The Best Plant-Based Milks For The Planet

cereal-w-peach-milkEating a plant-based diet is one tool for combating climate change. Even one plant-based meal a day can make a difference. It’s doubtful that the climate crisis is responsible for the diary market’s  40-50% decline in the last 45 years – but nonetheless, non-dairy milks are in demand like never before. Many have figured out that they are lactose intolerant or completely allergic to dairy, others are Vegan, and some do indeed understand dairy’s outsized role in animal agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Whatever your motivation for drinking plant-based milk, cheers! Now comes the sobering news: Not all plant-based milks are created equal in regards to their environmental impact. I’m going to start with some bad news first – the most popular plant-based milks; almond and coconut, are sustainably and ethically problematic. 

Almond Milk

The almond industry is having an adverse affect on bees – which are already endangered due to pesticides, habitat loss, and parasites. The European honeybee monoculture dispatched to pollinate almond crops, disrupt the balance of diverse bee species and ultimately threatens species that are struggling to survive climate change. California provides 80% of the world almond supply and 100% of the US commercial market. Of all crops grown in CA, almond crops demand the most pesticides/herbicides, including glyphosate, better known as Round-Up. Almonds also are a particularly thirsty crop, sucking up an estimated ten percent of California’s insecure water supply annually. Each nut takes a gallon of water to produce. You would imagine that almond milk is high in protein, like the nut. You’d be mistaken. Almond milk ranks at a miniscule 1 gram of protein per cup as compared to soy milk’s 7 grams!

non-dairy-grocery-sectionRice Milk

Rice milk is a drag on the environment as well. Not only is it nutritionally limited, it turns out that rice paddies generate the most greenhouse gas emissions relative to other plant-based milks due to bacteria breeding rice paddies and waterway contamination from fertilizer runoff.  

Coconut Milk


Coconut Plantation

coconutsOkay. No problem. You love coconut milk! Not so fast. Coconut milk demand is driving an unsustainable market in the tropical countries where coconuts grow (Philippines, Indonesia, and India) leading to the exploitation of poor farmers. As with coffee, cocoa, and palm oil, be sure to buy Fair Trade coconut milk products. I say, as long as it’s Fair Trade, go for it! Coconut milk – and all plant based milks – don’t remotely approach the harm non-sustainably farmed dairy products cause to the environment.screen-shot-2020-02-23-at-6-38-24-pm

Soy Milk

Now for the good news! It turns out that soy milk requires the least amount of water in the plant-based milk category and comes closest to dairy in protein – 7 grams per cup – as compared to diary’s 8 grams. Opt for Organic/non-GMO soy grown in the US or Canada. Because soy is feed stock for animals, deforestation in countries like Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia is devastating to the global environment. Read the carton closely and avoid soy milks that are highly processed. If the nutrition panel does not represent substantial vitamins A, D, K, calcium, and protein, keep walking. Two good options are Silk and WestSoy. Also, any concerns about phytohormones have largely been debunked. A person would need to consume an obscene amount amount of soy products for phytoestrogen disruption to be a thing. **If you are a cancer patient, consult your doctor in regards to soy consumption – as you would for your individual, comprehensive diet.


Oat Milk

oatly-with-coffeeEqually fine for the environment is oat milk! Hooray!! Because oat milk is creamy and delicious. North American oats are a huge existing global crop with oat production in Canada ranking #2 globally and US #6, so the grain is nearby and plentiful for to the oat milk industry. According to a Swedish study, greenhouse gas emissions represented a 16-41% reduction when oat milk is swapped for diary. Because oats are a conventionally grown, pesticidal crop however (think Round-Up), look for the Oatly brand, which is certified glyphosate free.

Hemp & Flax Milk

hemp-cropYou may be curious about hemp milk? Hemp milk has a nutty flavor similar to almond milk, and contains more calcium than cow’s milk! Both hemp and flax are small crops grown in the northern hemisphere – qualifying them as an eco-positive choice. Making milks from seeds is relatively easy. Consider making your own seed-milk at home. Hemp is an eco-wonder crop, and no, hemp milk won’t get you high – but it is high in protein (5 grams per cup) and healthy fats. Although not as nutritious as hemp, flax milk is low calorie and cholesterol free. For those allergic to soy, flax milk is a great alternative.

Cashew Milk

Cashew nut  milks and cheeses are troubling. They are very popular, especially in non-dairy cheeses and ice creams, because of their creamy texture. Be aware that the cashew industry is rife with ethical violations similar to the cocoa and coffee trades. Cashew harvesting is labor intensive and dangerous, rife with worker’s rights violations. Cashews are sourced primarily from Vietnam and India with only 3% of the world’s cashew supply certified Fair Trade. Please be aware and look for Fair Trade certification when purchasing cashew products.


About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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