We look into which milk alternatives (i.e. soy, rice, almond) might be less environmentally harmful than dairy milk...
In recent times, the mainstreaming of plant-based dairy alternatives like soy, almond, and rice milk has seen regular milk consumption decline.
In the U.S for example, milk consumption per capita has been on a steady march downward, dropping 25% from 1975 to 2012, while non-dairy alternatives have averaged annual sales growths according to TIME .
The non-dairy milk product category was created to accommodate people who are lactose intolerant or have vegan dietary restrictions, but people are refraining from drinking milk these days for ethical and environmental reasons as well.
Why? Because the worldwide dairy industry has a substantial impact on the environment. First there's the production of grain to feed cows, which requires huge amounts of land, fertilisers, and lots of water. Plus the raising of the animals themselves, which requires more land and water. Then there's the processing of raw milk into dairy products, energy used for packaging, and polluting refrigerated trucks that bring them to a store near you.
Oh, and let's not forget that cows release a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, simply through their normal digestion and accumulating manure.
So there are a lot of sound environmental reasons for people to give up milk, as well as many animal welfare implications with conventional dairy.
When it comes to dairy alternatives being a lighter choice, there isn't a lot of solid research on the topic, and Ask Umbra does point out how , "alternative milks often require lots of processing, and their primary ingredients may travel great distances to reach your refrigerator." Perhaps your dairy comes from a local, minimally processed source, where the animals are raised humanely, which could in some instances be a better choice.
However this is not the average choice, and it stands to reason that " a plant-based product would have a lighter impact on the planet than an animal-based one for the usual reasons: Veggie production uses far fewer resources than livestock."
Some milk alternatives have come under fire such as soy for fuelling deforestation with farmers responding to the massive global demand for soy. Almond milk too, which has shot to popularity, is said to use more water to produce than some other non-dairy alternatives.
So, what is the best option if you are going down the non-dairy road? To make it yourself!
There are heaps of tutorials online for making your own milk, and will mean cutting wasteful packaging out of the equation, plus large amounts of the processing and any unwanted additives.
If you are planning to switch to a non-dairy alternative, you may want to seek nutritional advice first. People often confuse something referred to as 'better for the environment' as 'better for their health' too.
This is not necessarily the case, and you'll need to make sure you are getting essential nutrients and vitamins found in dairy from somewhere else. There are many rich non-dairy sources of calcium for example, like leafy green vegetables and broccoli, both of which are also great sources of vitamin K, another key nutrient for bone health. Beans and tofu can also supply calcium.
If you will be buying milk alternatives, check out their environmental credentials first, like how the plant-based materials were grown or sourced.
What you can do
Cattle pollute with their burping (seriously), so reducing your dairy products consumption can help cut CO2. But make sure you always watch your nutritional requirements too. Estimated CO2 Saving: 13kg per month (150kg per year)
Trim dairy by equal to two glasses of milk a week if you consume a lot