PSA: Drinking almond or coconut milk is really, really bad for the planet

‘Almond milk is like sending bees to war’


I'm gonna cut to the chase here: the almond and coconut milk you're swapping in for regular milk in your Pret order is actually killing the planet.

Just as you were getting over the devastating news that avocados are pretty damaging to the environment, it turns out some of our beloved milk alternatives might be just as bad.

We can't all be Greta Thunberg, but swapping your chicken for tofu, or your dairy milk for oat milk, is pretty morally satisfying. There's something undeniably great about feeling like you're singlehandedly saving the planet one carton of soy milk at a time.

But those plant-based alternatives we've all been raving about aren't always as ethical as you might think.

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To tell whether your almond latte is ruining the world, here's a list of milk alternatives and their impact on the environment, so you can take your pick.

We all know drinking dairy milk is an ethical sin, but here's exactly why

First things first, any plant-based alternative to milk is better for the environment than dairy.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that producing dairy milk requires cows, which require land to pasture and feed, which results in toxic methane being released into the environment.

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A study at the University of Oxford revealed producing a glass of dairy milk results in three times more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based alternatives, and uses nine times more land.

That being said, dairy alternatives aren't entirely relinquished of blame when it comes to environmental impact.

Drinking almond milk is 'like sending bees to war'

Just like avocados, the production of almond milk is reliant on pollination by bees. The continual demand for almond crops is putting unsustainable pressures on beekeepers and resulting in the death of bees.

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Nearly 70 per cent of commercial bees in the US are drafted to pollinate almonds every spring. Last year, a record number of over a third of those bees died as a result of these pressures.

And whilst almond trees occupy less farmland than other plant-based milks, they require more water than any other dairy-alternative, consuming a whopping 130 pints of water to produce a single glass of milk.

Is rice milk just as bad as cows?

Just like almonds, rice milk requires an unsustainable amount of water to produce.

It might be inexpensive, but it offers little in the way of nutrition and produces more greenhouse gases than any other milk alternative. The bacteria breeding in rice paddies releases methane into the atmosphere, just like cows, and the large amounts of fertiliser used pollute water systems.

Coconut milk exploits workers and destroys rainforests

The refreshingly sweet taste of coconut milk might add a bit of an exotic kick to your morning coffee, but spare a thought for the pickers in the Philippines, India and Indonesia, who are paid less than a dollar a day, next time you opt for this dairy alternative.

Coconuts only grow in tropical environments so there's a huge pressure to meet global demand, causing workers to be exploited and the destruction of rainforests.

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But you can still get your ethical fix of coconut milk if you choose products which are certified Fair Trade, to avoid funding unsustainable practices.

Hazelnut milk is the ethical alternative to almond milk

Hazelnut milk is the perfect alternative if the guilt of drinking almond milk is starting to get to you.

You get the same nutty taste and nutritiousness but without all the negative environmental impacts.

Hazelnuts are pollinated by the wind, rather than commercial bees, and they grow in moist climates so require the use of less water. Plus an added bonus is that all nuts pull carbon from the atmosphere which helps to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Hemp and flax: niche but nutritious

Hemp and flax seeds are rich in protein and healthy fats, so the milk they produce is full of nutrients.

But they're also grown in relatively small quantities in the northern hemisphere which makes them more environmentally friendly.

Soy milk wins on the sustainability scale

Soy milk wins for sustainability, plus it's the only plant-based alternative to dairy milk that contains similar levels of protein content to get you those gains.

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The only downside is that soybeans are grown in mass quantities worldwide to feed livestock for meat and dairy production, meaning large parts of the Amazon rainforest have been burned to make space for soy farms.

There's an easy solution though – simply check the carton to make sure your soy milk is made from organic soybeans grown in the USA or Canada.

Oat milk – the unassuming hero

And we have a winner. Oats are grown in cool climates such as the USA and Canada so no deforestation or worker exploitation occurs as a result.

The only catch is that most oats are mass-produced in monoculture operations where they're sprayed with pesticide before harvest, containing glyphosate, a possible carcinogen.

However certain brands, such as Oatly, are certified glyphosate free so this can be easily avoided.

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