Environmental life cycle assessment of Italian mozzarella cheese: Hotspots and improvement opportunities

J Dairy Sci. 2017 Oct;100(10):7933-7952. doi: 10.3168/jds.2016-12396. Epub 2017 Aug 2.


The present study investigated a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment to estimate the environmental impacts associated with Italian mozzarella cheese consumption. The differences between mozzarella produced from raw milk and mozzarella produced from curd were studied, and differences in manufacturing processes have been emphasized in order to provide guidance for targeted improvements at this phase. Specifically, the third-largest Italian mozzarella producer was surveyed to collect site-specific manufacturing data. The Ecoinvent v3.2 database was used for secondary data, whereas SimaPro 8.1 was the modeling software. The inventory included inputs from farm activities to end of life disposal of wasted mozzarella and packaging. Additionally, plant-specific information was used to assign major inputs, such as electricity, natural gas, packaging, and chemicals to specific products; however, where disaggregated information was not provided, milk solids allocation was applied. Notably, loss of milk solids was accounted during the manufacture, moreover mozzarella waste and transport were considered during distribution, retail, and consumption phases. Feed production and animal emissions were the main drivers of raw milk production. Electricity and natural gas usage, packaging (cardboard and plastic), transport, wastewater treatment, and refrigerant loss affected the emissions from a farm gate-to-dairy plant gate perspective. Post-dairy plant gate effects were mainly determined by electricity usage for storage of mozzarella, transport of mozzarella, and waste treatment. The average emissions were 6.66 kg of CO2 equivalents and 45.1 MJ of cumulative energy demand/kg of consumed mozzarella produced directly from raw milk, whereas mozzarella from purchased curd had larger emissions than mozzarella from raw milk due to added transport of curd from specialty manufacturing plants, as well as electricity usage from additional processes at the mozzarella plant that are required to process the curd into mozzarella. Normalization points to ecotoxicity as the impact category most significantly influenced by mozzarella consumption. From a farm gate-to-grave perspective, ecotoxicity and freshwater and marine eutrophication are the first and second largest contributors of mozzarella consumption to average European effects, respectively. To increase environmental sustainability, an improvement of efficiency for energy and packaging usage and transport activities is recommended in the post-farm gate mozzarella supply chain.

Keywords: carbon footprint; climate change; dairy industry; energy use.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cheese*
  • Dairying / methods*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Environment*
  • Eutrophication*
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Food Packaging
  • Italy
  • Milk
  • Software