Many people know about the high emissions amounts generated by conventional dairy-making processes, studies show that alternative options could be better at reducing the carbon footprint of milk.
But, for consumers keen on checking the carbon footprint of milk and reducing diet emissions, you will be glad to find all the details about alternative milk sources and their impact on the environment compared to cow milk in this complete guide.
Use the Milk Carbon Calculator here to get started.
Carbon Footprint of Milk vs Soy Milk: Which Is Better for the Environment?
Soy milk is an excellent alternative to conventional milk and is a reliable option for non-dairy consumers. A liter needs 297 liters of water for production, and soy accounts for 0.195 kg of emissions per 200 ml, but it is more expensive than dairy, retailing at $1- $3 per ½ gallon.
On the other hand, dairy milk requires three times the water soy needs, and the industry generates thrice the emissions from soy milk.
Cow milk price remains subsidized at $1.97, but it is evident that it is worse for the environment than soy milk. It needs more water and has a higher carbon footprint than milk, making soy the better choice for the planet.
Of course, anyone can use a beef and dairy carbon offset to eliminate the emissions generated from their diet.
Carbon Footprint of Dairy: Carbon Footprint of Milk Per Kg
Several factors determine the carbon footprint of dairy milk from the country, care of cows, water and land use, and other factors. The greenhouse emissions from standard milk range from 2.4- 8.0 kg per produced kilogram.
However, one aspect is constant; dairy milk is the worst form for the environment compared to other plant-based sources. It emits at least thrice the carbon footprint of alternative milk types, needs more water to produce, and cows require massive land sizes to graze.
A farmer must use about 1050 liters to produce one liter of milk, which is excessive resource use and a rough estimate is that 200 ml of cow milk emits 0.6 kg of carbon.2
Carbon Footprint of Almond Milk: Almond Milk CO2 Footprint
Compared to other plant milk forms, almond milk has the highest demand in stores. It retails at $4 for a ½ gallon, and you can easily find it in shops around the country. The only challenge is that it also negatively impacts the environment.
Every 200 ml of milk in a glass accounts for 0.14 kg of CO2, and one almond needs about 12 liters of water to manufacture.
Almond may be an excellent option if you are vegan and want to avoid consuming animal products.
Oat Milk Carbon Footprint: Carbon Footprint of Oat Milk
It is common for the country to face oat milk shortages, implying that it is a consumer favorite. Many find it creamier, and eco-conscious users love that it has one of the lowest overall footprints. The carbon emissions are at 0.18 kg for every 200 ml.
It also uses only 48 liters to produce a liter, which is low, unlike the requirements from other milk forms. The only issue with oat milk is that it is relatively pricier, retailing at $5 per ½ gallon, making it harder to find in stores.
What Is the Coconut Milk Carbon Footprint?
Coconut milk has a medium carbon and water footprint. It is responsible for 2.1kg of C02 for each kilogram or 2.2 pounds produced, a value equivalent to driving a car for 5 miles or 8 kilometers. In terms of water, coconut milk needs 2.687 liters to make a kilogram.
It means it takes 322 gallons to make a pound of coconut oil. The only concern is that it is not entirely vegan in some cases; there are reports that countries like Thailand use monkeys for coconut harvesting.
What Is Cheese Carbon Footprint?
The average person in the US consumed about 40 pounds of cheese last year, and the purchase has increased8 over the past ten years by over 5 pounds. Unfortunately, cheese is a heavy carbon contributor.
It emits approximately 13.5 kg of GHG per kilogram, but the primary reason for the excessive footprint is that some are imported. The shipping, packaging, and related costs significantly increase the total emissions.
Almond Milk vs Dairy Milk: Carbon Footprint of Almond Milk vs Cow Milk
Unlike cow milk, almond is the cleaner, plant-based milk alternative in every aspect except for fertilizer and pesticide use. You need more water to produce dairy milk since almond orchards utilize underground moisture.6
Since the carbon footprint of milk is one of the causes of global warming, it is imperative to know that livestock agriculture causes around 14.5 % of global emissions, one of the top three factors affecting climate change. Therefore, almond is the better choice if you want to reduce carbon footprint.
Almond may not be the best alternative milk source, but it is cleaner than cow milk since it is plant-based. The carbon footprint of cow milk is almost thrice that of other alternative sources and is the least environmentally friendly.
Oat Milk vs Cow Milk Carbon Footprint
Milk’s water and carbon footprint are the primary considerations before picking your favorite. If you are torn between oat and dairy, oat is the easy winner regarding sustainability and environmental friendliness.
Oat milk has a low GHG footprint at 0.18 kg per 200ml, while cow milk is responsible for 0.6 kilograms of emissions; hence, it releases more than thrice the count. Milk wins over oats because it is readily available, unlike oat, which is typically more expensive.
Almond Milk vs Cow Milk Nutrition Benefits
Cow milk is highly-nutritious given that it is animal-based. It is an excellent source of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The following table puts one cup of almond and cow milk side by side to identify which is more nutritious.
|Nutrition in a Cup||Cow Milk (2%)||Almond Milk|
|Calories||122 calories||40 calories|
|Protein||8.1 g||1.0 g|
|Carbohydrate||12.3 g||2.0 g|
|Fat||4.8 g||3.0 g|
|Fiber||0.0 g||1.0 g|
|Sugar||12.3 g||0.4 g|
Cow milk is more nutritious than almonds thanks to the fantastic balance of proteins, fats, carbs, and other components. Almond has fewer nutrients, but the best part is that it is safer for the environment.
Plant Milk vs Cow Milk Nutrition: Which Has a Higher Nutrient Content?
Milk from various sources contains different nutrition levels, and it is common for one to beat the other in content. For instance, oat and cow milk have almost the same calories, while cashew, coconut, almond, and hemp have lower levels.
Similarly, soybean has 9 g while flaxseed and pea have 8 g of proteins against dairy milk’s 8 g. Additionally, all plant-based milk has low sugar content apart from oat and hazelnut at 17 g and 13 g for cow milk’s 12 g.
Also, except hemp at 8 g, all other plant milk forms have 25-63% fat content in cow milk. On the contrary, sometimes plant-based milk is more nutritious. For example, pea has more potassium, while almond and flaxseed boast more calcium.
Plant Milk vs Cow Milk Environmental Impact: Which Is Better?
Cow milk is the least environmentally-friendly option out of other milk forms. The industry is infamous for the high carbon footprint of milk, high water footprint, and excessive land use.
The land dedicated to rearing cows can be for crop farming or reforestation. Plant-based milk is not a heavy carbon source and uses moderate water, making other milk types the safest for the environment.
Cow milk causes more impact than plant-based milk like soy, oat, and almond. It accounts for thrice the GHG, needs ten times more land, and 2-20 times the water.5
|Milk||Land Use (m2)|
What Is the Difference Between Dairy vs Plant-Based Milk?
Dairy milk comes from livestock and is nutritious and fortified, rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins. On the other hand, plant-based milk comes from fruits and grains, therefore, lacks the nutritional benefits that cow milk offers.
On the positive side, plant-based milk has a comparatively low water and carbon footprint. It also uses less land and inputs, making it the safest for the environment and ideal for vegans and vegetarians.
Why Is Oat Milk Bad for the Environment? Impact of Oat Milk on the Environment
Oat is excellent in carbon emissions since it accounts for less than 1/3 of cow milk’s footprint. Most GHG from oat milk is from transportation, not production, emphasizing the essence of eating local.
Growing oats doesn’t take up a lot of land space, and the plants don’t need excessive water to survive. Farmers only provide less than 50 liters per liter they produce.
However, one downside to oat milk is that production needs fertilizers and pesticides, which are heavy carbon emitters and water pollutants.
Environmental Impact of Milk From Various Sources
Dairy milk9 is the most significant contributor to carbon emissions, has the highest water footprint, and requires more land. In light of this, consider the average carbon footprint per person associated with milk consumption. The chart below shows the carbon footprint of milk from various sources and other aspects.
Which Milk Is Best for the Environment? Which Has the Lowest Carbon Footprint of Milk?
All plant-based milk types are better for the environment than conventional cow milk, making it tasking to determine the most sustainable.
- Rice Milk
This milk type is also a heavy carbon emitter due to the methane produced by bacterial growth and heavy fertilizer use in rice paddies. Another shortcoming is that it is less nutritious and doesn’t have a rich flavor like other plant-based milk.
- Almond Milk
Almonds have high water footprints and rely on bee pollination for the fruits to develop. Luckily, they have some of the lowest carbon footprints, and the fantastic part is that the trees help offset the toxic gasses.
- Soy and Oat Milk
These two are clear winners in sustainability thanks to their low carbon and water footprints. The demerits of oat are that it has a low protein content, and sometimes farmers spray too many pesticides.
Almond Milk vs Cow Milk Water Consumption: Which Uses Less Water?
Cows have a more massive water footprint11 than almonds. Water is necessary to run animal farms compared to growing almond trees, and if you are looking for environmentally friendly milk that is not as water-hungry, almond milk should be your go-to.
What Is the Environmental Impact of Milk Production?
The demand for animal products like meat, eggs, and milk is only increasing throughout the decades. Farmers must increase their animal populations to keep up with the market, which has increased carbon emissions.
Larger farms mean more machinery and other inputs, adversely affecting the environment. Methane gas production increases, and so does the land size that would otherwise have gone to tree planting or crop farming.
It explains why stakeholders are advocating for meeting demand by increasing the milk productivity of the current cows instead of increasing the animal population.3 It will maintain the milk supply and limit its negative environmental impacts.
Related Reading: 18 Meat Carbon Footprint Facts: The Emissions of Every Meat Type
Positive Effects of Dairy Farming on the Environment: Cow Milk Impact on the Environment
Besides the high carbon footprint of milk, dairy farming still has some positive effects on the environment.
- 1. Farmers help purify the air by setting up filtration systems
- 2. Farmers use manure as organic fertilizers and pass it through methane digesters to convert them into renewable energy.
- 3. Manure increases soil’s water retention and helps in water conservation.
- 4. Water is reused for various tasks around the farm, like cleaning machinery and farm irrigation.
- 5. Farming involves strict environmental agency standards and state laws ensuring that all activities are environmentally friendly.
- 6. Dairy farmers are constantly looking for ways to improve the sector, contributing to research.
To think that these farmers manage to preserve our ecosystem is remarkable. We can leave a mark by simply asking ourselves, “What is a carbon footprint, and how do I reduce carbon footprint?” These inquiries ought to inspire you to set additional environmental aims. You might end up choosing to work with one of the carbon offset providers as a result.
Milk Pollution: How Does Dairy Farming Pollute Water?
The most significant source of pollution from the dairy industry is milk spills which may not seem toxic but have dire consequences for marine life and make the water unusable to the nearby communities relying on it.
The milk also facilitates bacteria growth in streams or lakes, and if on a large scale, it can cause the death of aquatic animals. Dumping waste from dairy farms also releases GHG gases like methane into the air.
How the Dairy Industry Has Improved Its Climate Impact in Terms of Carbon Footprint of Milk
The milk cows produce today is unlike the one from decades ago. The taste may be the same, but today’s dairy industry has advanced, resulting in less milk, land, and water carbon footprint.
Although there are still some issues with the negative environmental impact, dairy farming is now kinder to the planet. The strides to thank for this include favorable government policies and proper research on the industry.
Reduction in the population of dairy cows while emphasizing increased milk production has significantly reduced carbon emissions and heightened the milk supply in the country. Land and water use have also declined, and more companies are researching to make the industry cleaner and more productive.
Oat Milk vs Cow Milk: Is Oat Milk Better for the Environment Than Cow’s Milk?
Dairy milk production is a heavy greenhouse gas emitter and forms the bulk of emissions from animal agriculture. Farmers use a lot of farm inputs to maintain healthy livestock and high milk production such that the carbon footprint chain keeps increasing until the product reaches the final consumer.
On the contrary, oat milk is a more environmentally-friendly alternative since it has lower water. There’s no doubt that an environmental footprint calculator can confirm this because it is plant-based. Therefore, oat milk is an excellent option if you want a milk source that is safe for the planet.
Is Soy Milk Bad for the Environment? Soy Milk Environmental Impact
Soy milk is one of the safest alternatives since it doesn’t have a high carbon footprint, unlike dairy milk. The only setback is that sometimes production can lead to the emission of GHG that contributes to global warming, especially if farmers grow it on a large scale and use it to feed animals that provide meat.
Oat Milk vs Almond Milk: Is Oat Milk Better for the Environment Than Almond Milk?
Although oat and almond are the ideal options for their low carbon footprint, the production of oats typically emits more GHG than almonds.
Additionally, its production requires more land, but almond farming is more water-dependent. Considering which has a more massive environmental impact, almond milk is the cleaner choice.
Is Cashew Milk Bad for the Environment?
Cashew falls in the same group as almond milk in terms of low carbon footprint and is generally sustainable.
The only adverse effect on the environment is when pesticides and lethal chemicals are used in production. Therefore, it is always best to buy organic versions and ensure they are Fair Trade.
Is Coconut Milk Bad for the Environment: Is Coconut Milk Sustainable?
Coconut farming and milk production are relatively sustainable, given that there is no massive damage to the land or soil and fewer carbon emissions.
The plant doesn’t need pesticides or additional chemicals; farmers harvest them by hand, not heavy machinery.4 However, it is always best to buy organic and local products to reduce the carbon footprint.
Disadvantages of Plant-Based Milk: Downsides of Consuming Plant-Based Milk
- Most have less protein content than dairy milk, and you must add supplements
- They have low vitamins and mineral content, hence not fortified
- Some contain sweeteners and additional ingredients that can trigger inflammation
- Crop production may involve lethal chemicals, negatively impacting the environment
Oat Milk vs Almond Milk Water Usage: Which Milk Production Uses Less Water?
Almond is one of the most water-hungry milk alternatives.1 You will need 12 liters to produce one almond, explaining its massive water footprint. In contrast, you will use about 48 liters to create a liter of oat milk, making it the more environmentally-friendly option in water usage.
Milk vs Soy vs Almond vs Oat: Which Is Better?
Dairy, soy, almond, and oat have ups and downsides, and your ultimate decision depends on your preference. Cow milk is your choice if you want a nutritious, creamy drink fortified with vitamins and minerals, but the disadvantage is that the dairy industry is detrimental to the environment.
Alternatively, you can go for clean, plant-based milk with a low carbon footprint, but each features some challenges. For instance, almond requires a lot of water during the production stages, oats uses up a lot of lands and has a low protein content, while soymilk has a lot of additives.
Related Reading: Carbon Footprint Quiz: Can You Go Green? Test Your Footprint IQ
What Is Oat Milk Environmental Impact? How Does the Carbon Footprint of Milk From Oats Compare to Other Alternatives?
Unlike soy and rice, oat milk is eco-friendlier since it has a low carbon footprint, but almond milk has a lower count. Similarly, its water footprint is less than almond and rice milk.
However, oat production needs more land, and processing negatively impacts farmers using excessive fertilizers and herbicides.
Which Is the Most Environmentally Friendly Milk?
Regarding carbon emissions, dairy milk is the greatest offender, while almond milk is the least impactful. Almond is also environmentally friendly, given that it uses less land, but the downside is its water-hungry properties.
Oat, in comparison, has a higher carbon footprint than almond but uses less land and water. Therefore, oats and almonds seem to tie in with eco-friendliness, and the decision depends entirely on the user’s preference.
Before you buy any consumable product, it helps to check the carbon footprint of milk, especially if you are keen on the impact of food on the environment.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Carbon Footprint of Milk
How much is the Almond Milk Carbon Footprint Per Kg?
If almond milk accounts for 0.14 carbon per 200ml, the product will emit around 0.7 kg per kilogram. It implies it is a cleaner option than soy, oat, and other plant-based milk options.
How Much Water To Produce 1 Litre of Almond Milk?
Almond milk requires a lot of water during the production stages. Typically, farmers may input up to 1 600 gallons to manufacture one liter of this plant-based milk.
Why Buy Fair Trade Coconut Milk?
Fair Trade-labeled coconut products are brands that protect workers and farmers and ensure that agricultural standards are high.
Therefore, production is safe, and the market is better for all the parties involved, and when everything comes together, the export market is secure for business.
Why Is Almond Milk Bad for the Environment? What Is the Environmental Impact of Almond Milk?
The worst aspect of almond milk production that affects the environment is its massive water footprint because it takes more than 1 500 gallons of water to create only a liter. Luckily, it has a low carbon footprint and doesn’t need much land compared to other options like soy and oats.
What Is Almond Milk Environmental Impact?
While almond milk is one of the lowest carbon emitters, its shortcoming is the adverse effect on the environment due to excessive pesticide, fertilizer, and water use in orchards.
The primary environmental issue with almond farming is the high water footprint, especially since most farming is in drought-stricken California.
What Is Almond Milk Water Consumption?
Almond milk is a heavy water consumer at the initial production stages, such that one fruit requires 12 liters to process. Farmers can input about 1 600 gallons to create one liter of milk, making it one of the heaviest water users of all plant-based milk.
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