Plant-based milks are infinitely better for the environment than dairy, but how do you know which milk to choose if you are concerned about climate change?

A scientific study suggests the greenhouse gas emissions used in the production of plant-based milks are lower than for dairy milk. But which milk has the smallest impact on the planet?

Looking at the global averages illustrated in the chart below, producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times the greenhouse gas emissions of any non-dairy milks, according to a University of Oxford study. Looking at land use, the difference is starker still.


Producing a glass of dairy milk every day for a year requires 650 sq m (7,000 sq ft) of land, the equivalent of two tennis courts and more than 10 times as much as the same amount of oat milk, according to this study.

Almond milk requires more water to produce than soy or oat milk. A single glass requires 74 litres (130 pints of water) – more than a typical shower. Rice milk is also comparatively thirsty, requiring 54 litres of water per glass. However, it’s worth noting that both almond and rice milk still require less water to produce than the typical glass of dairy milk.

Where something is produced can mean there is a variation in its impact on the climate – see the chart below on dairy milk. On a more local level, sourcing products made close to home may result in a smaller carbon footprint than products that have had to be transported a long way. The graphic below takes into account emissions from farming and in addition it includes transportation, packing and processing. Where livestock feed has had an impact on deforestation, this figure has also been included.


“The greenhouse gas emissions from milk are about 30 times higher than what people estimate.”

People tend to underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions from food, and dairy milk is no exception, according to research by Dr Adrian Camilleri, a psychologist at the University of Technology Sydney. “The greenhouse gas emissions from milk are about 30 times higher than what people estimate,” he told BBC News. “I suspect that most consumers underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions saved by switching from dairy milk to plant-based milk such as soy milk.”

To find out the climate impact of what you eat and drink, choose from one of the 34 items on the Climate Change Food Calculator and pick how often you have it. All figures for each food in the calculator are global averages. You can read more about how it was made at the foot of this page. You can try out the calculator here

Original source: