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Which type of milk is the most sustainable?

Photo credit: Neonbrand

Highlights

  • Plant-based milks are more sustainable than cow milk overall
  • Oat, soy, and coconut milk are some of the more sustainable options
  • If you don’t have a strong preference for it, avoid almond milk
  • The less transportation involved, the better (buy local if possible)

This is a tricky question because none of the milk options are the ‘best’ in every category.

Researchers often use life cycle analysis (LCA) as a tool to have a more standard comparison, which looks at the inputs and outputs (in this case resources and emissions) through a product’s entire life cycle (Milani, Nutter, and Thoma, 2011). Cow and plant-based milk LCA results can vary based on where the study takes place, what units are used to measure impact, and which steps of the lifecycle are taken into account.

That being said, there are some meaningful takeaways from the research. First, plant-based milks outperform cow milk overall in terms of their global warming potentials (Clune, Crossin, and Verghese, 2017).

Second, while not all plant-based alternatives have been studied or compared, oat milk appears to be one of the better options, with lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than soy milk (Mikkolaa and Risku-Norja, 2008). Almond milk and coconut milk are reported to have lower  global warming potentials than soy milk, but almond milk uses more water in its production than all other options, including cow milk (Clune, Crossin, and Verghese, 2017; Grant and Hicks, 2018).

Third, how far the milk has to travel before reaching its destination can have a significant impact on the GHG emissions of the product (Grant and Hicks, 2018).

When choosing which type of milk to consume, nutrition is probably going to play a part in your decision. I’m not going to cover that aspect, but I found a great article by Nutrition Support Specialist Meagan Bridges (2018) that provides a comprehensive look at the nutritional value of plant-based milks.

Assessing the trade-offs between milk types can be confusing and can start to look like a game of rock, paper, scissors. As a general rule of thumb, plant-based and local is better, and maybe stay away from almond milk if you’re indifferent to which type you drink.

How can I know if a cleaning product is sustainable?

Photo by JESHOOTS.COMs

Highlights

  • Keep an eye out for green product certifications
  • Look up the product/chemical in an online database

In this case, a sustainable cleaning product refers to a household cleaning product that is nonharmful to the environment and human health. This may seem like a no-brainer, but commercial cleaning products aren’t guaranteed to be safe. Many ingredients in household cleaning products have been linked to chronic health conditions and damage to the environment (Bondi, 2011).

Fortunately, a lot of research has been done on the safety of chemicals in cleaning products (Basketter et al., 2012; Cowan-Ellsberry et al., 2014). Sorting through all the research is impractical at best, but there are two main ways that you can use this information to inform your purchasing decisions.

First, there are green product certifications. Their exact standards vary, but if you see a product with a certification such as Green Seal, ECOLOGO, or Safer Choice, you know that the product has low toxicity and may even have a reduced carbon footprint (EnvirOx, 2016).

Another easy way to check the sustainability of a product is to look it up in an online database. The most straightforward one is the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning which uses an A-F ranking system to evaluate products.

The Consumer Product Information Database supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health U.S. Public Health Service, and  Department of Health & Human Services has more detailed information that  you can look up by brand, product, etc.

Finally, if you want to do a deeper dive, the American Cleaning Institute Cleaning Product Ingredient Safety Initiative lets you look up risk assessments for individual chemicals found in cleaning products.

While there are many factors to consider when trying to buy more sustainably, health and safety is an important one to keep in mind. With these tools, you can make more informed purchasing decisions, selecting products that are less harmful both to you and the planet.