How does the sustainability of different dairy alternatives compare?
The environmental impact of dairy alternatives varies depending on the ingredients used as replacements.
Soya has gained criticism since it has encouraged deforestation in South America, particularly in the Amazon. However, only 6% of soya is consumed by humans, with the rest used mainly as animal feed. In this case, it’s important to consider consuming products that use organic soya or soya grown outside of South America.
Almonds have also recently been criticised for their fertiliser, pesticide and water-intensive nature, with 4.5 litres of almond milk requiring approximately 4,182 litres of water. Considering 80% of almonds are grown in drought-prone California, the impact on water availability is considerable. Furthermore, almonds require bees to support pollination, but the use of pesticides has led to the suffering of 15% to 25% of exposed beehives.
Rice is also water-intensive, with 4.5 litres of rice milk requiring 554.6 litres of water. Rice paddies contribute to around 10% of agricultural emissions and their added transport emissions are unfavourable.
Coconuts do not require pesticides, however, there are issues with monocropping which negatively affects biodiversity, and transportation emissions will always be significant since the crop does not grow well in Europe.
Oat milk has a lower environmental impact as it can be grown in cooler climates and as such, is not associated with high deforestation rates in the global South. However, oats which are mass-produced and grown in monocultures, a common occurrence, are sprayed with Roundup herbicides containing glyphosate, a carcinogen. Oat milks can be certified glyphosate free or be indirectly so by being certified organic.
Possibly the best choice of dairy alternative milk would be oat milk and more specifically, oat milk that is organic or that does not use glyphosate, which is pretty standard for the more well-known oat milk producers.
These include (but are not limited to):
You can review the sustainability of the above brands and also use what you have learnt in these different sustainability digests in your next reviews of other dairy alternatives.