The life cycle of bread

Bread is a staple food in our culture. The majority eats it nearly every day. But how much do we know about our beloved bread? Where does it comes from? And especially where does it go, if not eaten? Can we recycle old bread and if so, how?
Do you know the answers? If not, join us on our way to find out the answers.
life cycle of bread

Click on a term to scroll to the appropriate section.
Grain cultivation From grain to flower Bread production End of life Tischlein deck dich waste animal food consumption fuel Grey Energy


Grain cultivation

In Switzerland; new grain varieties are continuously being bred to combine as many positive characteristics of different types as possible (=In der Schweiz werden kontinuierlich neue Getreidesorten gezüchtet, bei denen versucht wird, möglichst viele positive Eigenschaften mehrerer Sorten zu kombinieren). This is necessary for optimizing the grinding and baking characteristics. The better the quality of the grain, the better the bread. [1]

Grain belongs to the family of grasses. Originally wild grown, the use of this grass was discovered by people many years ago. They began to plant and selected them systematically and developped them into the grains of today.

It needs ten to fifteen years to create a new grain type. The most important goals of a new type are:

  • Resistance to diseases and environmental influences
  • Great grinding and baking characteristics
  • Further agronomic characteristics for profitability and increase (for example the length of the stalks or density of roots)
  • Different organisations follow up with the quality of the grain and give advice on how to plant it to the farmers. In grain collection sites the grain gets categorized into four quality classes: Top, 1, 2 and 3.

The soil has to have optimal conditions for grain cultivation. So it gets ploughed and harrowed. Fertilizing the ground provides the necessary nutrients. Between the sowing and the harvest ten months pass. [1] Getreideanbau (

We also want to add that grain cultivation is very energy consuming. Monocultures, the high consumption of fertilizers and toxic additions, which are used in many cultivation areas, have a very bad influence on the environment. If you are interested in this topic, please click on the following link to get more information about the negative influence of monocultures on the local environment:

grain – Getreide
cultivation – Anbau
grain varieties or grain type- Getreidesorte
stalk – Stengel
density of roots – Wurzeldichte
ploughed – gepflügt
fertilizing – Dünger

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From grain to flour

The grain is transported by lorry, tractor or by rail to the grain mills. Because of the high demands on cleanliness, the grain is carefully cleaned before grinding and exempt from foreign bodies.

In the production of white flour, the cereal grain must be separated from the rest of the body. For easier separation it is moistened. This is followed by a rest period of up to 36 hours.

Nowadays, the grinding usually takes place in automated milling machines. The prepared cereal is crushed between two rolls until the particles have reached the desired size.

The flour is stored in silos until it is packed in bags and delivered to the customers. [2] Verarbeitung (

grain mills – Getreidemühle
grinding – mahlen
flour – Mehl
moistened – befeuchtet

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Bread Production

Bread dough
For the classic bread dough you need flour, water, cooking salt, baker’s yeast or sourdough. For special breads you need some more ingredients, e.g. nuts, fruits and a lot more. Then the dough can be kneaded by hand or with a kneading machine. You have to observe the dough carefully. After kneading you leave it to rise, then split it, shape it into a loaf, merge it again and then bake it.

In the bakery all ingredients are put in a big bowl and mixed and kneaded. The baker supervises the temperature and the texture and he takes it out of the bowl after this process.

During the rest period the yeast ferments sugars and produces CO2. This can take several hours. After that you can split the dough into portions you like. Before baking the dough rests once more and maybe will be cut.

The bread can be baked in many different ovens, they can vary between factories. Besides electricity there’s also oil, gas or wood as heat source used. [3] Brotherstellung (

baker’s yeast – Hefe
ingredients- Zutaten
kneading- Kneten
kneading machine – Knetmaschine
to ferment- gären
loaf – Laib
rise- aufgehen lassen
supervise – überwachen

Kneading by hand
Kneading machine

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Bread as a fuel

In Germany a baker had a genial idea. Because old bread, which he so far gave away, has a high value of fuel oil, he thought; that he could use old bread for heating.

At the beginning it wasn’t so easy, because the law didn’t recognise bread as an energy source. So he had a very long way to get permission to heat his oven with bread. But now he can use it for heating twelve ovens. And as a genius he also uses the residual heat for warm water, space heating and the dishwasher.

Today the blower is fired up to 30% with old bread, the rest comes from wood pellets. That’s because bread does not burn below 850°C and there is not so much old bread left at the end of a day.

By realising his big idea, he reduced half of his costs. Don’t forget that his new energy system costs about 1.1 million euros 😯 .

In our opinion, he had a fantastic idea which “has to become national”. There is so much old bread out there which could be better used than landing in the waste. [4] Altes Brot als Brennstoff (

residual heat – Restwärme

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Animal Food

The old bread, which we don’t eat anymore, has a high energy- and protein content. This is why it is an excellent animal food. Certainly it also has many additives and a high salinity, therefore animals should not eat too much old bread. Because of the high humidity bread gets moldy very fast. So bread has to be stored well.

The use of old bread is different for every animal. We found a survey which compares rabbits’ development when eating different food for a few days. Even though there are a lot of good results, there are also some bad ones. For example the rabbits consume less dry matter and therefore grow more slowly (=Die Kaninchen nehmen weniger Trockenmasse auf und wachsen auch weniger schnell). [5]

It is very difficult to find out how this is regulated, because every country has its own rules and these are not easy to find out.

admixtures, additives – Zusatzstoffe
salinity – Salzgehalt
humidity – Feuchtigkeitsgehalt
get moldy- schimmeln
dry weight – Trockenmasse

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Most of the time bread is thrown into the garbage carelessly. In this case, it ends up in the combustion of a waste incinerator, e.g. KEZO in Hinwil. There the waste is burnt. This can result in the following energies: [6]

Electricity from waste is partly “green electricity”. The power generation helps to win back the energy, which is converted during combustion.

District heating
With the produced heat, you can heat industrial facilities and living quarters.

Waste heat
When waste is burned, much energy gets lost. However, this waste heat can be used for the heating of nearby greenhouses (see long-distance heating).

waste incineration, combustion – Müllverbrennung

KEZO Hinwil

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Tischlein deck dich

Bread which cannot be sold anymore in supermarkets, because it has been baked the day before, is collected together with other food by “Tischlein deck dich”. This is an organisation which distributes food at over 100 places of delivery. With ist engagement the organisation can help 15’800 People weekly. At the places of delivery the needy can get food for one franc as a solidarity contribution. Poor people accept this support thankfully.

Our visit to the place of delivery in Hinwil:

Each Tuesday afternoon the church Chrischona in Hinwil gets changed into a place of delivery. At 14.45 a lorry brings the collected food from Winterthur. None of the voluntary helpers know before that moment what will be delivered. At our visit 40 kg of bread were delivered which sounded to us as being much. On the other hand, the place in Hinwil counts around 160 recipients. That would only be 250 g for each person.

At that time, the volunteers formed the tables to a U-form and put up cooling bags. Before the food got unloaded, it got controlled. The voluntary helpers were extremely organised. Within a very short time the whole food was distributed on the different tables. As a next step it was decided how much food everybody could get, so that everyone could get some of everything.

In the meantime the waiting room filled up and the recipient cards were collected. The distribution takes place with a random principle. The cards were pulled out from a box. Each recipient was taken around by a voluntary helper. Each recipient thanked the helpers at the end. We had not expected this gratitude. At the end, when all got their portion, the rest of the food got distributed so that nothing must be thrown away. At 16.30 the whole food was distributed and it was time to clean up.

We would like to thank the Tischlein deck dich organisation and particularly Franz Guggisberg for the huge helpfulness and the openness.

place of delivery – Ausgabestelle
recipient card – Empfängerkarte
random principle – Zufallsprinzip

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The end of life of bread should be by eating, because bread is intended to be eaten and not to be wasted. Unfortunately, many people throw bread away, when it’s a bit older. However, you can cook a tasty meal with hard and old bread. We’ve tried it out and the result was delicious.

The dish we’ve cooked is called “Fotzelschnitte“. It’s a popular and quickly prepared meal and the best is that you have usually all ingredients at home anyway.

For four people you need:

  • 2 dl milk
  • 8 slices of old bread
  • 3 eggs
  • butter
  • sugar and cinnamon



Click on the following links to discover other tasty meals with old bread, maybe you can cook one of them this weekend?

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Calculation of grey energy

Unfortunately it’s too time-consuming and complex to make a calculation of the energy, which is used to produce a bread. A reason for this difficulty is that it depends on where the grain is coming from. It is a huge difference if it comes from Switzerland or America. In addition, it is difficult to estimate how much energy is needed for fertilizers or for transporting the grain to mills and from there to the bakeries and from the bakeries to the stores. Also there are big differences between a little bakery and a big one (like JOWA). A big one needs less energy to produce one bread than a little one, because they have to produce a bigger amount and in addition save energy (bigger machines save energy compared to handicraft in little bakeries).

But otherwise the energy of the finished bread is easy to calculate:
100 g of bread contains 1000 kJ (= 0.278 kWh). To put it into a relationship; With this amount you can do one machine of laundry.

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Now, our trip is over. We have learned much about our beloved bread. Our group was very surprised, that grain cultivation needs so much energy and can have such a bad influence on the local environment. Furthermore, we are very excited that we are able to recycle bread in many different ways. However, there is a huge potential and we can even improve our recycling system. For example, by donating more bread to Tischlein deck dich or by using old bread for cooking instead of throwing it away.

We thank you for joining us on our trip in the life cycle of bread. Hopefully, you have learnt much about the life cycle of bread. Now you can test your knowledge in the following crossword, if you don’t know an answer, you can read the article again, you’ll find all answers in the text.

We hope, that we were able to sensitize your behaviour in connection with bread. We fervently believe, that if we are aware of the big amount of energy which is needed for producing bread and, in addition, if each one of us stops scrapping old bread and would try to recycle it (cook a delicious meal with old bread, feed ducks or bring it to the nearby farmer for the cows and pigs) we could be role models for others and maybe other people will join us and contribute to the reduction of bread waste.


[1] Getreideanbau (
[2] Verarbeitung (
[3] Brotherstellung (
[6] Kehrichtverwertung Zürcher Oberland (

Header picture:

Sarah Kirov, Marina Zlöbl & Ronja Wirz

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9 thoughts on “The life cycle of bread

  1. The article is very well-written, interesting and informative. All the “stages” of bread are mentioned and they present a lot of good ideas regarding what to do with leftover/old bread. We like that they also participated in an event from “tischlein deck dich” and tried out a recipe with old bread, it made the article a lot more interesting. They also included a lot of pictures and a vocabulary, which made it easier to understand the text. Lastly, all of their (or at least a lot of their) sources are indicated.

    We think the article is a little long, and that they could have left out some details. Also, they wrote about bread being used as animal food and we think they could have maybe mentioned that bread is very bad for ducks – since a lot of people believe that it is good for them.

    All in all, the article is great. The only things we would maybe adjust are the length of the article (shorten it a little) and the part about animal food (ducks), but these are only small suggestions.

  2. Ich wusste gar nicht, dass altes Brot so vielfältig verwendet werden kann?! Schön, dass ihr auch das Hilfswerk \”Tischlein deck dich\” besucht habt und ein Rezept ausprobiert habt.

  3. Mir gefällt die Idee mit dem Lebenszyklus des total alltäglichen Brotes. Ich habe mich noch nie so eingehend mit diesem Thema befasst, obwohl ich Brot fast täglich esse.
    Liebe Grüsse und danke euch!

  4. Dear Team Bread
    I have to admit, that I scrap my old bread sometimes. But after reading your post I will try to use my old bread more often than before and maybe cook Fotzelschnitte as well.

  5. Dear Bread Team
    Thank you for your interesting contribution! I was able to learn some new information and know better about the life cycle of bread. I especially like that you have added a recipe about Fotzelschnitten. I love to eat Fotzelschnitten with apple sauce. A small critipoint I still have and I would have better translated the translation of the individual words behind the respective word in brackets.

    Greets Isabella (cardboard packaging team)

  6. Dear Team Bread
    I think your contribution is very informative and interesting. I specially liked the part of the \”Tischlein deck dich\” as I didn\’t know it existed. Also the recipe for the \”Fotzelschnitze\” is a great idea to use old bread.
    You mentioned in your text that it needs ten to fifteen years to create a new grain type. Do you know how new grain types are created? I checked the internet but couldn\’t find anything about the creaton.
    Often old bread is used to feed sheep, pigs and other animals. It might be interesting to learn some more about that.

  7. Dear Team w2w27

    Your contribution is extremly interesting and informative. We didn\’t knew anything about the \”Tischlein deck dich\” before and we\’re very impressed.

    Thank you! Greetings, Mara and Gillian

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