In this Our Changing Climate environmental video essay, I take a look at three plant-based non-dairy milks in order to see which one is the most environmentally friendly. Specifically, I look at how Almond milk, Rice milk, and Oat milk affect the environment in a number of different ways through water use and emissions. I ultimately find that almond milk uses the most water, rice milk has the most emissions associated with it, and oat milk is the best for the environment overall.
Transcript provided by YouTube:
Every time I walk into a store to pick up some plant-based milk there’s always an
overwhelming range of options.
I’m bombarded by almond milks, rice milks, soy milks, oat milks,, cashew milks, and pea
Questions start running through my head: Is soy milk better for the environment then rice
Or Maybe almond milk is the best of the three?
But wait a minute, I‘ve heard that almonds use up a lot of water.
It can be an extremely frustrating process, and more often than not, I’ll leave the
store feeling confused and frustrated without ever making a choice.
So, it’s time to clear things up.
Which non-dairy milk is the worst for the environment?
And really, when it comes down to it, which one should I be reaching for when I head to
that vast refrigerator wall of milk cartons?
But first, I need to clarify something.
Out of all the milks that you can purchase, cow’s milk has by far the largest environmental
One glass of that childhood classic is associated with drastically higher land use, emissions,
and water requirements than all non-dairy milks.
So when we’re talking about alternative milks, we’re really just being picky.
The most environmentally impactful choice you can make is to stop drinking cow’s milk
altogether if you haven’t already.
Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s dive into the world of plant-based milks.
We’ll start with the top-selling milk alternative in America: Almond milk.
This drink always seems to be jostling with rice and soy for the crown of best milk, but
there are a lot of environmental issues that come from growing and processing almond milk.
And on top of that list is water.
In turns out you don’t actually need a lot of water to grow almond trees, but you do
need a lot of water if you want to grow almond trees that have consistently high yields.
One 2011 study shows that almond trees can survive on as little as 7.6 inches of water
a year, but a 2007 study reveals that in order to produce maximum yields in a place like
California, which is where 80% of almonds are grown globally, almonds need 54 to 58
inches of water annually.
Even when you consider the fact that you don’t need that many almonds to make milk (because
it’s mainly just water mixed with a handful of ground up almonds), almond milk still stands
above the rest in terms of water usage.
But if you’re considering the greenhouse gas emissions and pollution of non-dairy milks,
then rice milk is the worst of them.
Rice milk has such a large emissions footprint associated with it because of a surprising
process that occurs when paddies are purposely flooded to suppress weeds and encourage growth.
In that watery rice paddy habitat, bacteria begin to multiply and basically fart out a
lot of methane causing rice emissions to increase.
Add to that the fact that the standing water of rice paddies then gets drained into waterways
causing fertilizer runoff and water contamination problems, and you’ve got the most polluting
alternative milk on average.
So rice and almond milk don’t seem like good options to go with.
But if that’s the case then what should we drink?
One promising plant-based milk that I’ve started to turn to is oat milk.
It not only requires less water, in the range of 48L of water per litre of oat milk, but
also could add a beneficial cover crop to many farming rotations that currently rely
solely on corn and soybean.
According to Matt Liebman, agronomist at Iowa State University, if farmers switch to a three
year rotation of corn, soybeans, and in the third year a mixture of oat and red clover,
they could potentially reduce herbicide use by 25-51%.
The green manure properties of clover and oats would also mean that farmers could use
88-92% less synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
But according to a Mother Jones article, the oat market is still pretty small, especially
when compared to corn and soybeans.
Oat milk would need to explode in popularity in order to for this three season rotation
to even be economically feasible for farmers.
But overall, I think oat milk is a great choice if you need to douse your morning cereal or
coffee in something cold and creamy.
In short, when deciding between dairy and non-dairy, the environmental award goes to
the plant-based team.
However, once your in the vast realm of alternative milks, things can get a bit more dicey.
Almond milk uses a lot of water, but rice milk releases more greenhouse gases.
Many milks have positives and negatives, but at the end of the day, the milk sitting in
my fridge is oat milk.
Hey team, Charlie here.
While researching for this video I leaned heavily on the Gimlet Media’s Science Vs.
podcast dealing with alternative milks, so I’d definitely go check it out if haven’t
Also, I’ve totally revamped the Patreon reward, so if you want to support this channel,
head over to patreon and pledge some money for an action handbook or secrete video essays.
Thanks for your support, and I’ll see you in two weeks.
What’s your take? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
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This post was previously published on YouTube.