Different Types Of Milk And Their Sustainability
Milk has become such an integral part of our diets that we often overlook its sustainability.
The type of milk we consume has a huge impact not only on our overall health but our environment.
If you’re making an effort towards sustainable living, you should also consider the type of milk you consume.
Did you know that not all plant-based milk is sustainable? Unfortunately, this is a fact. And we’ll discuss that in this article.
Why Does Dairy Milk Have a High Environmental Impact?
Dairy milk is a great source of calcium and protein, but unfortunately, dairy cows and milk production contribute significantly to global warming and air pollution.
Milk production requires large amounts of land, water, feed, energy, and fertilizer.
The amount of land required to grow feed crops for dairy cows is enormous. Cows eat grasses and grains, which require vast areas of farmland.
Dairy cows require a larger amount of grazing land than beef cows. This is due to the fact that dairy cows require more food per day in order to produce milk.
The dairy industry produces massive amounts of waste every day.
The biggest culprits for the cow’s high environmental impact are their digestive systems. They produce large amounts of manure and greenhouse gases. And when those gases escape into the atmosphere, they contribute to climate change.
These are not even all of the negative impacts dairy cows and milk production has on our environment. And that’s why milk alternatives have been rising in popularity.
Which Alternative Milk Is Best for the Environment?
Although we said that not all plant-based milk is sustainable, the most sustainable milk is indeed plant-based.
Both oat milk and soy milk are the most environmentally friendly out of the different types of milk.
They both use very little water and do not have the same negative impacts on bees and the environment. The production for both does have some greenhouse gas emissions, even slightly higher than other plant-based milk. Even so, they’re still on the top for their overall sustainability.
If we consider the health benefits, soy milk will take the win. This is because, aside from being sustainable, soy offers the closest protein and nutritional profile to cow’s milk.
What Makes Milk Sustainable?
Any product or service can be considered sustainable if it addresses sustainability issues in the following aspects:
- Environmental Sustainability
- Economic Sustainability
- Social Sustainability
Some ways to tell if a type of milk is sustainable:
- Its production and distribution don’t produce a significant amount of greenhouse gasses
- Its production doesn’t harm the environment (e.g. deforestation, water pollution)
- Its production doesn’t exploit workers and practices Fair Trade
- The agricultural methods used in production are sustainable
- Its mostly locally made to lessen the carbon footprint
- Its production doesn’t affect the other vegetation and wildlife in the area (e.g. bees)
- The process or company contribute some economic, social, and/or environmental benefits.
Dairy Milk Substitutes And Their Environmental Impact
The dairy industry is responsible for some serious environmental damage.
Dairy cows produce methane gas, which contributes to global warming. They consume vast amounts of water and feed, and many times, these resources end up polluting our waterways.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to milk that are better for the environment. These include soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, coconut milk, oat milk, flax seed milk, and others.
The coconut palm tree is a beautiful plant that grows naturally throughout tropical regions of the world. Coconut milk is made from the meat of coconuts harvested from these trees.
Coconut milk is delicious and nutritious. Coconut milk is perfect for making smoothies, baking, and curries.
When people think of dairy milk alternatives, one of the first ones that come up is coconut milk. And that’s why the demand for coconut milk and other coconut products has skyrocketed in recent years.
The problem is that coconut trees only grow in tropical climates. To meet the global demands, some farmers are pressured to destroy rainforests so they can plant more coconut trees. Most of the workers involved are also often exploited.
Again, the coconut trees only grow in tropical climates, so to meet the global demands, the products need to travel across the globe, which causes a significant amount of carbon footprint from transport emissions.
In short, the coconut trade is an absolute tragedy in terms of sustainability.
Milk is a staple food product used worldwide. However, milk production requires large amounts of water. This means that producing dairy milk uses a lot of water resources. Not only that, the large amounts of fertilizer used to produce rice plants can pollute waterways. Those are the main negatives of rice milk.
In addition, rice milk production emits more greenhouse gases than any other plant milk. This is caused by the bacteria breeding in rice paddies. Like cows, they produce methane.
The hazelnut milk industry is growing rapidly worldwide. Hazelnuts are rich in nutrients and taste great.
But there’s another reason to drink hazelnut milk: it’s better for the environment than dairy milk and even other plant-based milk.
Hazelnut grows on trees, and trees absorb greenhouse gases. While other milk productions release greenhouse gases, Hazelnut milk production reduces greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Hemp milk is rich in protein content and healthy fats. Hemp milk is made from seeds which are easier to grow than nuts.
Hemp is a hardy niche crop that is grown in relatively small quantities.
Soy milk is versatile. There are many different types of soy milk available, including organic, non-organic, flavoured, unflavoured, and fortified.
Soy production consumes four times less water than milk, requires two times less land, and emits two and a half times less CO2.
And as mentioned earlier, soy offers the closest protein and nutritional profile to cow’s milk compared to other dairy milk substitutes.
That said, soy is not perfectly sustainable. It still has some sustainability issues.
The biggest sustainability issue of soy milk production is land use.
Some farmers succumb to deforestation to make space for soy farms. The demand for soy is enormous because, aside from milk, soy can also be used as feed for livestock for meat and dairy production.
Because oats are grown in cooler climates such as the northern United States and Canada, they are not linked to deforestation in developing countries.
Plenty of oats are grown in mass-produced industrial agriculture operations. Farmers usually spray them with the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup in oat production.
Roundup contains an active ingredient called glyphosate, which is a possible carcinogen. Although, you can find oat milk and other oat products that are certified glyphosate free.
Pea milk is better for the environment because they require fewer resources to produce.
They require less water than other crops. They also need fewer nitrogen fertilizers because they fix nitrogen into the soil.
Like soy, peas are also legumes. They are also high in protein.
However, pea milk tastes grassier than other plant-based kinds of milk, so it can take more to get used to.
When compared to other milk-producing crops, the almond industry require less farmland. These almond trees also pull a dose of carbon emissions from the atmosphere and help reduce greenhouse emissions.
Although, almond milk production uses more water than any other milk alternative. One hundred thirty pints of water are used to turn one glass of almonds into milk. That significantly increases the impact of almond milk on our environment.
They use commercial bees to pollinate almonds which is bad for the bees. Many of those bees, unfortunately, do not survive, and that’s sad news for our environment.
Ranking Of Plant Milk Varieties Based On Sustainability
Most Sustainable: Soy Milk and Oat Milk
Least Sustainable: Coconut Milk
The in-betweens (most to least sustainable order):
In conclusion, milk has become such a staple part of our diets that we often overlook its less than ideal qualities, which means that finding a healthier alternative is essential.
Fortunately, there are plenty of nutritious plant-based milk options available today.
But if you really want to incorporate sustainable choices into your diet, choose the kind of milk alternative that has the least negative impact on the environment.
Generally, that’s soy milk, but it may differ for you depending on where you live.
Overall, you can choose any plant milk substitutes for your daily glass of dairy milk based on your preference. Anything other than dairy milk would be better for the environment.