Oat milk is the most environmentally friendly milk. Oats don’t contribute to drought like nuts and rice. Their CO2 emissions are lower than most alternatives. They're also grown in the west—where most milk is consumed—reducing CO2 emissions from transport.
Oat milk also tastes delicious and works well in coffee.
Finding out the exact environmental impact of anything is practically impossible. So, instead we just read a bunch of articles about milk (see sources) and did our best to put them in the right order.
Oat milk consistently shows up at the top.
We also tasted all these milks with coffee (except for camel) and organized them by taste.
See how the rest of them stacked up below—from best to worst:
Hazelnut’s require less water than other nuts, don’t need pesticides, protect against erosion, and grow in the west. So they’re pretty good.
Note — hazelnut milk tastes great, so long as you don't steam it. Once frothed it becomes bitter.
Coconuts have a surprisingly low environmental impact. Coconut trees don’t require much fertilizer or pesticide, and are only grown in places with plentiful water.
Growing hemp requires a lot of water is responsible for habitat destruction and soil erosion. Also, hemp milk tastes like paper. So just avoid it.
It’s hard to find reliable info on tiger nuts. They’re grown mostly in Africa and the Middle East meaning they need to be transported to where people drink the most milk.8
On the other hand, it’s a hardy plant which tends to mean it has a low environmental impact.
Nuts require a lot of water to grow, which is fine if they’re growing somewhere with lots of rainfall.
Almonds however, are grown mostly in California which is naturally arid. Producing 1 liter of almond milk requires 6086 liters of water—which is insane.4
Camel milk is probably the greenest animal milk—and apparently it tastes similar to cow's milk.
Camel milk is not produced at scale and it's not clear what the environmental impact would be if it were. But, camels don't produce nearly as much methane as cows or goats.
While it's not clear that cashews have a bad environmental impact, they do cause severe health problems for the people who cultivate them.9
Assuming that being socially irresponsible with the lives of your workers correlates with being environmentally irresponsible—let's just put them near the bottom.
Soy production is responsible for a devastating amount of deforestation. Most of this can be blamed on the meat and dairy industry, as 90% of soy is grown to feed cattle.
Soy milk is better for the environment than cow’s milk, but much of this soy is grown where trees once stood, and then exported across the world. So it’s best avoided.
Growing rice produces lots methane and nitrous oxide10, both far worse green house gasses than carbon dioxide.
Rice also requires a lots of fresh water and transport to the west.
Goats are less problematic than cows, but still share many of the same issues. Including methane burps and farts.
Another problem is that goat's milk tastes awful.
Cow’s milk is by far the worst for the environment. The beef and dairy industry is disproportionately responsible for climate change for a number of reasons.
Modified — Sunday, 28 April 2019
Published — Sunday, 28 April 2019