Milk is a huge part of more than 6 billion people’s diets across the world, but the dairy industry contributes to about 3.4% of total global emissions of CO2, however the solution isn’t to just cut out milk all together. Plant-based milks are a great energy efficient swap from dairy but with the growing popularity of veganism, the trouble is choosing which ‘milk’ is best.
So, what should your criteria be when choosing your plant-based milk? Admittedly no milk is perfect, and it can feel like a bit of a minefield when trying to make the best decision so here are 5 simple things to consider making your choice a little easier:
The environmental impact of the milk should be your top priority. As a general rule almonds are out; almond milk uses more water in production than any other alternative, consuming 130 pints of water to produce a single pint of milk. Similarly, rice milk is not the most eco-friendly option with rice paddies producing large amounts of methane, a gas more harmful to the environment than co2. Hazelnuts may be an unusual choice for milk, but they are surprisingly environmentally beneficial due to the carbon sink nature of the trees they grow on. Second place on the sustainability scale can be awarded to hemp and flax milks, as the niche crops are grown in small quantities compared to the monoculture production of other plants, and organic soy milk which has long been the go-to alternative. The plant-milk producing the lowest environmental impact is made from oats as the cereal grain can be grown in cooler climates therefore not contributing to rainforest deforestation in developing countries.
The next factor to consider is the packaging. Plastic packaging produces 45% of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from California’s almond milk industry. However, buying milk packaged in cartons made from recycled materials can massively reduce your environmental impacts. An example of a plant-milk brand with sustainable packaging that can easily be found on any supermarket shelf is Alpro, 70% of the carton is renewable paper and the rest is made from widely recyclable PE plastic.
Some thought should also be given to the cost of the product as no one wants to be spending a fortune on milk. On average plant-based milk is roughly twice the price of normal dairy milk, although you shouldn’t let this put you off from making the switch. Homemade oat milk is easy, the processes is super simple- just combine equal parts of oats and water in a blender and strain. Although some alternatives such as hazelnut milk can be pricey many are extremely cost efficient and equally straightforward to make yourself.
Avoiding pesticides is also important. Chemical fertilisers can contaminate soils and water which may kill insects and plants that play a vital roles in ecosystems, as a result of this pesticides reduce the carbon sequestering properties of the land.
Finally, remember to diversify your milks. It’s more environmentally friendly to try a variety of non-dairy milks as to avoid over exploitation of one crop that can lead to downstream consequences. Also, how can you expect to find your perfect swap if you don’t try them all!
If you haven’t been persuaded and are still opting for British organic cow’s milk getting it from the electric powered milk van ( https://www.milkandmore.co.uk/ ) in recycled glass bottles ticks quite a lot of boxes too. On the whole, any plant-based milk already minimises the majority of environmental problems that would have been created from drinking dairy milk so despite the small differences between each alternative drink the main factor contributing to your decision should be which plant-milk tastes best to you.