How Sustainable is Plant Based Milk?


I talk a lot about sustainability. I get quite ranty on the topic of single use plastic in particular.

There are so many things wrong with the way we live our lives when it comes to caring for the environment, it’s overwhelming. We can easily feel powerless against the weight of big corporations and the fossil fuel industry.

A handful of big businesses cause the majority of the destruction of natural habitats. Loss of bio diversity. Threats to human and animal health. Unnecessary waste. Pollution. Poverty. Poisoning the air and water around us – the leading causes of climate change and generally shitty behaviour – propped up, enabled and subsidised by weak or corrupt governments.

There is only so much we as individuals can do. But if we all do something we can make a difference, even if it’s just to vote with our pounds, dollars and euros with the choices we make as consumers.

From a cold economic perspective – and let’s face it, fossil fuel corporations, supermarkets, big industry and food producers only care about their bottom line – if we don’t buy it they’ll stop producing it.


Making ethical and sustainable choices is not about doing it all perfectly.

You can’t change everything in your life overnight, you have to pick your battles.


If everyone does something, however small, to live more ethically and sustainably, together it will make a difference.


Incremental Changes

Once you make one small change, it’s a compulsion to want to do more. Incrementally, small changes start to make a big difference to your individual impact, which has a knock on effect across the community.


Which battle will you pick?

The biggest hitting changes you can make are:


Reducing waste and avoiding plastic

This is one of the biggest things you can do to make a difference. At every stage in the chain, plastic is destructive. Extracting oil to make it. Transportation. The toxic production process. Further transportation and then waste that stays in the environment for thousands of years and pollutes everything, right down to a cellular level.

This is my big battle. I choose to dedicate time and effort into reducing the use of plastic in my life. Partly why I’m going for a year without shopping in supermarkets.


Avoid flying

Around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation. Which doesn’t sound much, until you consider that a very small percentage of the world flies frequently, and most of them are in developed world. Which makes us here in the UK disproportionately heavy contributors to that 2.4%. If there is an alternative to flying, choose it.


Use your car less

Better yet, get rid of it. We gave up our car earlier this year, and honestly, it’s liberating and saves us a noticeable amount of money each month.

We’ve not missed it, but we have had a to hire a car when visiting relatives in rural Somerset. We have joined a car club, as there will be occasions where I have to travel for work to places with no public transport alternative.

We are also starting a new business which potentially will involve delivering and picking up bulky items, so we will have to get a car/van in the next year.

We’re holding off for as long as we can. When we do have to get a vehicle, we’ll be going electric – it’s not ideal but better than a fossil fuelled vehicle. When we are in a position to be able to afford solar panels, it will cost us hardly anything to run.


Going Vegan

Our food accounts for a substantial proportion of our carbon footprint. It is well documented that cereal and vegetable crops have less impact on the environment than livestock. Livestock need more land to produce food, and when farmed on an industrial scale they need supplementary feed, which is often produced by destroying rainforests to make way for soya crops. Ruminants also produce a lot of methane, although I doubt that cow burps and farts make anything like the amount of emissions than vehicles do!

Going fully vegan is a big lifestyle change and can be a health risk if you’re not mindful of replacing the protein and nutrients your body is used to getting from animal products.


Don’t be a Cop Out

Becoming a vegan is not a get out of jail free card.

Being vegan doesn’t mean you can simply substitute the highly processed packaged food with meat in, for the highly processed packaged food without meat.

If your vegan diet is high in soya and palm oil (both used extensively in processed products) grown in deforested regions, you may be inadvertently causing more harm than good, than choosing locally reared, grass fed meat. 

Being vegan doesn’t give you carte blanche to regularly take international flights, drive a gas guzzling SUV,  create mountains of single use plastic waste, and choose to wear cheap polyester (plastic) clothes that you bin after a couple of wears!


Reducing Milk Consumption

Expecting everyone in the world to become vegan is at best, unrealistic and at worst imperialistic, culturally destructive, and disempowering for communities with little other choice.

However, if we all ate less meat and dairy it would make a difference to our carbon footprint. As our food demands change, so industry would react, potentially creating a more sustainable food system.


My latest small change is to choose plant based milk instead of dairy.


I don’t think I would ever go full vegan. I don’t believe it is wrong to eat animals, but I do object to the way they are treated and the harm the industrial meat and dairy industry does. 

So, if I’m reducing the amount of dairy milk I consume for ethical and environmental reasons, what is the best alternative?

I’ve been researching a few sources and drawn a conclusion.


Read this comprehensive guide by Ethical Consumer: Shopping Guide to Vegan and Non-Dairy Milk| Ethical Consumer


Almond Milk

In short, mass produced Almond milk is often nutritionally poor, and highly diluted. Almonds take a massive amount of water to grow, to the extent that they are causing serious water shortages in California where most of them are grown.

Also, California is a long way from the UK!

More on why Almond milk is bad: Almond milk isn’t the silver bullet you think it is. Even worse, it’s ravaging the planet. (


Soya Milk

Soya is often grown in deforested rainforest regions. Giving up meat and eating more soya products does little to halt the destruction of rainforests.

Also, rainforests are a long way from the UK!


Oat Milk

Oats have less protein than dairy, but as a native grain, are the most sustainable choice of these three options. But beware, Tetra Pak cartons have limited recyclability, plastic is – well, plastic – so choose a glass bottle (infinitely recyclable) and/or refill options. 


More on milk alternatives:


The Best Option

On balance, if you are in the UK and want to choose the most ethical milk, choose Oat milk in reusable glass bottles.

Many zero waste shops, farm, shops and greengrocers have an Oat milk refill station. Or use a doorstep delivery service like Milk and More.

You can also make your milks at home from whatever grains, seeds or nuts are readily and sustainably available to you.

There are plenty of recipes to make your own grain and nut milk. The basic recipe is:

  • Soak your nuts, seeds or grains overnight in water
  • Use 1/2 to 1 part soaked grains to 4 parts water
  • Blend
  • Strain
  • Keep refrigerated and drink within 4 days 

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