4 reasons why you should drink your next Latte oat infused!
Not your mom, not your milk.
We at Clime love to talk about individual carbon footprints and offer solutions to reduce them on a person-to-person basis. This year, a growing number of people are interested in switching from dairy to plant-based alternatives. Here are 4 reasons why this could be one of the best choices you can make for the planet!
Dairy causes around three times as many greenhouse gas emissions as plant-based alternatives
When talking about greenhouse gases, we are talking about the following gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and smaller trace gases such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Of all those gases, methane contributed to 17.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 and, over 20 years, is 84 times as warming as CO2. Around 27 percent of all human-related methane emissions originate in animal agriculture, and through no fault of their own, cows are by far the biggest contributors. Keeping cows in captivity, therefore, comes with a price, not just for them, but for all species on our planet. A simple switch everyone can do, as the title of this blog post suggests, is to switch to plant-based alternatives to dairy. Taking the example of one liter of milk, dairy causes 4 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as almond milk for example, and even 3 times more as the “most carbon polluting” milk alternative, rice milk (see chart below).
Dairy production uses on average around 10 times more land than its alternatives
Obsessive land use results in various problems, among them, declining agricultural productivity, reduced renewable resource base (deforestation, lost soil fertility), erosion and siltation, amenity losses, and the loss of natural habitat and species.
Livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories. Reducing the dairy products you include in your diet also has a huge impact here. The comparison of one liter of milk shows 8 times higher usage from dairy to oat milk, which is the 2nd most “land using” milk on the scale shown below. Compared to rice milk, dairy uses even 26 times more land.
Producing dairy uses 2 to 23 times more freshwater
Currently, 51 countries worldwide are under water stress. In these countries available water resources are overused, therefore can’t be regenerated. Water is everywhere and can be found in practically everything. However, what many people don’t know is just how much water is used to make some of our everyday essentials. Milk, for example, is often thought to be just milk. In reality, milk is 87% water, and cows consume 115-189 liters of water every day to make it. One more reason to switch to a plant-based diet.
But doesn’t the production of almond milk consume a large amount of water? - Well it's not that easy.
80% of the world's almond production is based in California and one Californian almond has an average water footprint of 12 liters per almond. While the cultivation of almonds has a high water consumption, most store-bought almond milk contains only up to 2% almonds on average. For one liter of milk, dairy still consumes twice as much as almond milk. The most water-friendly milk alternative, soy milk, even gets by with alsmot 23 times less freshwater.
Dairy creates much higher levels of eutrophication – the pollution of ecosystems with excess nutrients
Eutrophication is a term that comes from ecology and describes the accumulation of nutrients in an ecosystem or part of it. The German “Duden” defines it "as an undesirable increase of a water body in nutrients and associated useless and harmful plant growth". So what are the consequences of that? -About 97 percent of the surface waters of the Baltic Sea counts as eutrophic and only a few coastal waters are not affected by eutrophication. This is harmful to animals and humans as the increased oxygen consumption, in combination with the low mixing of water layers, can lead to oxygen-free zones. Since oxygen is essential for almost all living organisms, life is no longer possible in these zones, also referred to as death zones. In the Baltic Sea, the extent of these death zones has increased almost tenfold in recent decades and now covers one-sixth of the Baltic Sea.
By now you probably guessed what you as an individual can do against that. - Consume fewer animal-based products. The amount of eutrophication dairy production causes is 10 times as high as soy milk with 10.65 kg per liter of cow milk compared to 1.06 kg with soy milk. While rice milk is with 4.69 kg the “heaviest polluter” in the category of eutrophication among milk alternatives it is still only half as bad as conventional milk.
Ok, dairy is bad. But isn’t soy production destroying the rainforest?
The production of soy is linked to deforestation of the Amazon forest. The growing demand for soy has indeed been one of the drivers of Brazilian land-use change. But 95% of Brazilian soy and globally, more than three-quarters of soy, is being used to feed animals. If you worry about soy production and consumption, the best option is to go vegan. Another factor to consider here, especially for European consumers, is that most of Brazil’s soy crop is genetically modified (some estimates put this figure at 94%) and there are strict regulations on the use of GM soy for direct human food in the European Union. Therefore most of the soy consumed in Europe is also produced in Europe.
Ok, so which milk alternative should I buy?
It depends on the impact you care most about. The overview below shows, almond milk has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, the production of rice milk gets by with the lowest amount of land used. The lowest amount of freshwater usage is found in soy milk, which also is responsible for the lowest amount of eutrophication.
As you can see in the chart below, there is no clear winner on all metrics together.
In the end, it often is a choice of taste and which factor you find most relevant. While our office coffee creations vary mostly between oat and soy, the best option is to just try and see for yourself. Or as Rachel Hosie, who also wrote an essay on plant-based milk, puts it: “At the end of the day, the fact that you’re thinking about your environmental impact is to be applauded, so don’t beat yourself up for trying to make a perfect choice — there’s no such thing.“