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
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 110 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)
3. Hoekstra, AY. The Water Footprint of Food. https://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Hoekstra-2008-WaterfootprintFood.pdf. 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 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-07/documents/ag_101_agriculture_us_epa_0.pdf
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 https://www.oregonlive.com/business/2019/04/lost-valley-debacle-leads-to-effort-to-limit-mega-dairies-in-oregon.html
10. American Lung Association. “Most Polluted Cities.” American Lung Association, 2018. Retrieved April 17, 2019, from https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/city-rankings/most-polluted-cities.html
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 https://arb.ca.gov/cc/dairy/documents/07-26-18/dairy_fresno_27july2018.pdf
12. Food & Water Watch. “Air Pollution From Oregon’s Large Dairies: Fact Sheet.” FWW, March 2017. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/fs_1702_oregoncafo-web_2.pdf
13. Wisconsin State Legislature. “Chapter NR 213: Administrative Code NR 213.10. General liner specifications.” gov, July 2015. Retrieved April 17, 2019, from http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/admin_code/nr/200/213/II/10/2
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)
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 https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5976-emissions-impossible-how-big-meat-and-dairy-are-heating-up-the-planet
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 1000 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)
- 101 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 374 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).
Soy milk is more sustainable than cows’ milk.
- Compared to cows’ milk, soy milk uses only 2.8% the amount of water and 7.8% the amount of land. (3)
- Soy milk produces 69% less greenhouse gas emissions and requires 77% less total energy to produce than cows’ milk. (5)
1. Science 01 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 987-992
2. World Resource Institute
3. Hoekstra, Arjen Y. “The water footprint of food”. Water for Food.
4. Amy Joy Lanou. Should dairy be recommended as part of a healthy vegetarian diet? Counterpoint. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009; 89(5):1638S–1642S.
5. Sustainability 2021, 13(22), 12599
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