Posted: 04/02/2020

Greener thinking: Got mylk?


With around 25% of Britons choosing plant-based mylks over their bovine counterparts, now could be the time to rethink the quintessential loss-leader.

However, from an environmental standpoint, knowing which milk alternative to spring for is not as straightforward as you might think.

As any flat white slinging business will tell you it’s now essential to offer a variety of mylks to your customers, from the ever reliable Bonsoy, to Barista Edition oat mylk (for better texture). This shift is in part due to the wide range of contemporary diet choices and intolerances, but also by those wishing to turn their back on milk for environmental reasons. But soya-based products might not be the best answer right now. 

The intensive farming of soya has led to a lot of deforestation, particularly in South America, which is home to 42% of the world’s soybean market. On average, it’s estimated that around 4million hectares of forests are destroyed for soya farming. While a roundtable is currently trying to implement better traceability of soya, UK supermarkets have admitted there may be soya-led deforestation in their supply chains.

Meanwhile, almond mylk has its own murky shadow to contend with. Around 80% of the worlds almonds are grown in drought-plagued California, yet it requires a staggering 6,098 litres of water to produce just one litre of almond milk

The increased demand for the nut-based mylk has led to citrus groves being torn up to make way for even more almond trees. To irrigate this hefty crop, farmers are drilling down to incredibly deep aquifers, which has led to state wide subsidence of up to 11 inches a year in some locations.

The huge monoculture of almond plantations also requires around 60% of the USA’s managed honeybees to pollinate the crops, but due to pesticides around 25% of them die each year.

Although coconut and rice mylk are also contenders for our milk money, it’s oat mylk that’s been garnering the most attention and is widely seen as the most sustainable alternative. However, the uses of oat mylk are expanding beyond the frothy coffee scene. Ice cream is a particular area of interest, with well-regarded product hitting the market from both big name retail brands like Alpro and Oatly, as well as trendy New York parlours like Van Leeuwen. 

It remains to be seen how alternative milks can play into other areas of the food industry, but so far the results, and the market are responding positively.

Whatever you do, consider a glass of the white stuff carefully, because the sustainability credentials are far from clean cut.

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