I remember when the phrase “Got Milk?” was advertised on television. It was a vast American campaign designed to get people to buy more milk. Why? Because milk sales had been on a steady decline for over 2 decades. And it worked – the nosedive was averted.
Unfortunately for milk companies, this no longer seems to be the case. Milk sales continue to plummet nowadays. People just aren’t as interested in drinking milk as in the old days.
Well, that’s not completely true. While it’s true that cow milk has been on a downward spiral, the alternative milk industry is booming. That means that almond milk, soy milk, and even the praised oat milk are quickly taking over the industry. Even the most staunch cow milk companies are starting to offer these plant-based kinds of milk.
As someone who has grown up on cow milk and now drinks almond/oat milk, I can appreciate the change. The taste is comparable and I can rest easy knowing that the environment is way better off in a world full of plant milk.
It’s no secret having cows produce milk is pretty bad for the environment. The cows take up tons of land, require heaps of resources to stay alive, and produce a fair bit of greenhouse gases to boot. Not to mention the questionable conditions that the cows themselves are subjected to. When you really think about it, it can be quite disturbing.
So what about plant-based milk? More specifically, is oat milk bad for the environment? Thankfully, I can say that oat milk is wonderful for the environment. It’s superior to cow milk in every way from a sustainability perspective. Even better, it’s pretty good for you too.
Oat Milk Is the Best Plant-Based Milk for the Environment
Oat milk has some great things going for it. Here is a quick list of its environmental impacts:
- Oat milk requires far less water to produce milk than cows do.
- Oat milk requires far less land to produce equivalent amounts of milk compared to cows.
- Oat milk has a relatively low greenhouse gas footprint.
I think that once you see the numbers associated with these facts, you’ll be shocked by the difference between oat milk and cow milk. I know that I was!
Let’s go over each point in a little more detail.
Oat Milk Uses Less Water
Do you know how much water it takes for a cow to produce 1 liter of milk? It’s not a 1-1 ratio, that much is for certain. You need to keep in mind that the cow needs a lot of water just to live. So naturally, it’s only going to produce ample amounts of milk with ample hydration.
Over a thousand liters of water just to make 1 liter of milk! If you can picture your average gallon of milk, 1 liter is a little more than a fourth of the container. To get to 1 gallon, you’ll need 3.78 liters of milk.
With a bit of math, we can see that it’ll take almost 4000 (3969 to be exact) liters of water for this cow to make 1 gallon of milk.
So how does oat milk compare? Oat milk only requires 48 liters of water to produce 1 liter of milk. Using the same math, oat milk can be made into 1 gallon of milk with 181 liters of water.
The difference is staggering – 3969 liters compared to 181. Otherwise known as a ratio of almost 22:1. These numbers become monstrous when you consider just how many cows are milked compared to oats processed.
And with water scarcity becoming more widespread, we need to keep every drop that we can get.
Oat Milk Does Not Need as Much Land
This point is easy enough to understand. It’s kind of a given that plants do not need as much land as big ol’ cows do.
After all, cows require space for two main reasons:
- Better for their health.
- Better for sanitary conditions.
These are non-negotiable – you can’t crowd cows beyond a certain legal limit. Otherwise, you face serious repercussions from the government up to and including shutting your business down.
Plus, healthy cows provide better milk. It’s not in the best interest of the dairy farm to mistreat their animals as it directly affects their product, which affects the bottom line. And like humans, cows only produce milk after they give birth. They need to be healthy to do so, especially continuously.
Oats do not have these limitations. While they can take up a chunk of land, they also take up quite a bit less land than cows do. Oats are far easier to maintain as well. They also consume far fewer precious resources as they mature quickly. And they don’t need to get pregnant before they can be used to make milk. Farmers just need to ensure that these oats get plenty of light and a bit of water.
As far as numbers go, oat milk takes up about 80% less space than cows do. That’s a lot of space that can be used for other purposes. Or said space can be used to make more oat milk – you would hear no complaints from me!
Oat Milk Has a Lower Greenhouse Gas Footprint
Turns out the oats don’t produce that much carbon dioxide from start (being planted) to finish (sitting as a carton of oat milk at a grocery store).
Making oat milk produces 0.18 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every 200 millimeters of milk made. For reference, 200 millimeters is the size of your average glass cup.
In comparison, cow milk produces 0.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every 200 millimeters of milk made. That’s over 3x the amount of greenhouse gas!
But it doesn’t just end there – livestock (primarily cows) actually produce the highest quantity of greenhouse gases in general. In fact, they make up 14.5% of the GLOBAL greenhouse gas emissions in total. That’s an insanely high number! In comparison, plastic produces 4.5% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (which is another reason why plastic sucks).
While I’m sure that the cows aren’t trying to harm the environment, it doesn’t change the fact that cows pump out tons of methane gas as a result of their digestive system.
Methane is actually worse for the environment than carbon dioxide. How much worse?
Methane is 25x more potent than carbon dioxide.
So be sure to support oat milk companies if you want to help the environment!
Oat Milk Tastes Great and Can Be Healthy Too
As much as we like to talk about the environmental impacts of eco-focused products, we also have to address the reality that we live in. An eco-friendly product that is worse than its competition will never see mass adoption. It doesn’t matter if it saves 1,000 trees; no one will buy it if it’s inferior.
This is why oat milk is all the more impressive. It’s one of the few eco-friendly products that stand up to its competitors and win.
Oat milk tends to be naturally sweet and creamy, making it a great addition to smoothies, coffee, and cereals. Of the plant-based kinds of milk, oat milk is one the best choices for replacing the taste and feel of cow milk.
The nutritional profile of oat milk varies from brand to brand, as processing methods can strip some nutrients while leaving others intact. And while oat milk has a good nutrition profile, it can lack some of the good stuff found in cow milk. For example, oat milk has less protein (3 grams to a cow’s 8 grams per cup) and does not contain all the amino acids like a cow’s milk does.
*Note – if you wanted to get a similar nutritional profile to cow milk, you should choose soy milk. It’s nearly identical in terms of nutrition.
Going back to oat milk, companies will get around this issue by fortifying their milk with added nutrients. Protein-enhanced oat milk will deliver comparable amounts of protein. And if you really wanted to, you could make your own enhanced oat milk with a proper recipe.
The Downsides of Oat Milk
I’m not going to just list all of the positives without talking about some of the drawbacks of switching to oat milk. I want to provide a comprehensive article, after all!
With that said, oat milk does have a few issues that you should be aware of.
- Potential chemical absorption
- Less availability
First, the price. Plant-based milk is quite a bit more expensive in general than cow’s milk. This is due to the increased costs associated with higher quality and intensive processing.
A half-gallon of oat milk can run from $4 to $5 while whole milk can run from $1 to $2.
Second, there may be issues with chemicals. Due to the pesticides used during harvest, oats may absorb a chemical called glyphosate at levels considered unsafe. This would naturally transfer to the oat milk as well.
To get around this, it’s best to purchase organic oat milk or make your own oat milk from an organic farm.
Finally, oat milk tends to be less available than cow’s milk or even other plant-based milk. But as people drink more and more of it, I’m confident that companies will increase their production of oat milk to fill the demand.
Oat milk isn’t perfect, but I believe that it’s a lot better than cow’s milk. While it may not be as nutritious as cow’s milk, it’s way better for the environment. And as a bonus, it’s something that lactose-intolerant people can enjoy.
I’m not the only one feeling this way. The impact on the dairy industry speaks for itself. Companies are actively switching to plant-based milk; oat milk is just one fine offering among a selection of great choices. While these changes are probably more profit-driven than eco-focused, the benefit it has to our world exists all the same.
So yeah, I think that I’m team oat milk from now on. And I hope that you guys will consider making the switch too after reading this post! Until next time, have a great one!