Road Test: Milk – is there a sustainable choice?

If you’re following me on Instagram or Facebook then you will have been flooded with recipes for milk alternatives this week. This milk post came about because I struggled to find a plastic free bottle of milk for Plastic Free July, so I decided to make my own alternatives at home from bulk sourced, plant-based alternatives.

I’ve been holding off on auditing anything food related as I love food, lots of food, in fact, pretty much all the foods, and I know the way in which we produce and consume food today is not sustainable. I know the meat and dairy industries are incredibly detrimental for the environment by causing:

  • Biodiversity loss
  • Deforestation
  • Water pollution
  • Land degradation
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Air pollution
  • Waste
  • And animal welfare issues

And yet I still haven’t been able to give up bacon…. or the milk in my daily coffee.

Greenhouse Gases

According to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the worldwide agriculture industry is responsible for a whopping 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions and dairy alone is 4%! Believe it or not, 18% was the same amount of greenhouse gases produced by transport in Australia in 2015 (Australia’s agriculture in 2015 was responsible for 13% of total emissions). This is important to note as Australia is one of the least efficient countries for transport – large land mass, low population density, crappy public transport infrastructure etc.

I know 4% doesn’t seem like a lot but Ask Umbra states: according to the US EPA, 1L of milk is equivalent to approximately 2 kg of carbon dioxide. That’s a lot of CO2 for only a little milk.

Cows and the Environment

Milk from cows requires more land (plus land for growing feed – so like double land), more processing and more water than alternative milks made at home. According to the World Wildlife Fund, two-thirds of the world’s agricultural land is used for maintaining livestock, including growing soy and corn to feed dairy cows (cows are the main consumers of soy products – not humans).

A 2009 study by the Loma Linda University found non-vegetarian diets require 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more energy, 13 times more fertiliser and 1.4 times more pesticides than a vegetarian diet – with the biggest contributor to the differences coming from the consumption of beef. Now, I know I’m meant to be comparing milk and not meat, but this points out how intensive cows are on the environment – which is where we get our milk from. The takeaway is – cows are ultimately worse for the environment than plants.

But I digress… we’re here to road test milk (or ‘mylk’ as labelled by the hispter community), not chat about statistics.

So lets breakdown the situation:

When comparing the sustainability of  ‘mylks’ there seems to be little research available and I do not have a definitive answer that points to one ‘mylk’ being better for the planet than another (except plant based over cow’s). Some sources say coconut mylk has quite a small environmental footprint in comparison to others nuts.

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Homemade peanut mylk

From what I did read, the most sustainable option will be:

  • Plant based
  • Locally produced – less food miles
  • Organic or insecticide free (yay for bees)
  • and DIY – less processed and less packaging

Minimal Sam’s Mylk Road Test

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Pepita, oat, almond, cashew, coconut, peanut mylks and coconut yogurt.

Swapping cow’s milk for a plant-based alternative isn’t going to solve the world’s environmental problems but it’s a small step in the right direction. I still have a long way to go with concerns to my dairy consumption (cappuccinos, butter, cheese and chocolate) but I will persevere!

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