Is Oat Milk Good or Bad for the Environment? | Stats & Facts

is oat milk good or bad for the environment

Do you realize that your dietary choices may affect your carbon footprint or greenhouse emissions? Yes, you read that right! Food production accounts for 25% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

This implies that anything as basic as the sort of milk you are using might contribute significantly to your everyday greenhouse gas emissions. Termed otherwise, as your carbon footprint.  

For context, a coffee brewed with cow’s milk is known to emit around 53g of CO2 equivalent (CO2e). The coffee with no milk emits about 21g of CO2e, which is less than 50% of the impact. According to studies, shifting to non-dairy milk cuts emissions and carbon footprint by nearly half.

This may appear paradoxical though since non-dairy milk requires far more processing and hence must consume significantly more energy, causing more emissions. But it is not the case. We would be severely undermining the negative environmental impacts of cattle ranching, if that were to be true.

Many customers increasingly opt for organic and plant-based diets over traditional eating habits. The market for plant-based milk is expanding year after year. Various plant-based milk options include rice, almond, soy, hemp, and oat milk.

With the growing challenges of dairy allergy, gluten sensitivity, calorie issues, cholesterol issues, and cancer, there has been an increased demand for plant milk substitutes. People are also becoming more mindful of the need to minimize the environmental effect of their food and beverage choices. 

Oat milk, among other milk alternatives is rapidly becoming one of the most popular options. For years, the nutritional merits of various plant-based milk have been passionately contested.

But is oat milk bad for the environment? To know the truest answer, you should understand some facts and figures. This article will help you to unravel the environmental impact of oat milk.

The General Trend of Dairy and Plant-Based Milk Alternatives In the US across Decades 

In 2013, the worldwide value of dairy milk production was USD 328 billion, with the following split of milk sources –

Is Oat Milk Good or Bad for the Environment? | Stats & Facts

The value of dairy industry is predicted to rise by 23% by 2025 as the population rises at an exponential rate from 2013 levels.

However, a detailed examination of Nielsen Company’s US market statistics revealed that cow milk yearly sales fell by- 

  • 5.1% from 2000 to 2004, 
  • 10.2% from 2010 to 2014 and
  • 6% from 2017 to 2018. 

A more surprising statistic found that, despite population increase, dairy milk sales in the United States fell by 35.6% between 1975 and 2016. The reasons may not be clear as day and night on this. There definitely appears to be some influence of awareness towards veganism and animal cruelty contributing to this decline.

While other factors at play might be allergies, intolerances, other health concerns or simply environmental consciousness. Here’s a more recent representation of the decline in per capita fluid dairy consumption in the US –

Is Oat Milk Good or Bad for the Environment? | Stats & Facts

This directly benefits plant milk substitutes, which is reflected in the 9% increase in consumption from 2017 to 2018 taking the alternative milk market capitalization to $1.6 billion. 

Non-dairy milk sales are increasing steadily and are predicted to reach USD 28,336.61 million by 2026 globally, with a predicted CAGR of 9.1% from 2019 to 2026. These alternatives have become part of a lifestyle beyond the intolerance of milk and allergies.

How Do They Make Oat Milk Commercially? 

All you need to prepare simple oat milk at home are oats and water. These are combined and then drained. On a bigger scale, store-bought oat milk is prepared in this manner. Some kinds, like other plant-based milk, are supplemented. As a result, they will have more minerals and vitamins.

Milling is the first step in the commercial oat milk manufacturing process, followed by the enzyme disintegrating the oat starches into smaller parts. The bran is removed from the oats, leaving the loose fibers behind. To boost the fat and texture of commercial oat milk, oil, often sunflower oil or canola/rapeseed oil, is added.

Sugar or flavors are occasionally added as well. Salt is another typical additive since it improves oat milk’s sweet and natural flavors. Then, if necessary, further flavorings and substances, such as vitamins are added.

Before being packed, the milk is sterilized. But does this process ring a question in your mind- is oat milk environmentally friendly to be produced commercially?

Oat Milk Environmental Impact | Is Oat Milk Bad for the environment? 

1. Oat Milk Requires Less Water per Liter than Cow’s Milk 

Every day, we should attempt to use as little water as possible. This comprises the hidden water used to prepare our food and beverages. Using excessive water may deprive ecosystems that rely on it to survive. Regarding water, oat milk water usage is considerably less effective than other kinds of milk. 

It takes about 628 liters of freshwater to make a liter of cow milk commercially available. To put it in context, soy milk requires just 28 liters of freshwater for the same purpose. To make one liter of almond milk, 371 liters of water is consumed.

And how much water does oat milk use? A liter of oat milk, on the contrary, needs around 48 liters of water to be made commercially available. The following chart (stats courtesy: does a better job at putting these numbers into perspective-

Is Oat Milk Good or Bad for the Environment? | Stats & Facts

2. Oat Milk Requires Less Land per Liter than Cow’s Milk

One of the major issues with dairy milk is the amount of land required. Cows require land to survive, but their food also requires developing space. This can result in consequences such as deforestation and biodiversity loss. Continuous grazing can potentially harm the soil. 

There are around 270 million dairy cows worldwide. This needs a large amount of land. Add to it the feed crops (mainly soy, giving it its bad image for being non-sustainable) needed to keep those 270 million cows alive, and the land needed.

Generating a glass of dairy milk daily for a year takes 650 square meters (7,000 square feet), equal to two tennis courts. Cultivating oats does not have this problem. Oat milk requires just about a tenth of the acreage that cow milk does. Compare the land requirement per liter of cow milk to that of other vegan milk alternatives below –

Is Oat Milk Good or Bad for the Environment? | Stats & Facts

3. Oat Milk is Responsible for Lesser Carbon Emission

Oat milk does well in terms of carbon emissions. Oat milk emits less than a third of the carbon dioxide that cow milk does. Other plant-based milk substitutes emit carbon dioxide levels comparable to oat milk. 

For 200 ml of milk, soy milk emits 0.195 kg CO2e while almond milk emits 0.14 kg. And, for every 200 ml of milk, oat milk emits 0.18 kg CO2e. However, most of the carbon emissions associated with oat milk are likely due to transportation and packaging, depending on the manufacturer.

This underlines the importance of purchasing locally. If you can find locally produced oat milk, go for it. When we compare cow’s milk to oat milk, cow’s milk is clearly inferior because 200 ml of cow milk emits 0.6 kg of greenhouse gasses. Here’s a representation of carbon emissions per liter of oat milk vs other types for a better perspective –

Is Oat Milk Good or Bad for the Environment? | Stats & Facts

4. Chemical Fertilizers are Involved in Growing Oats 

Is oat milk good for the environment? In this case, No! Chemical pesticides are employed in cultivating oats and, by extension, oat milk. These prevent insects and other pests, allowing farmers to boost their productivity. However, employing chemical pesticides has substantial environmental dangers.

They can enter water sources and destroy plant life, causing physiological abnormalities in water animal species. Chemical insecticides can potentially contaminate the soil. This disrupts soil communities and affects dynamics.

Fertilizer is also employed. These assist farmers in providing the best climate for their crops to develop. For example, the soil provides a large portion of the nitrogen required for growth, but this is not always adequate.

In that situation, nitrogen fertilizer is mixed in. Regrettably, fertilizers, like pesticides, may decrease soil quality and harm nearby waterways. 

Is Oat Milk Better for the Environment than Almond Milk?

Is Oat Milk Good or Bad for the Environment? | Stats & Facts

You may be thinking of choosing other plant-based milk like almond milk which is available in greater quantities than almond milk. But is oat milk more sustainable than almond milk?

Almond milk is the most popular substitute milk on the market at the moment now. Unfortunately, almond milk is hazardous to the environment. A single nut necessitates the use of 12 liters of water. Although it does not need the use of animal products, almond milk should not be the first option for environmental reasons.

Almond milk thrives in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. 200 ml of almond milk generates 0.14 kg of CO2e, the lowest of any compared option.

A liter of oat milk needs 48 liters of water to manufacture. This is substantially less than the water used to make dairy, rice, soy, and almond milk! Oat milk also has a minimal carbon footprint, with carbon emissions of 0.18 kilos for a 200 mL glass.

One disadvantage of oat milk is that it is more expensive than other plant-based milk options due to its scarcity on the market. However, as more oat milk providers enter the market, the price appears to be falling slightly.

Verdict | Is Oat Milk Environmentally Friendly? 

Choosing the finest substitute milk for the environment is a difficult issue. Several issues are linked, such as water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Personal taste preferences should be considered while selecting alternate milk. Based on current statistics, oat milk is the most sustainable alternative. Thus it is the best advice. 

Buy locally made, organic oat milk wherever possible to lessen any negative oat milk environmental impact. This will cut carbon emissions from transportation while avoiding the environmental consequences of fertilizers and pesticides.

Even if you don’t, moving from cow’s milk to any non-dairy alternative is a smart personal choice for the environment and your stomach.

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