Is almond milk bad for the environment?

Table Of Contents

The environmental problems associated with almond milk

The high volume of water consumption necessary for almond cultivation often leads to environmental harm in the form of land drought.

Since almond milk is mainly produced in specific regions and countries (mainly California), the pollution and emissions that arise as a result of the transportation of almond milk from one continent to another is another environmental factor to consider.

It is thought that more than 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California; an area of the United States that, in recent decades, has seen extreme drought. In an effort to create more space for almond production, farmers are destroying biodiverse fruit and citrus groves in order to cultivate more and more almonds, in an effort to satisfy the high demand.

While diary milk (farming) may lead to issues related to climate change, almond milk leads to a similar, if not larger degree of damage in the form of water shortages and drought. Therefore, choosing between either is almost a question of which is worse for the environment.

For some peace of mind, however, one way of helping to reduce the environmental impacts of both dairy and almond milk is to source either product from companies that use sustainable farming methods and/or use agro-ecological methods of irrigating water. 

The environmental problems associated with cows milk

According to the Guardian, “A glass of dairy milk produces almost three times more greenhouse gas than any plant-based milk”.

Dairy cows and manure exhibit greenhouse gas emissions (such as methane) which can lead to environmental damage. Fertilizers used in dairy farming can also pollute water resources. As a result of this, in recent times, more and more conscious minded consumers have looked for an alternative to cow’s milk.

However in recent years it has become clearer that even vegan milk alternatives aren’t without environmental downsides. As a result of this, environmentally conscious consumers with a will to purchase sustainable products only find themselves in a limbo, due to the ambiguity surrounding truly sustainable milk.

Is almond milk bad for the bees?

Many almond crops are treated with pesticides. When these pesticides and bees come into contact with one another, the pesticide chemicals can prove very harmful towards bees. Almonds also require bees to wake early from hibernation in order to play their part in the almond crop season. This disrupts the natural behavioural patterns of bees.

California has introduced a “Bee Where” program, which aims to help identify hive locations and notify farmers about future pesticide sprays.

With that in mind, which milk is best for the environment?

In terms of the environmental footprint / impact, both oat and soy milk consume the least amount of water in comparison to other dairy milk alternatives, while exhibiting only slightly higher emission levels to the likes of almond milk.

Daniela Haake put together an excellent chart, illustrating the environmental impacts that arise from different milk types:

Source: Poore & Nemecek (2018) Science; additional calculations for plant milks, milk chocolate, and pasta (using DataWrapper)

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