Plant-based milks have a huge positive impact on the environment. These non-dairy options are much better for the planet than animal-sourced milk for several reasons. They use less land, and less water and generate lower amounts of greenhouse gases that have a long-term impact on the earth. When examining a product’s environmental footprint, one should assess aspects like greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water use, land use, chemical runoff, and soil degradation for each stage of production—from growing the raw ingredient to processing and transportation
All milk alternatives are far better for the planet than dairy options; some more than others. A study by researchers at the University of Oxford showed that producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any plant-based milk. It also consumes nine times more land than any of the milk alternatives. Land is required to pasture the cows and grow their feed, which the animals belch out in the form of methane. The land degradation to create pastures for cows is another reason why dairy is not preferred. Not to mention the cruelty of abstaining calves from feeding to extract cows’ milk.
Here are 5 aspects where non-dairy milks fare better than dairy milk
Farmland areas allocated for dairy farms have to be a certain minimum for the cattle to graze and be housed in. This also means management and modification of natural environment or wilderness changed to building settlements and semi-natural habitats such as arable fields, pastures, and managed woods. Naturally, this is bound to affect forested land and the habitat is local species. Overall, this is detrimental to the environment.
Greenhouse gas emissions
The most important greenhouse gases that are emitted from the dairy supply chain are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and to a lesser extent, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Usually, the carbon footprint of dairy is expressed as a sum of all greenhouse gas emissions converted into kg CO2-equivalent per kg of fat- and protein corrected milk. Methane emitted from fermentation is also a major reason contributing up to 75 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the dairy sector. This is practically zero in the case of plant-based milks.
Use of water
Water is extremely important to dairy farms. Most farms have to rely on a high-quality water supply to be used for animal consumption, milk cooling, cleaning and sanitizing equipment, cow cooling, irrigating crops, producing value-added products, moving manure, and cleaning the barns via flush systems. Non-dairy products also need water for production but the scale is lower and creates a far lesser impact on the environment.
Dairy farming can have a major impairing impact on natural watercourses due to nitrogen and phosphorus emissions. These are produced from manure spreading and from over-grazed fields. Production of feed involves environmental impact and resource use, with the severity depending on the crop production system and local conditions. This is not true for non-dairy products, where milk is extracted from natural ingredients like oats, peas, soy, coconuts, almonds, and more.
Dairy farming invariably leads to soil degradation over a long time. This can be due to poor handling of manure and fertilizers that can impair local water resources. Unsustainable dairy farming and feed production can lead to the loss of ecologically important areas, such as prairies, wetlands, and forests, which are key to a local ecosystem.