I like to vary my diet. I'm not quite a full time vegan... just yet. But not having dairy milk has been an easy, healthy and environmentally friendly option that I have been happy to get behind. Eco-conscious shopping choices can sometimes be confusing, especially when it comes to milk. There are so many choices! Should I buy dairy, plant or nut based? Let's take a look at the options...
Diary milk has the biggest environmental impact by far. With enormous greenhouse gas emissions plus the use of water and land. Studies suggest that dairy milk produces 3 times more greenhouse gas emissions than plant based milks. Dairy also requires up to 9 times the land requirements of plant based options!
Nut milk can be made from almost any nuts. Almond, coconut and hazelnut are by far the most popular. Nut milks seem to have many advantages over dairy. The trees the nuts grow on absorb carbon which is a good thing. At the end of the trees life, it produces a woody biomass which is usable. Nut plants also need less land areas to grow than dairy, less than a square meter. Compare that with the 8.9 square meters needed for dairy. There are, of course, some things to keep in mind...
Almond trees use more water than other plant based alternatives, 371 litres for 1 litre of milk. Large scale production is also not so great for bees. Larger plantations tend to use pesticides and bees are required for pollination. This exposes the millions of bees required to toxins and causes a high mortality rate.
Coconut trees use small amounts of water and absorb carbon dioxide. Because coconuts grow in the tropics, large scale industrialisation leads to deforestation.
Hazelnut is perhaps the best for the environment. Trees are cross-pollinated by winds, not bees. Grow in areas with high rainfall, so demand less water than almond trees.
To make these nut milks even more convenient, we sell jars of varying types. Just pop a spoonful into a blender with a litre of water and hey presto, fresh milk with no plastic waste! I know it may sound a bit strange if you haven't tried it before but why not give it a go... You might just like it 😋
Vegetable milk is made from legumes. Soy has been used for millennia but hemp is the new kid on the block. Legumes improve soil fertility and require fewer fertilisers, also water efficient.
Soy is generally good in terms of water requirements, global warming and land use, 28 litres for 1 litre of milk. Unfortunately, scrubbing native vegetation to grow soy disrupts the natural ecosystem balance
Hemp milk is an environmental game-changing, extremely versatile plant. Not only can the seeds be used for oil and milk. All parts of the plant can be used in construction materials and textile fibres. As if that's not enough, hemp-based plastics and paper are also eco friendly alternatives. That's without even entering into the debate of medicinal purposes.
Milk is possible from many grains, but rice and oats are most common, though they do need more land than nut milk.
Rice requires vast amounts of water and has higher greenhouse emissions. Heavy use of fertilisers can lead also to polluted waterways.
Oat milk is becoming more popular, especially with its lower environmental impact. Oat milk also uses less land, less water and produces less greenhouse gas emissions than nut milk. As with any crop, large scale monoculture does have negative effects on the environment.
As always, consider the packaging. Choose plant-based over dairy where possible. Diversify and use a range of plant-based options. Remember that focusing on one option, even if it seems the best option, can lead to too much market demand.
*original article published on theconversation.com