Is Vegan Cheese Better Than Dairy Cheese For The Environment

vegan cheese better for the environment

Which cheese is better for the environment? In this article we look at whether vegan cheese is better for the environment than dairy cheese and if so, by how much.

Table of contents

Which cheese is better for the environment? In this article we look at whether vegan cheese is better for the environment than dairy cheese and if so, by how much.

In this article we will look mostly at emissions, known as co2e. This represents many different greenhouse gases and we will look at the equivalent co2 numbers, such as methane and make it easier to understand as its a common unit for animal agriculture, plant based foods and transportation. 

This means we can compare them against each other and even look at other areas and industries to see where vegan, non-vegan and animal foods place in the grand scheme of environmental issues and climate change.

Before we delve too deep in to this subject, lets have a look at this graph which is based off of a study of 40,000 farms from around the world and visually represents the most common foods and their greenhouse gas emissions for production and everything that comes after, such as transportation and processing.

is cheese bad for the environment

This image provided by shows that cheese is actually the third worst food for the climate out of the top 20 most eaten foods worldwide. You can actually see that nuts and tofu, which are common vegan cheese ingredients have a far smaller greenhouse gas emissions compared to dairy cheese.

Actually, this graph shows that dairy cheese is over 5x worse for the environment than nuts and tofu which are common ingredients in vegan cheese.

Where did this data come from? The following study which was made by Oxford University and covered over 40,000 farms…

"Specifically, plant-based diets reduce food’s emissions by up to 73% depending where you live. This reduction is not just in greenhouse gas emissions, but also acidifying and eutrophying emissions which degrade terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. "

But let's look deeper, as it mentions not only emissions, but eutrophication and other issues caused by animal agriculture all have a part to play in the environment.


Ocean Dead Zones and Unhealthy Rivers and Waterways

If we forget about cow burps and farts for a moment, there are other issues which are caused by animal agriculture.

One of them being ocean dead zones, which are created by a lack of oxygen in a water body. This is also referred to as eutrophication in many studies and reports where bodies of water have algae blooms.

When these blooms die and the algae has fed off the high nitrogen and phosphorous count, the decomposition uses oxygen and takes it, literally sucks it out of that part of the water, from the surface to the sea bed.

The leading cause of this is animal agriculture and runoff from farms. At the time of writing there are about 23 ocean dead zones around the UK according to the oxygen ocean network…


Diffuse Water Pollution in Wales… has this to say:

"The Afon Cain, a tributary of the upper River Severn drains 78 square kilometres. The dominant land-use is agriculture (beef and sheep), with small areas of commercial and privately owned forestry. Monitoring evidence suggested that the Cain valley water-bodies would not achieve WFD Good Ecological Status due to organic and nutrient pollution, primarily sourced from agriculture"

"There are over 8 million sheep and 0.5 million cattle in Wales. They produce significant amounts of waste that, through their grazing habits and soil compaction, can directly impact upon the environment. Despite past support from Government and the farming sector for the provision of guidance for farmers, the uptake of this advice has been variable. As a result livestock management has been identified as a major reason for Water Framework Directive failures."

The Unseen Thread To Water Quality…

"Farming can be a significant source of diffuse pollution. Inorganic fertiliser use is significantly higher than 50 years ago and has contributed to elevated levels of nutrients in water. Run-off from agricultural land depletes oxygen in the water if animal manure or silage effluent are present"

"the spreading of animal manures to land can increase nutrient levels in water. Run-off from agricultural land depletes oxygen in the water if animal manure is present."

Water Pollution From Animal Agriculture

"Organic matter from animal excreta, uneaten animal feed, animal-processing industries and mismanaged crop residues are all significant water pollutants. Livestock-related wastes have among the highest biological oxygen demand (BOD)."

Other reading:

Impact of Animal Waste Application on Runoff Water Quality in Field Experimental Plots


Land Use

According the largest ever study done on farms across the world, if everyone went vegan, we would use 76% less land to create the same amount of food and that means no animal runoff and far less pesticides entering our waterways and rivers.

And most importantly, all of this space that could be saved from not eating animals any more, or at least the vast majority of it could be re-wilded.

And instead of releasing co2, forests and new wildlife can sequester co2 and store it away in new wild spaces, completely reversing what is happening at the moment.

One of the biggest issues is that the vast majority of crops are actually grown for animals as animal feed, including oats, soya, palm amongst others. 

36% of all crops grown around the world are actually fed to the animals according to this study and 77% of our total land use is used for just animals.

This shows how little land is actually needed to feed everyone and how small of an impact plants have on waterways and oceans and land use. Imagine if we just rewilded these areas and what that would do for all the rivers, fresh water and seas.

Land use also means questioning monocultures and biodiversity, which animal agriculture is the leading cause of biodversity loss. and… look further in to these issues.


Co2e and Other Greenhouse Gases

In this study, cheese makes up 8% of all greenhouses gases across the entire food network…;

This study was done on many different cheese types and concluded that the process to create cheese was as intensive as beef farming.

According to the Oxford study, dairy milk and cheese produces about 15-25kg of Co2eq per kg of cheese/dairy milk

Whilst nuts and tofu create between 2-4kg of Co2eq per kg. That is at best, 4x as bad for the environment to create dairy milk and cheese than it is to use the ingredients used in vegan cheeses, which are nuts and soya.

With some nut trees actually being carbon negative, which means that they absorb more carbon dioxide than they release through the creation of a food product such as vegan cheese.

There is usually a lot of hate for nuts being bad for water use, but they often forget to mention that they can be carbon negative and only have issues with water use in specific areas of the world.

For instance, here in the UK, we get most of our nuts from mainland Europe and the nuts grown there use far less water than those grown in say California, United States because they only use rainfall rather than having to be manually watered. Which brings issues with where the water is coming from.


Breakdown of Dairy Cheese Vs Vegan Cheese

There are plenty of resources, reports and studies showing the climate issues with dairy milk and the base ingredients of vegan cheese, coconut and nuts.

There is very little in the way of full detailed reports and studies showing specifically dairy cheeses and vegan cheeses, so we can look in to the main ingredients of each type, which is dairy milk and nuts.

If we are to look directly at dairy cheese, it comes up as the third worst food for the environment after lamb and beef and this is because it takes litres of milk to create a small amount of cheese.

In this article it looks directly at the process and environmental impact of cheese on the planet… and it is quite damning.

Goat and Sheep Cheese

It doesn't get any better for soft cheese either, this study suggesting that goats and sheep cheese is just as bad for the environment as cheese made with milk from cows…

"What about the species? Generally speaking, sheep cheese is going to be worse for the planet than cow or goat varieties. Researchers from MTT Agrifood Research Finland, writing for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat in 2008, estimated that greenhouse gas emissions per unit of cheese would be roughly the same for cows and goats. (Cattle emit much more methane but make up for it with their increased milk yields.) A sheep, however, might emit twice the amount of methane as a cow or a goat, per unit of milk produced."

Dairy Milks Climate Impact

1 glass (200ml) per serving over an entire year your consumption of dairy milk is contributing 131kg to your annual greenhouse gas emissions. That's the equivalent of driving a regular petrol car 334 miles (538km). the same as heating the average UK home for 20 days. Your consumption of dairy milk also uses 26,133 litres of water, equal to 402 showers lasting eight minutes and 372m² land, equal to the space of 1 tennis court.

Nuts Climate Impact

Over an entire year your consumption of nuts is contributing 2kg to your annual greenhouse gas emissions. That's the equivalent of driving a regular petrol car 7 miles (12km). OR the same as heating the average UK home for 0.5 days.Your consumption of nuts also uses 27,803 litres of water, equal to 427 showers lasting eight minutes.

The table compares a 3-5 days worth of 200ml serving of milk and 3-5 days worth of 200g of nuts.

  Dairy Milk Nuts
Co2e Emissions 131kg 2kg
Driving equivalance 334miles 7 miles
Heating home 20 days 0.5 days
Water use 402 showers 427 showers

When comparing them side by side, it is quite obvious how much worse overall for the environment dairy milk is compared to that of nuts. This is a very generic comparison and is directly comparing dairy milk to nuts, there are some cheeses made of goats and sheeps milk which will have a different impact on the environment and some vegan cheeses aren't made of nuts and may have an even smaller impact on the environment.

The above figures are taken from where you can compare the climate impact of many different foods, animal and plant based.

They in turn take their data from the largest study of farms and food ever, including over 40,000 farms worldwide and their environmental impact, this was done by Oxford University…


Water Use

According to the Oxford study on over 40,000 farms, 26,133 litres of water, equal to 402 showers lasting eight minutes would be required to create a 200ml glass of milk that would be drunk 3-5 times a week.

Where nuts falls down, in terms of water use, it uses a similar if not slightly more amount of water than dairy milk. Usually nuts are grown in warmer climates, we can grow different nut types here in the UK where we have plenty of water but intensive nut farming is usually done in more arid and dry parts of the world where they have more sun and less water, so that water usage becomes more vital to the local area.

The good thing is that water use is nearly as bad as dairy milk, but everything else far exceeds that of dairy cheese in terms of climate issues.

Another positive is that a lot of cheeses are also made of soya and none coconut oil ingredients which all have an even smaller impact on the climate than that of nuts and dairy cheese.



Looking in to different areas and issues within climate change it is hard to find any support and evidence that dairy cheese is better for the environment than vegan cheese.

There are many studies showing issues with Co2e, eutrophication, land use in which plants always seem to do better for the environment and have less of a detrimental affect on the earth. 


Baby Calves and Animal Deaths

Disregarding the environment, the overall issue with dairy cheese is that of the dairy industry and animal deaths.

Going vegan is to stop animal cruelty as best to our ability. This means that if you choose a vegan cheese over a dairy cheese, you are saying no and standing up to the horrible cruelty which is forced on to mother cows and calves.

After all, a cow needs to have been pregnant to be milked, and we can't use that milk if the baby calf is using it. We will leave this link here to showcase the atrocities of dairy farming.

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