What's the carbon footprint of cheese?

Cheese is a staple in the diets of many Brits. Let's explore the carbon footprint of cheese and how you can enjoy cheese as part of a sustainable diet.

Carbon Footprint of Cheese

 

Cheddar cheese (100g) produces 740g CO₂e*

4% more than ricotta producing 710g COe  

13% more than mozzarella producing 644g COe  

63% more than vegan cheese producing 272g COe  

*CO₂e means carbon dioxide equivalent and measures total greenhouse gases


 

 
 
 
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You’ll find cheddar cheese in almost every British person’s fridge. Whether you like a classic cheese & pickle sandwich or to make cheesy beans on toast, cheddar cheese comes with a carbon footprint which impacts the planet.

Where does cheddar cheese come from?
 

Cheddar cheese has been produced since the 1100s, originating from Somerset in the UK.

 

The process of making cheddar cheese is fairly simple. It involves the cheesemakers adding rennet, an enzyme mixture from a calf, to cow's milk. This causes the milk to curdle and then separate into solid curds and liquid whey.

 

Roughly 70% of all the cheddar cheese consumed in the UK is produced in the UK, with the remaining 30% predominantly imported from Ireland.

 

Other types of cheese are also imported from other European countries such as Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Italy.

what's the carbon footprint of cheese

Greenhouse gas emissions from cheese production

Cheddar cheese production, processing, packaging, and transportation all affect the products overall carbon footprint. We consider the carbon footprint of these stages using life cycle assessments.

 

  • When it comes to production, we need to take it back a step - milk comes from dairy cows, and these cows need a lot of food. The feed comes with its own carbon footprint, and this needs to be considered in the overall total. Adding to the carbon footprint - cows also emit a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas which has an even higher global-warming impact than carbon dioxide, which again further adds to the carbon footprint.

  • Compared to the other types of cheese, cheddar has a high carbon footprint because it takes a lot of milk to produce a pound of cheese — 10 kilograms of milk, on average, go into producing a kilogram of hard cheese.

  • Hard cheese also involves a lot of processing. Once the cheese curd has been formed, it needs to be cooked and then stored at a constant temperature, which in modern commercial food processing unit requires a lot of energy. 

  • Almost all cheese is then packaged up - mainly in plastic, and this also has an impact on the carbon footprint.

  • As the cheddar cheese found in UK shops, is mainly produced internally the transportation emissions are much lower than other products, produced abroad. However, the transportation still requires fuel and energy to keep the product at a safe temperature, adding to the carbon footprint.  

 

Are there other ways cheddar cheese impacts the environment?

Dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. Poor handling of manure and fertilisers can degrade local water resources. And unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can cause ecologically diverse areas, like grasslands, wetlands, and forests, to be destroyed. 

Tips for choosing sustainable cheese

Certified organic cheeses are made in more sustainable ways, including more humane conditions for the animals and reduced harmful effects on the environment. Research has proven that due to cows having a natural pasture-fed diet, cheese made from organic milk is much higher in nutritional value.

Sustainable recipes and swaps for cheese

 

Cheese is one of the products that people struggle to give up or cut down on, but the good news is that you can still eat cheese and care for the planet.

 

There are so many plant-based cheese brands out there creating wonderful alternatives to dairy-based cheeses. Many are made from almonds, cashews, coconut oil and tofu with a tangy dose of nutritional yeast.

Here are some more ideas for choosing more sustainable cheese.

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