Consumption of almond milk as an alternative to dairy milk has surged in recent years. It is estimated that the market for almond milk has surged by around 250 percent in the last five years.
In addition to dietary or ethical reasons, many people choose almond milk for having a smaller carbon footprint when compared with dairy milk. Unfortunately, almond milk takes its toll on the environment in other ways.
The main issues associated with almond milk production are water use and pesticide use, which may produce long lasting effects on the environment in drought-stricken California, where more than 80% of the world’s almonds are grown.
Commercial almond production in California requires diverting ground and surface waters from the state’s aqueduct system for irrigation. It takes approximately 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 almonds, making almonds one of the most water-intensive crops.
Since there are more than two billion almonds being produced in California, it’s clear to see why the amount of water being diverted for this purpose is an environmental concern. Because many almonds are being grown on land that has been converted from natural lands or farms growing low water crops to meet the rising demand for almonds, the resulting increased irrigation needs have been dramatic.
It is estimated that some 23,000 acres of natural lands have been converted to almond farms, with 16,000 of acres of land being previously classified as wetlands. The ground in the San Joaquin Valley, where most almonds are grown, is already sinking each year due to groundwater depletion.
Additional wells farmers are building to irrigate new orchards which may have devastating long-term impacts for California and its residents who rely on groundwater as a source for drinking water.
This problem is also compounded by pesticide use in the production of commercial almonds, which has been known to contaminate water sources and contribute to the toxification of drinking water for people in California’s farming communities.
According to the Pesticide Action Network, the USDA Pesticide Data Program has found residues of nine different pesticides on almonds, five of which are toxic to honey bees, posing yet another threat to the environment.
The Almond Board of California reports that the almond industry is making efforts to promote sustainable water use and increase its water use efficiency, so there are some attempts at solutions being made. There are more farmers now choosing to take the organic route and an increase in products on the market made with certified organic almonds.
On our part, we can help the situation by alternating between different non-dairy milks since each type of milk has its benefits and its impacts and where possible, we should buy certified organic. Certified organic almond milk contains no pesticides, and uses less water too.
While individually these choices seem small, cumulatively these decisions can and do have significant benefits. Manufacturers must do more in making sure they produce ethical foods and if they’re not we must be more mindful on the products we buy and consume.
We must all do more to protect our environment, not only for us now, but for our children and their children’s future.