Eco-efficiency in the production chain of Dutch semi-hard cheese
To achieve a sustainable cheese production chain, not only its ecological impact must be minimized, but economic value must be added along the chain also. The objectives of this study were to gain insight into ecological hotspots of the cheese chain, and to judge the ecological impact of chain stages in the context of their economic value added. A life cycle assessment (LCA) was performed to determine hotspots for global warming potential (GWP), land use and fossil energy use during production of Dutch, semi-hard cheese. To place ecological impact in an economic perspective, eco-efficiency of chain stages was determined, which was defined as the ratio of gross value added, and ecological impact. LCA and economic computations were based on empirical data from a specific Dutch cheese chain.
Production of 1 kg cheese resulted in a GWP of 8.5 kg CO2-eq., and required 6.8 m2 land and 47.2 MJ energy. Of all stages, on-farm milk production contributed most to GWP (65%), and to land use (58%), followed by cultivation of concentrate ingredients (12% to GWP and 24% to land use). Regarding energy use, cultivation of concentrate ingredients had the highest contribution (33%). The after farm gate stages cheese-making, storage, and packaging each contributed about 7%–13% to energy use and about 3%–4% to GWP, whereas retail had a marginal impact. To decrease the ecological impact of cheese production, reducing the impact of on-farm milk production (e.g., by using feed ingredients that reduce enteric methane emission in the cow), and reducing the impact of cultivation of concentrate ingredients (e.g., by using locally produced ingredients or by-products) would be most effective. Stages after farm gate can lower their impact by minimizing use of fossil energy and use of alternative energy resources. Minimizing losses of milk and cheese in stages after farm gate, furthermore, is an important improvement option to reduce the impact per kg cheese of the whole chain.
Total gross value added of the whole chain was €5.94 per kg cheese. On-farm milk production added most economic value (34%), followed by retail (27%), cheese-making (17%), and packaging (17%). Total eco-efficiency of cheese was €0.78 per kg CO2-eq., €1.03 per m2 land, and €0.16 per MJ energy. Of all stages, cultivation of concentrate ingredients and storage had the lowest eco-efficiency for each impact, whereas retail had the highest. Combining ecological impact and eco-efficiency, shows that cultivation of concentrate ingredients is the most problematic stage.
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