Eco-Exchange Challenge: Week 6

Cows Milk to Dairy Free Alternatives

Hi, this article is not meant to dissuade you from having dairy and cows’ milk in your diet. It will show how you can cut down and by cutting down how that can positively affect the health of the planet and have a positive side effect on your health too. No dogma, just facts. This is a serious issue so we’re going to be serious for a minute. 

With more and more dairy free, milk alternatives appearing on the shelves in supermarkets it a perfect time to change the habits of a lifetime and make the switch. Dairy free milk like Almond Milk, Rice Milk, Oat Milk, Soya Milk are not only better for the environment, they are better for human health as well.

I really want to avoid bogging down the article with information which can seem like anti-dairy trade propaganda, so it will only contain references to well supported studies and accepted facts about how cows’ milk adversely affects the environment, and what you can do to help that.

First, some facts about me, Rick, and my cow milk consumption.

Fact 1. Until January 2017 I drank cows’ milk, and a lot of it. I easily consumed over a pint each day and used whey protein powder derived from cows milk after long training rides.

Fact 2. The one thing I used to miss and crave the most when abroad on holiday was ‘proper’ milk.

Fact 3. As of 2017 Katey and I no longer drink cows’ milk and are both now totally dairy free. Kitty also enjoys some of the plant based alternatives. This change happened for 3 reasons:

  • After research I believe dairy has nothing at all to offer to maintain or contribute towards optimum health
  • The dairy industry is not good for the planet
  • Compassion. The dairy industry is not a kind industry, you can do your own research if you need to.

Now for some facts about how Cows’ Milk production is adversely affecting the climate.

There are 1.8 million dairy cows in the UK. Most of them give birth to a calf each year and they all have to be fed and the farms need to be maintained using electricity, fuel and vast amounts of water. Dairy farming also means endless battles with slurry and continuous emissions of methane (one of the main greenhouse gases) resulting from cows’ digestion.

When it comes to milk itself, the chain beginning with the milking of the cows, storing and processing their milk and ending with a customer taking the finished product home, eats up large amounts of energy and fuel and is responsible for even more emissions of greenhouse gases.

The total carbon footprint of the UK dairy sector, including emissions from dairy farms, transport, distribution, processing and end use, is estimated to be 15.5 million tonnes of CO₂ per year (Carbon Trust, 2011).

Just for comparison, if you drive to and from work every working day for an average of 40km (25 miles) a day, your car’s yearly emissions of CO₂ will be around 1.35 tonnes.

That’s the equivalent emissions of 11.5million cars driving 25 miles 5 days per week.

Energy and Water Requirements of the dairy industry

Here are a few examples of the energy and water requirements and greenhouse potential of some dairy-related foods (CO2 eq has got methane and nitrous oxide factored in as CO2 equivalents):

Food Energy required (kJ/kg) Emissions (kgCO2eq/kg) Water (l/kg)
Milk 2,670-3,000 1.04-2.8 1,020
Cheese n/a 8.8-26 5,060
Butter 17,800-21,300 n/a 5,553
Beef (including veal from dairy farming) 44,000 16 15,415
Eggs (figures per 20 eggs) 20,000 5.5 3,265

So, it takes on average 1,020 litres of water to produce one litre of milk, in contrast the total of 297 litres of water are used to produce one litre of soya milk (Ercin et al., 2012).

On average, cows’ milk has a CO2e emissions score of 1327g per litre. Keep that in mind.


Milk Alternatives

There are negative arguments surrounding the amount of water required to grow the almonds, rice, soya, oats, and coconuts which make up the most popular milk alternatives. Whilst this is true, and soya milk is the worst offender, per litre of milk it is still less than a litre of cows’ milk, it is around 60% better. Crucially, the CO2 emissions are just not even close to that of the dairy industry.



CO2e Score for the Alternatives

Rice Milk

1kg of rice on average generating 4kg of CO2e, you are looking at a carbon footprint of around 550g per litre. And if you purchase Rice Dream, then you are supporting a company that has an effective carbon footprint of zero thanks to their carbon offsetting scheme.

Soya Milk

Finding the carbon footprint of soya milk was a simple process because Tesco produce their own brand versions which give the carbon on the label. The CO2e per litre is 400g, that is 70% lower than cow’s milk.

Oat Milk

The oat milk we buy is delicious, it has a natural sweetness which tastes even sweeter when you know it takes 250g CO2e per 1 litre oat drink.

Almond Milk

After much searching I found that Almond milk stands at about 110g CO2e per litre

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk takes only about 100g CO2e per litre. That’s because coconuts get abundant rainfall, and they’re organically grown and harvested with minimal mechanical inputs.

Hemp Milk

Hemp milk is one we have not tried. Hemp is a quite remarkable plant that grows in a great variety of conditions and because it is could rightfully be called a weed, it requires no or almost no herbicide and pesticide. And because the whole hemp plant can be used, the carbon footprint of hemp milk should be very low indeed. Based on everything I have read, hemp milk probably has the lowest environmental impact of any of these options.

How can you reduce your dairy carbon footprint?

OK, all of the above could be a bit heavy, so in a sentence you could reduce your carbon footprint by up to 145kg in a year just by using the greenest of these milk drinks instead of the usual semi-skimmed green top. This is the equivalent of boiling 2081 litres of water in an average electric kettle. Then reduce it further by having less milk in all that tea you’ve just made.

More tips…

Most dairy free milk alternatives do not need to be stored in the fridge until they are opened which means your fridge doesn’t have to work so hard and that means less energy use and more money in your pocket.

Buy milk alternatives when they are on offer at the supermarket and stock up. Again, they don’t need leaving in a fridge. They are currently on offer at Booths Supermarket.

Swap your cappuccino for a flat white as it requires less milk, or even better, stick to an Americano!

Does that butter on your fruit toast really need to be so thick!?

Eat Nice Cream, not Ice Cream, it really is better! Nice Cream Recipes

Transition to Soy yogurt and other alternatives where possible.


Don’t worry about things like calcium and protein. No one in the western world will ever be diagnosed protein deficient, you will be reaching and exceeding the Recommended Daily Allowance/Intake with ease just by eating a healthy whole foods diet. And if you are worried about nutrients some milk alternatives are fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D etc.

In fact…The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 75,000 women for 12 years, showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk. In fact, increased intake of calcium from dairy products was associated with a higher fracture risk. An Australian study showed the same results. Additionally, other studies have also found no protective effect of dairy calcium on bone. You can decrease your risk of osteoporosis by reducing sodium and animal protein intake in the diet, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, exercising, and ensuring adequate calcium intake from plant foods such as leafy green vegetables and beans, as well as calcium-fortified products such as breakfast cereals and juices.

Further Reading with more like the above – Understanding the problems with dairy products.

You can make a difference by making small changes. See how you do! 

Find us on Instagram and Twitter @alfrescofamily



2 Comments on “Eco-Exchange Challenge: Week 6

    • Thank you Lizzie. No we haven’t but think we’ll hire it tonight to watch with wine it looks really interesting. Rock and roll Saturday night 😂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: