Cow’s milk is far worse for the environment than any of the non-dairy milks. They consume less land, less water, and emit less greenhouse emissions. Because almond trees store a lot of CO2 as they develop, almond milk has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. However, of all the vegan milks, it uses the most water to make. Soy milk consumes the least amount of water and emits the fewest pollutants.
Is soy or almond milk more environmentally friendly?
Milk is a basic food in many cultures throughout the world. However, dairy can significantly add to our food’s greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for just over a quarter of the carbon footprint in normal EU diets, and up to one-third in some cases. 1
As people become more aware of this, they are turning to plant-based alternatives. Non-dairy milks are currently consumed by one-quarter of adults in the United Kingdom, according to polls (although not always exclusively). It’s much more popular among younger people, with one-third of 16 to 23-year-olds choosing it. 2
Soy, oat, almond, rice, and coconut milk are among the ‘plant-based’ milk replacements now available. This begs two questions: are plant-based milks truly better for the environment, and which is the best?
We compare milks on a number of environmental criteria in this graph, including land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and eutrophication, or the pollution of ecosystems with excess nutrients. These are measured in milliliters of milk. 3 I discuss some of the differences in nutritional content of different milks at the end of this post, which are crucial to consider in particular groups.
Across all criteria, cow’s milk has a significantly bigger impact than plant-based alternatives. It produces three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, consumes ten times the amount of land, utilizes two to twenty times the amount of freshwater, and results in significantly greater levels of eutrophication.
Switching to plant-based alternatives is a fantastic option if you want to lessen your diet’s environmental impact.
Which vegan milk is the best? It all depends on the impact we’re most concerned with. Almond milk emits less greenhouse gases and takes up less land than soy milk, but it requires more water and contributes to eutrophication.
Although all of the options have a smaller environmental impact than dairy, there is no obvious winner across the board.
Is soy milk more environmentally friendly than almond milk?
A recent study that compared the environmental implications of dairy, soy, almond, oat, and rice milks using data from over 10,000 farms around the world determined that any nondairy milk is healthier for the planet than dairy ( 4 ).
Which milk substitute is the most environmentally friendly?
Soy milk has been consumed in China for millennia and is well-known in the West, while hemp milk is a relatively recent option.
Legumes are all nitrogen-fixing plants. This means that bacteria in plant tissue create nitrogen, increasing soil fertility and reducing the demand for fertilizers. Legumes are also water-wise, especially when compared to nuts and dairy products.
In terms of water, global warming potential, and land consumption, soy milk has a very good environmental performance.
Soybeans are mostly produced in the United States and Brazil, and the plant is quite adaptable in terms of commercial use, with a substantial portion of the beans being utilized as livestock feed.
What makes almond milk such a bad choice for the environment?
The Mic Network reports that “Almond milk, the ever-popular soy-free, dairy-free, vegan-friendly milk alternative now found in chic eateries and coffee shops everywhere, is destroying the earth.”
According to a Fortune Magazine article, almond milk has grown in popularity as a dairy-free alternative for vegans and lactose-intolerant coffee drinkers alike in recent years, becoming more popular than other non-dairy milks. The market for almond milk grew by 250 percent between 2010 and 2015.
When compared to dairy milk, many consumers choose almond milk since it has a lower carbon footprint. However, almond milk has a negative impact on the environment in other ways, which may surprise you. The main concerns with almond milk production are water use and pesticide use, both of which may have long-term environmental consequences in drought-stricken California, which produces more than 80% of the world’s almonds.
Commercial almond farming in California necessitates irrigation with ground and surface water diverted from the state’s aqueduct system. According to a New York Times report, it takes around 15 gallons of water to produce 16 almonds, making almonds one of the state’s most water-intensive crops. Almond milk’s reputation as a healthy alternative has been questioned by critics who argue that the nutritional benefits do not outweigh the amounts of water required to cultivate almonds.
Given that California produces more than two billion almonds, it’s simple to see why the amount of water diverted for this purpose is significant enough to be concerning. And, because many almonds are cultivated on land that has been converted from natural areas or farms cultivating low-water crops to fulfill the expanding demand for almonds, the increased irrigation needs have been significant.
Forbes reports that “Almond farms have been established on 23,000 acres of natural land. 16,000 acres of the area had previously been categorized as wetlands. In addition, some agricultural land has been turned to almonds from lower-water crops.”
Because the ground in the San Joaquin Valley, where most almonds are grown, is already sinking due to groundwater depletion, the additional wells farmers are digging to irrigate new orchards could have long-term consequences for California and its residents who rely on groundwater for drinking water.
Pesticide use in commercial almond production has been known to contaminate already scarce water supplies and contribute to the toxification of drinking water for people in California’s farming areas, exacerbating the problem. The USDA Pesticide Data Program has identified residues of nine distinct pesticides on almonds, five of which are hazardous to honey bees, according to the Pesticide Action Network, creating another another environmental threat.
A final point to consider is that certain store-bought almond milk brands contain carrageenan, a stabilizer and thickening chemical that has been linked to gastric issues.
According to the California Almond Board, the almond industry is working to promote sustainable water usage and boost water efficiency, so there are some solutions in the works. And, while just a few million almonds are currently certified organic, more farmers are opting to go this route, resulting in a rise in certified organic almond products on the market.
- Think about your possibilities. You might alternate between several non-dairy milks, as each has its own set of perks and drawbacks. Goat and sheep milk are nutrient-dense and less allergic alternatives to cow’s milk.
- Make your own version. If almond milk is a must-have in your life, try making it at home with organic almonds. At the very least, you’ll be able to manage how much water is used in the milk-making process, resulting in a purer product.
- Purchase organically certified products. Pesticides aren’t used in certified organic almond milk, and there’s often less water used as well. When shopping, pick this option. Inquire if the caf uses certified organic products, and if not, propose they do so.
- Carrageenan-containing brands should be avoided. When purchasing almond milk, read the label carefully and avoid types that contain carrageenan.
Is almond milk good for the environment?
Almonds and almond milk are both delicious (let’s be honest). This is a delicious nut whether roasted or raw. It’s wonderful that it’s the world’s second-most-consumed nut (only behind peanuts). However, as is customary, the promises of green consumerism (which is still consumerism!) are generating new markets. And these markets aren’t necessarily as long-term as we’re led to believe.
Almond milk is bad for the environment because of its high water use (and resultant droughting effect). When you consume it outside of its main producing countries, the harm is magnified due to transportation-related emissions. When deciding between almond and dairy milk, consider if you want to advocate for climate change (by choosing almonds) or for water shortage (by choosing dairy).
Choosing brands that use sustainable ways of cattle production or agroecological methods of irrigating water into California’s almond crops, on the other hand, can help lessen the impact of both types of milk. And the best way to find out is to ask companies to provide more evidence of their CSR efforts, including CSR reports and impacts.
There are more choices, which we haven’t looked at in depth in this article. However, while they outperform on some impact measures, they outperform on others. Rice milk, for example, consumes less water than almond milk but emits more pollutants. Rice, ahead of ruminants and animals, is one of the world’s greatest producers of methane emissions, according to a study on greenhouse gas emissions from rice farms. The same benefits and drawbacks apply to oat, soy, and even goat milk.
Which plant milk is the most environmentally friendly?
Rice milk, on the other hand, requires 54 litres of water to make a single glass, making it the third most thirsty after dairy and almond milk. Rice has a huge carbon footprint, and the worldwide rice business produces methane, accounting for about 2.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, in part due to its staple status for over half of the world’s population.
Coconut milk is renowned for its creamy, nutty flavor and has become a popular addition to coffee shops around the world, including Pret in the United Kingdom, Peet’s in the United States, and Starbucks. Coconut milk, like rice milk, can be a good source of vitamins and minerals, and the developing trees consume very little water and absorb carbon dioxide.
However, selecting Fair Trade certified coconut products is critical, as the business (which works exclusively in tropical nations) has a history of worker exploitation and rainforest damage. This, like palm oil, is mostly owing to extraordinary global demand increases.
Despite its reputation as a primary driver of deforestation, soya was rated favorably for sustainability in the study. The majority of soy-related deforestation occurs in the manufacture of animal feed, not dairy and meat-free foods for vegans and vegetarians, contrary to common opinion.
Is it true that soy milk is hazardous for the environment?
My second favorite substitute is soy milk. Soy has long been the go-to substitute for nondairy milk. In terms of water use, a liter of soy milk necessitates the use of 297 liters. While soy uses a third of the water required by dairy, alternatives such as oat use less.
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, 200 milliliters of soy milk produces 0.195 kilos of CO2. This figure is a third of dairy’s emissions, making soy a good sustainable replacement milk choice at a price range of $1 to $3 per half gallon.
Which type of milk is the most nutritious?
Hemp milk is prepared from crushed, soaked hemp seeds that are free of the psychotropic ingredient found in Cannabis sativa plants.
Protein and omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fats are abundant in the seeds. As a result, hemp milk has a somewhat higher concentration of these nutrients than other plant milks.
Although hemp milk is almost carb-free, some brands include sweets, which raise the carb count. Make sure to read the ingredient label and get hemp or any other plant milk that hasn’t been sweetened.
On the ingredient label, sugar may be described as brown rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, or cane sugar.
The seeds of the Cannabis sativa plant are used to make hemp milk. While the drink isn’t psychotropic, it does include more healthful fats and protein than other plant milks.
Is soy beneficial to the environment?
Soy is fed to the majority of animals, including pigs, cows, poultry, and farmed fish. Why? Because it is both inexpensive and effective. In fact, high-protein soy has become such a popular feed crop that the average European consumes 61 kilograms of soy each year through animal products. 4 Soybeans are more likely to appear on our plates as ghost ingredients in steak meals and milkshakes than as tofu, which is an unfortunate fact. 5 With this in mind, it’s necessary to clear the air: soy cultivated for animal feed has a much larger environmental footprint than soy grown for human use.
So let’s take a look at some of the most serious environmental consequences of industrial soy production, as well as why soy is still an environmentally friendly option when consumed properly.
Soy plants produce only one harvest per life cycle as an annual crop and are virtually unresponsive to fertilizers. Simply put, more soy must be grown to boost output and meet demand, which necessitates additional space. Unfortunately, in the tropical regions where soy is primarily grown, this necessitates the clearing of great swaths of virgin land for soybean production. Soy farming covers an area larger than France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands combined, making it the second-largest agricultural deforestation driver behind beef. 3,6
However, the majority of soy-related deforestation has occurred in South America, mainly in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. In 2018, the total area of land allocated to soy in South America surpassed 57 million hectares, an area larger than France. 7 With production on the rise, deforestation in these areas is expected to continue, with dire consequences for the plants and animals that live there.
Habitats are lost and important ecosystems are destroyed as vast swaths of land are converted, resulting in widespread biodiversity loss. The Cerrado Basin, a tropical savannah region in Brazil, is an excellent example. The Cerrado, being the world’s most biodiverse savannah, is home to a diverse range of wildlife, sheltering roughly 5% of all living species on the planet. 8
Unfortunately, due to a temperature and terroir that favor farming, a lack of conservation protection, and low fines for removing forestland, about half of the Cerrado’s native flora has been lost to intensive agriculture of which soy is a major component in recent decades.
Between 2006 and 2017, satellite photography revealed that 170,000 hectares of Cerrado woodland were removed to produce soybeans.
9 And, for the most part, this is legal: under Brazil’s Forest Code, only 20% of privately owned Cerrado land must be set aside for protection (compared to 80% in Amazon rainforests), meaning the remaining 80% can be legally deforested for soy farming. 10 According to recent study, if agribusiness continues at its current rate in the Cerrado, this unique terrain and the creatures that inhabit it will be virtually extinct by 2050. 11
Soy trade and production have an impact on biodiversity, as well as the climate, as it produces considerable amounts of greenhouse gases. And, as we’ve seen in the Cerrado and elsewhere, the conversion of native land to agricultural land appears to be the major source of emissions. 12 When forests are cleared to grow crops like soy, harmful amounts of CO2 are released into our atmosphere, as forests absorb and store massive amounts of carbon dioxide (the Amazon rainforest alone holds 76 billion tonnes of CO2 or equivalent to 21 years of Europe’s current annual carbon emissions13,14). Furthermore, mechanized soy harvesting and processing, as well as food miles associated with export, add to the carbon burden.
Having said that, it’s worth noting that eating soy-based foods is still the greener option in terms of emissions. Consuming tofu 1-2 times per week over the course of a year produces only 12kg of carbon emissions, whereas beef produces 604kg enough to heat a UK home for 95 days. 15
Agriculture, including soy production, is a major contributor to soil erosion around the world. Ploughing and intense irrigation, along with a lack of wind protection from trees, upset and deplete nutrient-rich topsoil over time. Brazil loses an estimated 55 million tonnes of topsoil per year due to soy production. The consequences of this loss are sobering: as more fertile soil is lost, agricultural land becomes less productive, jeopardizing crop output and global food security in the long run. 16
Strained Water Resources
Unsustainable water use depletes natural subsurface water supplies since soy requires a lot of water to develop (almost 300L of water to make 1L of soy milk). Furthermore, over time, farming vehicles such as tractors compact the earth, preventing water from being reabsorbed back into these storage. As a result, water availability for local communities, plants, and species is rapidly dwindling.
Unfortunately, industrial soy farming has a negative impact on water quality. Soy farming, which relies on agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers, pollutes nearby water sources such as rivers and estuaries, killing wildlife and causing health problems in rural areas. 16
Is it better to drink soy milk or oat milk for the environment?
When compared to cow’s milk, almond milk, and soy milk, oat milk has the lowest overall carbon footprint, according to data published by Columbia University’s Climate School. A seven-ounce glass of carbon dioxide contains around 0.4 pounds.