Are non-dairy milks better for the planet?
The carbon emissions created by a non-dairy milk are around three times lower than those caused by methane-producing herds on dairy farms. Which is a big green tick for plant-based milks, however, it isn’t as clear cut as that.
If we’re in the UK and we’re choosing an almond milk made using almonds grown in California (as the majority of the world’s almonds are), then we need to consider not only the carbon emitted from the shipping across the Atlantic, but also the water use.
Almond trees are very thirsty and need an extremely large amount of water to grow. California is known for being drought-ridden and so the water use is controversial. The draughting-in of bees to pollinate the almond trees is also controversial.
The same goes for coconuts – the carbon footprint of coconut milk is high due to the shipping from warmer climes, and the conditions for the farmers are also currently in the spotlight.
The vast majority of plant-based milks come in Tetra Paks, that are notoriously difficult to recycle as they’re made from mixed materials – paper and plastic – but you can look for your local TerraCycle collection.
Cow’s milk tends to come in fully recyclable plastic containers, but as we know, single-use plastic isn’t great for the environment. Having a milk delivery means glass bottles that can be used again and again, and many milk deliveries now offer dairy-free alternatives.
Despite these factors, the carbon footprint for plant-milks is still not as high as even a UK-based dairy farm. If you’re looking for the plant-based milks with the lowest carbon footprint, opt for oat and pea, as long as the oats and peas are grown in the UK. Perhaps the most eco-friendly plant-based milk option is oat milk, made at home using UK grown oats. A close second would be oat milk using UK oats, delivered in glass bottles by a milk delivery company in an electric van.