If you really want to make a change in your diet to be better for the environment, skip the dairy milk and go for plant-based milks.
Oat milk is my personal favorite, and it also happens to have the least impact on the environment of all plant-based milks. It contains more fiber than cow milk does, but less calories, carbs, protein and fats. So when you're using oat milk as the main drink for children under three, make sure you have the proper supplements to give them a balanced diet.
Oat milk uses less water and energy than any other (non) dairy milk. For example, almonds need six times as much water to grow than oats do, with most almonds being grown in California, far away from us Europeans. Growing oats also help the soil to become healthier and more nutrient dense.
Let's look at three of the biggest oat milk producers within the UK: Alpro, Oatly and Innocent.
When it comes to ingredients, packaging and distribution, Innocent is the winner. Innocent is striving to use as much recycled and plant based plastic as possible. They source all of their products sustainably and even donate 10% of all profits to charities. They sell their oat milk in plastic packaging, which within the UK is very easy to recycle, while the other brands use tetrapak, which is much more difficult to recycle and most councils don't take these packs.
I'm still finding it difficult to decide on what kind of packaging to buy, because which one is best for the environment? Tetrapak juice 'cartons' are made up of layers of paper, plastic and aluminium and can take up to 300 year to decompose. These packs are difficult to recycle and - especially in the UK - end up in landfill. But if properly disposed of, the carbon footprint of Tetrapak is much smaller than any other type of packaging. For example: a virgin glass bottles take 8 times the amount of energy to produce, plastic 10 times the amount and tin cans 27 times! Glass would need to be reused 30 times (not recycled, but reused) to have the same carbon footprint as a carton - and then we're not even counting the footprint of collection and transportation.
Let's get back to oat milk.
Oatly is the runner up: they always use organic oats and source as locally as possible (within Europe for the European market, within the States for their American market). They have been opening multiple factories in the States and Europe to cope with the demand in those countries. They are serious on environmental and social sustainability throughout their whole supply chain.
Alpro only use organic oats in their 'organic oat milk' which means that part of their range has oats grown using pesticides and many other nasties. They are seriously working on lowering their carbon footprint, reusing water and heat they are producing in their production process, are constantly working with farmers for a better tomorrow and are using recycleable or recycled packaging. Still, they are at the bottom of my list because of their use of non-organic oats within Europe.
My husband loves the Oatly Barista Oat milk, so we always have that in the fridge. I've only once bought Innocent, and the taste is all right... But I love the Oatly flavor the most, so I would always buy their organic range.
I've now actually started to make my own oat milk. It's so easy, extremely cheap (about 35 pence per liter, and I can use the leftover oats in my homemade granola). It's not as healthy, as these other brands add extra vitamins and the like, but if you only use a bit in your breakfast or tea every day, it's just about the flavor aye!