Almond milk is still arguably the most popular dairy-free milk alternative in coffee shops and grocery stores across America. Consumers spend over $700M annually on almond milk! Consumers enjoy its mild flavor while baristas like the way it steams compared to other non-dairy alternatives. But is our obsession with almond milk killing the planet faster than we think? 

According to this article, the short answer is "yes." Almond milk (74L per 200g) has half the water footprint as dairy milk (131L per 200g). Although this might seem like a good thing, when compared to other plant-based milks, almond milk is extremely hydro-intensive. Soy milk, for comparison, only uses 2L of water per 200g. 80% of world's almonds are grown in California: one of the most drought-stricken states. When the wells run dry, almond farmers are forced to drill deeper into aquifers to supply their crops; this process can lead to potential earthquakes and aquifer pollution. 

Reason two why almond milk is environmentally catastrophic? Pesticides. The USDA Pesticide Program has identified nine commonly used types of pesticides on commercial almonds- all of which contaminate water in nearby communities. Five of those pesticides are also toxic to honeybees: the primary pollinator of almond groves. Millions of bees are "drafted" every year by commercial beekeepers to pollinate California's almonds, thus increasing the risk for total colony collapse and disease.  

The University of California San Francisco says that the demand for almonds has led to the conversion of wetlands and diversified agricultural operations into vast almond-growing fields. The issue with land conversion is that it perpetuates a vicious cycle. Wetlands play a critical role in habitat, stormwater retention, and aquifer replenishment. As they are taken out of their natural state, more and more damage is done to the surrounding ecosystem, thus making it more susceptible to disease, flooding, and ultimately, destruction. 

As demand for almond milk increases, we can expect to see the damage to ecosystems, pollinators, and water supplies increase with it. Luckily for our dairy-free friends, there are many substitutes on the market for almond milk, many of which are healthier and provide more nutrients than the latter. 

What other options are out there?

There are many non-dairy milk options out there for people looking to reduce their environmental impact. Oat milk, in particular, has immense promise in providing a more sustainable alternative without sacrificing flavor. Oats are legumes (nitrogen-fixers), so they can help restore depleted nitrogen to agricultural soils. Oats also grow well in most soils, making them a very versatile crop to include in rotations. Oat milk is also easy to digest, lowers LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and can reduce blood pressure. 

For consumers looking to get the same protein as traditional dairy milk, soy milk is a strong contender; each serving provides between 6g and 9g of protein. If you're shopping for soy milk, it's best to find brands that use soybeans and water rather than emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners. 

Flax milk and hemp milk are two options not often popularized in grocery stores. Flax contains tons of healthy fatty acids and has a similar nuanced flavor as almond milk. Hemp milk has a little bit of a nuttier flavor, but includes many of the fats needed for a healthy diet.