This study compares the environmental impacts of meatless and meat-containing meals in the United States according to consumption data in order to identify commercial opportunities to lower environmental impacts of meals. Average consumption of meal types (breakfast, lunch, dinner) were assessed using life cycle assessment. Retail and consumer wastes, and weight losses and gains through cooking, were used to adjust the consumption quantities to production quantities. On average, meatless meals had more than a 40% reduction in environmental impacts than meat-containing meals for any of the assessed indicators (carbon footprint, water use, resource consumption, health impacts of pollution, and ecosystem quality). At maximum and minimum for carbon footprint, meat-containing dinners were associated with 5 kgCO2
e and meatless lunches 1 kg CO2
e. Results indicate that, on average in the US, meatless meals lessen environmental impacts in comparison to meat-containing meals; however, animal products (i.e., dairy) in meatless meals also had a substantial impact. Findings suggest that industrial interventions focusing on low-impact meat substitutes for dinners and thereafter lunches, and low-impact dairy substitutes for breakfasts, offer large opportunities for improving the environmental performance of the average diet.
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