Environmental Impacts of Plant Meat and Dairy
Potential to curb the environmental burdens of American beef consumption using a novel plant-based beef substitute (2017)
- Here we use life cycle assessment to appraise the environmental performance of a novel vegetal protein source in the mean US diet where it replaces ground beef, and in vegetarian and vegan diets where it substitutes for legumes, tofu and other protein sources.
- We find that relative to the mean US diet, vegetarian and vegan diets significantly reduce per-capita food-borne greenhouse gas emission (32% and 67%, respectively), blue water use (70% and 75%, respectively) and land occupation (70% and 79%, respectively), primarily in the form of rangeland. The substitution of 10%, 25% and 50% of ground beef with plant-based burger (PBB) at the national scale results in substantial reductions in annual US dietary greenhouse gas emissions (4.55–45.42 Mt CO2 equivalents), water consumption (1.30–12.00 km3) and land occupation (22300–190100 km2).
- Despite PBB’s elevated environmental pressures compared to other vegetal protein sources, we demonstrate that minimal risk exists for the disservices of PBB substitution in non-meat diets to outweigh the benefits of ground-beef substitution in the omnivorous American diet. Demand for plant-based oils in PBB production has the potential to increase land use pressures in biodiversity hotspots, though these could be obviated through responsible land stewardship. Although the apparent environmental benefits of the PBB are contingent on actual uptake of the product, this study demonstrates the potential for non-traditional protein substitutes to play a role in a transition towards more sustainable consumption regimes in the US and potentially abroad.
BEYOND MEAT'S BEYOND BURGER LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT: A DETAILED COMPARISON BETWEEN A PLANT-BASED AND AN ANIMAL-BASED PROTEIN SOURCE (2017)
- Based on a comparative assessment of the current Beyond Burger production system with the 2017 beef LCA by Thoma et al, the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, has >99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a ¼ pound of U.S. beef.
- Production of the dominant ingredients – pea protein, canola oil, coconut oil – represent important contributions to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE), energy use and land use. Packaging also is an important contributor across all impact categories: the polypropylene tray is the largest contributor to packaging’s share of GHGE, energy use, and water use, whereas fiber production for cardboard and pallets make notable contributions to land use. We estimate that switching to a polypropylene tray made of 100% postconsumer recycled content could reduce the overall GHGE of the BB life cycle by 2% and reduce energy use by 10%.