Is oat milk bad for the environment?

  • Date: May 13, 2022

The plant-based milk market is growing year-on-year. Whether you are looking for a plant-based milk for dietary, ethical or environmental reasons there has never been more choice. Oat milk is quickly becoming one of the most popular. The nutritional qualities of the different plant-based milks have been hotly debated elsewhere, but in terms of its impact on the planet – is oat milk bad for the environment? In short, ‘no’! As long as you go organic…

Lets start with the basics – what is oat milk made of?

To make a no-frills oat milk at home all you needs is oats and water. These are blended together, then drained. Shop bought oat milk is made like this on a larger scale – but like with other plant-based milks – some brands are fortified. They will therefore contain added minerals and vitamins.  

So, is oat milk bad for the environment?

Oat milk has low carbon emissions

In terms of carbon emissions, oat milk performs well. Oat milk produces less than a third of the carbon emissions of cow’s milk. The other plant-based milk alternatives have carbon emissions similar to that of oat milk. This is definitely not a factor to base your choice on!

Most of the carbon emissions related to oat milk is likely to come from transport – growing the crops and the production of oat milk has very little impact. This emphasizes the benefit of buying local. If there is a locally-produced oat milk option – choose it! As well as the health and local economy benefits, it can also reduce your food carbon footprint even more.

Less land needed than for dairy milk

One of the main problems with dairy milk is the land needed. Cows need space to live – but their food also needs space to grow. This can lead to issues such as deforestation and a loss of biodiversity. Constant grazing can also damage the soil. Growing oats does not, obviously, have this issue. Oat milk only needs about a tenth of the land that the equivalent amount of cow’s milk needs.  

Minimal water needed

Day-to-day we should all try to minimize the amount of water we use. And this includes the hidden water that goes into our food and drinks production. Using too much water potentially takes it away from ecosystems that need it to thrive.

When compared to cows’ milk, oat milk needs significantly less water. To produce a liter of cow’s milk, an enormous 628 liters of water are needed.  This makes sense when you factor in activities such as growing their food. Oat milk only uses 48 liters of water per liter of milk. It also fares well compared with other plant-based milk alternatives. For example, a liter of almond milk requires 371 liters of water.  

Fertilizer and pesticide used in production of oats

It isn’t all great news when it comes to oat milk. Chemical pesticides are used in the production of oats, and therefore in the production of oat milk.  These fend off insects and other types of pests to ensure farmers can increase their yield. However, using chemical pesticides comes with significant risks for the environment.  They can get into water sources, harming the plant life and even causing physiological changes in aquatic animal species. Soil can also be polluted by chemical pesticides. This interferes with soil communities and alters dynamics. You should opt for organic oat milk where possible.

Fertilizers are also used – these help farmers to provide the optimal environment for their crops to grow. For example, a lot of the nitrogen that they require to grow is the soil, but this is sometimes insufficient to produce an optimal yield. In which case, nitrogen fertilizer is added. Unfortunately,  much like pesticides, fertilizers can find deplete soil quality as well as pollute local waterways.

The bottom line

In terms of the environment, oat milk is a good choice. It is one of the most environmentally friendly plant-based milks out there. There are minimal land and water needed when compared to that needed to produce cow’s milk. Where you can – buy locally produced, organic oat milk. This will reduce transport-related carbon emissions and avoid the environmental impacts associated with fertilizers and pesticides. However, even if you don’t – it is still a significantly less harmful choice than standard dairy milk.