Environmental impact of animal milk vs plant-based milk: Critical review

Vishal Khanpit, S. Viswanathan, Olaf Hinrichsen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The entire world is committed to maintaining the 1.5 °C global temperature rise target in order to avoid very serious impacts of climate change. However, because the food sector is one of the primary contributors of GHG emissions, the environmental impact of food products is now a new criterion for consumer product selection, and this includes milk. The current review investigates the state of the art of the environmental impact of animal-based milk (ABM) (cow, buffalo, goat, and sheep) and plant-based milk (PBM) (almond, oat, soy, pea, and coconut) systems using 70 milk life cycle assessment (LCA) studies. The critical review aims to produce two primary deliverables concerning the environmental impact of ABM and PBM. The first section is concerned with generating a universal LCA framework for ABM and PBM systems, as well as the recalculation of collated results to standardize and synthesize a full comparison of AM and PBM based on several eco indicators and presents a hierarchy of environmentally sustainable milk. From the synthesis of results, it was observed that the lowest mean of global warming potential (GWP) in ABM is cow milk, and in PBM is coconut milk, i.e., 1.29 and 0.257 kg CO2/kg of milk, respectively. The second section highlights the comparative effects of assumptions for LCA system functions i.e., system boundaries and impact allocation methodology, with critical insights. Apart from that, the current review also investigates the hotspots in ABM and PBM systems, presents the priority order of processes for the mitigation measures, and provides multiple mitigation strategies and their effect. The authors also identify challenges and future research areas to make dairy and nondairy milk systems more environmentally sustainable.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141703
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
StatePublished - 10 Apr 2024


  • Dairy milk
  • Environmental impact
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Plant milk


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