Is almond milk harmful to the environment?

If you’ve seen The Good Place, you might remember one of the show’s many running jokes. Chidi Anagonye, an ethics professor who spent his life in pursuit of deeper truths, felt immense guilt that he used almond milk despite “understanding the negative environmental impact.” 


Of course, fans of the show know that Chidi is indecisive and eccentric, to the point where he often fails to see the bigger picture. So what’s the verdict with almond milk—is it bad for the environment, or is that just another one of the many instances where Chidi feels unnecessary guilt? 


Read on to find out. 


The dairy problem 

Many people view almond milk and other non-dairy alternatives as a better, more sustainable choice than traditional milk. And to their credit, milk and other dairy products are indeed bad for the environment. 


While farmers can source dairy products through humane and sustainable methods, most of it comes from large-scale factory farming. In addition to valuing production quantities over animal wellbeing, factory farming also harms the environment in myriad ways. Manure leads to greenhouse gas emissions, while poor handling of fertilizers and waste can lead to ground and water pollution. 

As there are around 270 million dairy cows worldwide, it’s clear that we should be searching for milk alternatives. 


Almond milk: The answer? 

In some ways, almond milk is better for the environment than dairy milk. It removes cows from the equation, which results in lower greener emissions and less water and ground pollution. Drinking it also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you’re not supporting the inhumane treatment of animals. 


Unfortunately, almond milk harms the environment in other ways. 


For one thing, it requires more water than any other type of non-dairy milk—around 130 pints per glass. Most of the almond milk we drink in the United States comes from California, a region that often experiences heat waves, droughts, and wildfires. 


Besides taking water away from an area that needs it, almond milk production often harms another living creature: bees. As they’re the ones who pollinate almond trees, their workload increases along with almond milk production. However, the demand can create an imbalance, leading to mass numbers of bees perishing from exhaustion. 


Other alternatives

So if dairy milk and almond milk can both lead to environmental problems, what’s the best option to drink?


Oat milk is one option that tastes great and doesn’t harm animals or the environment. As of now, it’s easy to produce enough oats to satisfy demand. They’re a low input crop that leads to crop diversity, reduced soil erosion, and disease-resistant plants. 


Soy milk is another option that’s good for you and the environment. While non-sustainable production methods can harm regions like the Amazon, the workaround is to ensure that you buy ethically-sourced, organic soy milk produced in the United States or Canada. 


Almond milk: Better, but not the best 

If you’re looking for a more humane and sustainable type of milk, almond milk is a good option. However, it still requires a lot of water for production and can harm bee colonies.


Oat and soy milk are two non-dairy options that are better for the environment and even better for your health. While it’s hard to know for sure, even Chidi Anagonye would likely feel more confident if he drank either of them!

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