Is Your Favorite Plant-based Milk Good For The Planet? Here's How They Compare | SCHOOL OF GRADUATE STUDIES
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Is your favorite plant-based milk good for the planet? Here's how they compare

Next time you’re at the grocery store and reaching for that gallon of whole milk, maybe instead, for the sake of the environment, think about changing things up and choosing some soy, oat, or even—if you can find it—hemp milk.

Dairy production is something of an environmental nightmare. Cows are among the biggest agricultural contributors to climate change and water pollution. Each year, the average cow belches about 220 pounds of methane—a greenhouse gas that, while much more short-lived than carbon dioxide, is about 28 times more potent in warming the atmosphere. Also, as manure decomposes, it releases more methane, as well as pollutants like ammonia. Dairy also requires more than 12 times more land per unit produced than does oat milk and uses 23 times as much fresh water as soy. According to WWF, 144 gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of milk in the U.S., almost all of it used to grow cattle feed.

It’s true that millions of people around the world like dairy milk; milk is a rich source of protein; cows are nice. And, at least in the United States, the dairy industry has significantly reduced its environmental footprint over the past several decades, primarily by reducing the number of cows while increasing yield, among other measures.

Fortunately, plant-based milks are popping up more and more in the dairy case. According to the 2021 Plant-Based State of the Industry Report, produced by the Good Food Institute (GFI), plant-based milk sales in the United States grew by 4 percent last year to $2.6 billion. And while some of those milks score better than others in terms of environmental impacts, even those that require the most land and consume the most water do as well as or better than dairy, asserts GFI’s Priera Panescu. “Across the board, hands down, plant milks are undeniably the environmentally friendly choice,” she says.

But which is least harmful? From a purely environmental standpoint, different milks have their own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look.

Date of Input: 06/12/2022 | Updated: 27/12/2022 | aslamiah


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