Which Milk is the Most Eco-Friendly?
Dec 01 2020 Read 465 Times
With environmental concerns more of a factor in consumer choice than ever before, companies operating in all industries are working to offer their customers more sustainable products. The food and drink sector is one of the most competitive in this respect, with milk an especially controversial commodity when it comes to green credentials. There are plenty of options out there – but which is best?
Milk from cows is hands down the worst option available in terms of its environmental profile. The methane emissions from dairy farming mean that cow milk is an estimated three times more intensive from a greenhouse gas (GHG) perspective than any plant-based alternative. It also uses around nine times the amount of land and significantly more water in its production than any other type of milk.
Almond trees absorb carbon and create biomass once chopped down, but almonds are an incredibly water-intensive crop compared to other milk varieties. In fact, it takes 12 litres of water to nurture just a single kernel of almond in California, the biggest producer of almond milk anywhere in the world. What’s more, the endangerment of bee populations puts the future of almond milk at risk.
Coconuts are also grown on trees and thus offer the same aforementioned benefits as almonds. Add to that the fact that they require relatively little water and they might seem like an ideal choice. However, it should be remembered that coconut trees require tropical climates to thrive, and those are mostly located in biodiverse regions where making room for orchards leads to deforestation and threatens local species.
Overall, oat milk is an excellent choice for the environment, given its greenhouse gas emission trends are low and it doesn’t consume too many resources. However, it is mainly cultivated to serve livestock, linking it to those emissions, while its also usually grown in a monoculture environment, meaning it discourages biodiversity and depletes the fertility of the soil. It also increases the risk of disease and uses copious amounts of pesticide to ward off unwanted dinner guests.
Like oat milk, soy milk has an attractive profile when it comes to its land-use, GWP and water consumption. It’s also used for a diverse array of purposes and industries, meaning it isn’t too reliant on or pressurised by one single sector. Its main drawback lies in the fact that most soy plantations are located in the USA and Brazil, with the latter country in particular guilty of undertaking problematic deforestation practices to grow the crop.
The bottom line?
For those looking to transition to a more sustainable source of milk, the best advice is to ditch dairy as soon as possible, since all other choices are far friendlier to the environment. Of the four alternatives listed above, soy and oat milk are probably the two best choices, but a smart consumer would diversify their intake of milk to ensure that no one crop becomes too stressed.
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