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Planetary Responsibility

Dairy production pollutes waterways, adds to greenhouse gas emissions, and destroys local ecosystems. Fixing your diet can fix the planet.

Did you know?

gallons of water produces only 1 gallon of milk


of people would eat plant-based more often to help the environment


of habitable land in the US is used to grow feed for animal agriculture

thousand lbs of waste produced by each dairy cow every year
The dairy industry is a major contributor to the unnecessary stressors humans place on the earth. It is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution in addition to taxing our natural land and water resources. As stewards of the earth, we can protect the planet by ditching dairy.

Environmental impact of the dairy industry


Waste from a dairy farm of 2,500 cows is equivalent to waste from a city of 411,000 people, or 90 million pounds a year. (1, 8) Waste from dairy farms is stored in massive lagoons that are prone to leakage. In 2019, 30 million gallons of manure ruptured from a dairy farm in Oregon, contaminating the surrounding land and water systems. (9) Further, farm owners are allotted a daily amount of leakage from manure lagoons. In Wisconsin, for example, operators are allowed up to 500 gallons of leakage per acre per day. (13)


Butter ranks third on the National Resource Defense Council’s chart of 10 common climate-damaging foods. It requires 21 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of butter. (2)


1,000 gallons of water is required to produce 1 gallon of cows’ milk. (3)


Animal agriculture makes up ¼ of the global water footprint, 19% of which is from dairy cattle. (4)


100 calories of cattle feed only produce 40 calories of milk, making it a wasteful and inefficient food. (5)


1 in 6 pints of milk produced globally is lost or wasted (this equates to 128 million tons yearly) yet milk production has increased by 6% between 2014-2018. (6)


The production of raw milk makes up 38% of the greenhouse gases produced by enteric emissions (aka the global collective of cow burps and gas). (7)


Manure lagoons can pollute the air and devastate surrounding communities. California’s prominent dairy region—the San Joaquin Valley—has the highest particulate (dust from dried manure) pollution in the nation. (10) Manure also contains two major pollutants—ammonia and hydrogen sulfide—that irritate the respiratory system and can lead to health complications. (12)


In California—America’s largest dairy-producing state—dairy cows account for 45% of the state’s total methane emissions and 38% of the overall nitrous oxide. (11)


References →
1. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Risk Assessment Evaluation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. National Service Center for Environmental Publications website. May 2004. Accessed May 2019.
3. Hoekstra, AY. The Water Footprint of Food. Published 2008. Accessed May 2019.
4. Mekonnen, MM. and Hoekstra, AY. A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Ecosystems 2012; 15(3):401–415. doi:10.1007/s10021-011-9517-8.
5. Emily S Cassidy et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034015
6. Edinborough University and The Guardian
7. Upfield Plant-Based Spreads and Margarine vs. Dairy Butter: Life Cycle Assessment Technical Summary
8. US Environmental Protection Agency. “Ag 101: Dairy Production: Lifecycle production phases.” EPA, (date uncertain). Retrieved April 17, 2019, from
9. Douglas, Leah. “Lost Valley debacle leads to effort to limit mega-dairies in Oregon.” The Oregonian, April 5, 2019. Retrieved May 28, 2019, from
10. American Lung Association. “Most Polluted Cities.” American Lung Association, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2019, from
11. Hopkins, Francesca M. “Greenhouse Gas Emission for Manure Management at California Dairies: Linking Observations Across Scales for Improved Understanding of Emissions.” University of California, Dairy and Livestock Working Group Joint Subgroups Meeting, July 27, 2018. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from
12. Food & Water Watch. “Air Pollution From Oregon’s Large Dairies: Fact Sheet.” FWW, March 2017. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from
13. Wisconsin State Legislature. “Chapter NR 213: Administrative Code NR 213.10. General liner specifications.” gov, July 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2019, from

How Ditching Dairy Saves the Planet


Going vegetarian will reduce your carbon emissions by on average 31%, land use by 51%. Ditching the dairy (and eggs) and going vegan, can reduce your carbon emissions by on average 45% and land use by 55%. (1)


According to the U.S. Geological Survey—the sole science agency for the Dept. of Interior—water-saving showerheads produce about 2 gallons of water per minute. Knowing that it takes 1,000 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of milk, a person can save the water equivalent to 50 ten-minute showers for every gallon of milk they don’t drink. (2, 3)


If everyone in the US ate no meat or cheese just one day per week, it would have the environmental benefit of not driving 91 billion miles or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. (4)


Eating 60% less cheese and 4-6 more servings of beans will help keep the global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. (5)


Eating 4 ounces of cheese contributes the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as driving 3.5 miles. Each time you pass on the cheese you are keeping CO2 out of the air. (6)


The world’s top five largest meat and dairy companies alone produce more greenhouse gases annually than ExxonMobil, Shell, or BP. (7)

References →
1. Aleksandrowicz L, Green R, Joy EJM, Smith P, Haines A. The Impacts of Dietary Change on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Land Use, Water Use, and Health: A Systematic Review. PLOS ONE, 2016; 11(11): e0165797.
2. Hoekstra, Arjen Y. “The water footprint of food”. Water for Food.
4. “Reducing Your Footprint.” Reducing Your Footprint – 2011 Meat Eaters Guide | Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health | Environmental Working Group. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2017
5. Springmann, Marco et al, “Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits.” Nature volume 562, pages519–525 (2018) and summary by The Guardian
6. Hamerschlag, K. Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health. Environmental Working Group. 2011.
7. GRAIN. “Emissions impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet.” GRAIN and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, June 28, 2018. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from

Sustainable Nondairy Foods


Oats are more sustainable than cows’ milk. (1)

  • 1 liter of oat milk emits 0.9 kg CO2 and requires 0.8 sq meters of land and 48 liters of water
  • 1 liter of cows’ milk emits 3.2 kg CO2 and requires 9.0 square meters of land and 628 liters of water


Pulses (beans, dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas) are a more sustainable source of protein than cows’ milk. (2)

  • Pulses contain between 8-18 g of protein per serving (depending on the pulse variety) and emit 100 tons of GHG emissions per ton of protein
  • 1 cup of cows’ milk contains 8 grams of protein yet emits 600 tons of GHG emissions per ton of protein


Bananas are a more sustainable source of potassium than cows’ milk. (3)

  • 143 liters of water is used to produce 1 banana with 422 mg of potassium
  • 250 liters of water is used to produce 1 glass of cows’ milk with 366 mg of potassium


Kale is a more sustainable source of calcium than cows’ milk. (4)

  • 1 cup of kale has the same amount of absorbable calcium as 1 cup of cows’ milk, but only 33 calories. An 8 oz glass of cows’ milk ranges from 83 to 148 calories (from skim to whole-fat varieties).

Why Ditch Dairy


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