeds of the year. Well that was well worth using up all the bandwith for – thank you so much!

    @karen Cannard: I bet they taste wonderful with fresh eggs, Mrs A..

    @Karen: Wow, some of those are amazing. I’m totally inspired! Thank you 🙂 The perfect excuse to ‘play with your food’

  8. Jane says:

    The ideal quick meal. Falafel and salad wrap from the market this morning for supper this evening (went out to lunch). Found a salad seller with wonderful leaves in the market too and these make all the difference to a sandwich – eg ham tomato AND rocket!

  9. Jane says:

    How about things on toast? We spend too much time thinking we need to eat cordon bleu type meals and our kids don’t have a repertoire of quick easy and healthy meals to take to university with them. (I attempted teaching some cooking skills but wasn’t anything like successful enough.)

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Sounds like a lovely meal you found there, Jane. Perfect for the warmer weather. We love things on toast too and use that a lot – you feel you’ve had something more substantial than a snack but without the slaving in a hot kitchen 😉

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