Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University, Dora Marinova, has weighed up all the different types of ‘milk’ on the market and found that the environmental benefits of hemp milk make it a game-changer.
Hemp seeds are processed for oil and milk and the waste products are used for construction material, textile fibres, pulp and paper or hemp-based plastics.
Hemp is resistant to diseases and produces a lot of shade which, in turn, suppresses the growth of weeds. This cuts down the need for herbicides and pesticides.
Hemp requires more water than soy, but less than almond and dairy. Despite being one of the oldest crops used, particularly in Europe, hemp is currently being produced in very low quantities.
Marinova said that dairy has the biggest environmental footprint, by far.
“Any plant-based milk, be it made from beans, nuts or seeds, has a lighter impact than dairy when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the use of water and land. All available studies, including systematic reviews, categorically point this out,” she said.
A 2018 study estimates dairy to be around three times more greenhouse gas emission-intensive than plant-based milks, and it requires nine times more land than plant-based alternatives.
Water use is similarly higher for cow’s milk: 628 litres of water for every litre of dairy, compared to 371 for almond, 270 for rice, 48 for oat and 28 for soy milk. No stats were presented for hemp milk because it’s still a relatively small market.
“If, as a consumer you are trying to reduce the environmental footprint of the milk you drink, the first message is you should avoid dairy and replace it with plant-based options.
“The second message is it’s better to diversify the plant-based milks we use. Shifting to only one option, even if it’s the most environmentally friendly one for the time being, means the market demand may potentially become overexploited,” said Marina.