There weren’t many alternatives to cow’s milk when I first became plant-based. This is no longer the case, but with the proliferation of plant-based alternatives, it’s crucial to weigh each one’s environmental impact.
Although the dairy sector has been unfairly criticized for its resource use, this does not imply that plant-based milk is completely green (1, 2, 3 Trusted Source).
I looked into which plant milks were best for the environment and found that their use of resources and carbon footprints were very different.
The effects of different plant milks on the environment are looked at, and suggestions are given for choosing the most environmentally friendly options.
Marti Sans/Stocksy United
Analyzing the effects of non-dairy milk on the environment
It’s crucial to know which resources different plants need to thrive and what kind of imprint they may leave when comparing the environmental effect of plant milk.
New research analyzed data from over 10,000 farms across the globe to determine whether or not soy, almond, oat, or rice milk were healthier for the environment than dairy (4 Trusted Source).
In fact, dairy production may require up to nine times the amount of land as plant milk production and result in three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cows consume a lot of resources that could be used to make plant-based milk (4 trusted sources).
Commercial milk facilities still need scarce resources like land and water. Greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are released during their manufacturing, further adding to the warming of the planet (5).
The fact remains, however, that every plant-based milk has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Which one is ideal for you will likely rely on your exploration of the data and your prioritization of environmental variables.
At this time, science does not know how to rank the effects of plant milk on the environment. At this time, science does not know how to rank the effects of plant milk on the environment. However, if you’re worried about your impact on the environment due to water use, you should stay away from rice and almond milk, while soy and oat milk should be avoided due to their impact on farmland.
Possible healthier alternatives include hemp, pea, and coconut milk.
1. Vegan milk made from soybeans
Soy, like beef, is a big reason why the Amazon forest is being cut down because it takes a lot of land to meet consumer demand. For a single year’s serving size of 4 cups (1 liter), soy milk production requires approximately 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers) (4 Trusted Source).
But most soy crops are planted to feed cattle and create biofuel, not soy milk for human use. According to some estimates, only a small portion of the world’s soy crop is farmed for human consumption (6Trusted Source).
The United States produces 35% of the world’s soy alone. The good news is that deforestation in the Amazon has decreased as a result of the Amazon Soy Moratorium, an agreement by grain dealers not to purchase soy farmed on freshly deforested land (7 Trusted Source, 8 Trusted Source, and 9 Trusted Source).
Some soy milk producers, such as Silk, claim to be avoiding the destruction of the Amazon rainforest by using only organic soybeans grown in the United States.
Soy may have a high land requirement, but it’s worth it for the advantages it provides. Soybeans, like other legumes, may help minimize the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed by fixing the element in the soil (10Trusted Source).
2. It’s almond milk
In comparison to other plant milk like soy or oat, almond milk is a very thirsty beverage. The Almond Board of California commissioned research showing that it takes around 3.2 gallons of water (12.1 liters) to grow a single California almond (11).
Almonds have the largest water footprint of the nine crops studied in Australia, surpassing that of apples, grapes, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, cherries, potatoes, and carrots combined (12Trusted Source).
Due to its high water use, the authors have suggested that almonds be phased out (12Trusted Source).
Also, almost 80% of all almonds are grown in California, which has had serious droughts in recent years, putting water supplies even more at risk (13). Also, almost 80% of all almonds are grown in California, which has had serious droughts in recent years, putting water supplies even more at risk (13). Also, almost 80% of all almonds are grown in California, which has had serious droughts in recent years, putting water supplies even more at risk (13).
In terms of the amount of land needed, research suggests that nuts are more efficient than oatmeal but less efficient than rice (4 Trusted Source).
3. Hemp milk
Due to its great production and versatility, the hemp plant is good for the environment. Its stalks and roots are used to manufacture building materials, textile fibers, hemp paper, and plastics, while its leaves and seeds are used to make oil and milk (14, 15).
Hemp is naturally resistant to diseases, and it also makes shade, which makes it harder for weeds to grow. Because of these qualities, fewer pesticides and herbicides are required while cultivating hemp. Potentially beneficial to the soil, they have deep roots (15).
Drinking hemp milk has a number of advantages.
4. Rice milk
Greenhouse gas emissions from rice milk are rather high. This is because methane-producing bacteria thrive in flooded rice paddies, and flooding rice fields is a common agricultural technique (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Unsurprisingly, rice cultivation also needs a substantial quantity of water. Still, rice requires less acreage than soy, oats, and almonds do (4Trusted Source).
Also, rice is known to have a lot of arsenic in it, which could possibly get into nearby water sources (19).
5. Bean milk
Peas are more water-efficient crops since they evolved in regions with plentiful rainfall.
In addition, farmers often rotate pea crops since they don’t need a lot of water. Therefore, the need for fertilizers may be reduced and spontaneous nitrogen fixation in the soil can be promoted (8Trusted Source, 25).
In addition, unlike soybeans, peas have not yet been developed to be resistant to herbicides via genetic engineering (26Trusted Source).
Pea milk, made by the business Ripple, is said to produce 86% less greenhouse gas emissions than almond milk (27).
Eco-friendly plant-based milk manufacturing firms
Some producers of plant milk acknowledge that their operations might be more environmentally friendly. Companies like the ones listed below are setting an example when it comes to environmental responsibility.
J1I makes plant milk concentrates so that precious water isn’t wasted on making regular packaged milk. When blending at home, just add water and pulse to combine.
All packaging for JOI goods is made from recycled materials. Through its whole supply chain, the firm aims to produce zero waste (32).
online store carrying JOI plant milk concentrate.
This group works to reduce the damage plant milk does to the environment and the amount of water it uses. This group works to reduce the damage plant milk does to the environment and the amount of water they use.
The Numilk Home appliance mimics the operation of a conventional coffee maker. When making milk, lattes, or protein shakes, just add water to the provided bottle and the company’s pre-packaged concentrate.
Methods for preparing homemade plant-based milk
Making your own plant milk not only allows you to choose exactly which components go into it, but it also may be better for the environment.
This recipe yields around 4 cups (945 mL) of oat milk, so it’s easy to produce at home.
- 90 grams (about 1 cup) of rolled oats
- 710 milliliters (3 cups) of water
- One Medjool date with a pit
- Reduced to an eighth of a teaspoon, of salt
- Incorporate a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract
Throw everything in a powerful blender or food processor and blitz for 30-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. Over-blending might cause the milk to become sticky, so be careful.
To eliminate any remaining particles, strain the liquid twice through a very fine cloth into a big dish.
Transfer the strained milk to a jar with a cover and store it in the fridge for three to five days.
How to choose the most sustainable plant-based milk
Keep in mind that hemp, pea, and coconut milk may have a less environmental impact than other forms of plant milk when making your selection.
It’s suggested that you try a few different types to find out which one you like most and that you give preference to local businesses that prioritize environmental responsibility.
Furthermore, since the nutritional profile of plant milk varies greatly, testing a few varieties may help you gain several advantages. Some milks are enriched with minerals like vitamins D and B12, while others, like almond milk, tend to contain far less protein than soy or pea milk.
Packaging design is also crucial. Buying plant milk packaged in a recyclable container is the most waste-efficient option.
According to studies, plant milk has a much lower environmental impact than dairy milk. According to studies, plant milk has a much lower environmental impact than dairy milk. To be sure, they have some effect.
Until there is more data, picking the most environmentally friendly alternative may come down to your own priorities. When it comes to water and land use, not to mention greenhouse gas emissions, not all plant milk is created equal.
At this time, it seems that almonds have the highest water requirements, oats have the highest land requirements, and rice has the highest emissions of greenhouse gases. Alternatives to cow’s milk include coconut milk, hemp milk, and pea milk.