What is the Most Environmentally Friendly Milk Alternative?

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

The discussion on whether or not cow milk is bad for the environment is all but over and it is now time to look for a sustainable alternative to fill our cereal bowls. So, what plant-based milk alternative is the best for the environment? Well, we read studies from the top environmental and scientific groups on the matter and compiled a list of the top 5 most environmentally friendly vegan milk alternatives.

Which Type of Milk is Best for the Environment?

Dairy Milk

Rating: Worst

Out of all your available milk options, milk produced from cows or goats is undoubtedly the worst for the environment. To produce just a single glass of milk, cows consume 120 liters of water and requires 1.5 square meters of land. For just enough milk to fill your cereal bowl (200ml), .6 kilograms (1.3 pounds) of greenhouse gasses are emitted into the atmosphere.

Rice Milk

Rating: Decent

Other than milk produced from animals, rice milk produces the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions, thus making it not a great choice when it comes to environmentally friendly vegan milks. To produce 1 glass of milk, rice will produce .2 kilograms (.45 lbs) of GHG emissions. Rice milk also requires a good deal of water for production, second only to almond milk and animal milks. When deciding which vegan milk to choose, we recommend looking elsewhere. However, rice milk is still a much better choice than animal milk.

Soy Milk

Rating: Great

Soy milk is third in line when it comes to GHG emissions during production, behind dairy and rice milk. While it releases more greenhouse gasses than oat or almond milk, soy milk requires the least amount of water when compared against all other vegan milk options. Soy also requires far less land, demanding only .2 square meters to produce one glass (80% less than dairy milk).

Almond Milk

Rating: Good

To produce almond milk, companies finely grind almonds into a puree and then mix them with water. While still a far better option than animal milk, almond milk does require more water than any other vegan milk option on the market. Almost every nut requires a great deal of water to produce, and almonds are no different. It does not help that 80% of the world’s almonds are produced in the often drought-stricken state of California either. To produce just a single glass of milk, almonds require almost 80L of water, making it the thirstiest of all the vegan milk types. However, almond milk also produces the least GHG emissions during cultivation, slighting redeeming the nut milk.

Oat Milk

Rating: Great

To produce oat milk, companies combine water, an enzyme blend and whole oats into large barrels and process it into milk. Other than soy milk, oat milk is one of the most environmentally friendly milk alternatives. Oat milk produces less GHG emissions than dairy, soy, oat and rice milk and uses only ~10 liters of water to produce a single glass. If sustainability is your main concern when shopping for a vegan milk option, then oat milk should be at the top of your list!

What is your favorite type of vegan milk alternative? Let us know in the comments below!


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Earthen Futures is a sustainability blog dedicated to keeping global citizens informed on ways to fight climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. We overview the latest environmental studies and research to provide you with the best available information on ways you can help the environment and make the world a better place.