Impact of Almond Milk on Environment

Impact of Almond Milk on Environment

Almonds have been long known as a nutritional, vitamin-E enriched skin nourisher, full of antioxidants; With various other health benefits like sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol control.

Therefore, for many, almonds have been an automatic replacement for normal cow milk. Used by vegans and non-vegetarians equally, almond milk has been a choice able substitute for people allergic or lactose resistant to dairy milk or dairy products. Many people choose almond milk to reduce their carbon footprint over other dairy products.

But producing a mass quantity of almond milk takes a hazardous toll on the environment on a daily basis. Though dairy milk has three times greater potential to cause damage to the environment, due to its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, almond milk too, is nonetheless damaging.

Major Factors Leading to the Climatic Changes Due to Almond Plantation

1. Almond Crops Require More Water

Almond Crops Require More Water

Almond milk has the lowest of all GHG produced by other crops. But according to a study by Oxford, producing a glass of almond milk requires 130 pints or 3.5 litres of water. As we all know that our water resources are continuously over-used, therefore, it’s depleting fast. A high-demand market is constantly growing fast for almond milk, thereby, large plantations are increasing.

Major almond crops are grown in California. Two major problems have raised eyebrows around the world regarding the huge farming of almonds there.

(i) Since almonds are produced for commercial purposes in California,  the water resources are being diverted to the plantation sites from the central irrigation system of the state. As per The New York Times, 15 gallons of water is utilised to produce just 16 almonds.

(ii) The other reason is the production of bees to meet the high demands of the growing markets for almond milk. Bees need to pollinate almonds in the Spring season. 20% of the bees are drafted every year to meet these demands. Most of the bees die by the end of the season because they cannot survive the work pressure exerted upon them.

A kernel of almonds consumes 3.5 litres of water to be produced. California is the largest producer of almonds in the world. For the last two decades, the almond orchards have grown in leaps and bounds. The demand has increased the surplus production, though giving a boost to the state economy. The hard fact is that the environmental footprint states otherwise. California has become a severely drought-hit state and no rains for a longer time period has been on the charts since the last decade. Farmers are constantly digging up new wells for the underground water needed for irrigation of the almond crops. Natural groundwater is depleting faster due to unethical accessing of water resources by almond farmers.

2. Lands are Sinking

Due to the heavy water usage, the underground water is constantly depleting, the lands being used for almond crops plantation, are sinking by the day. According to Forbes, “23,000 acres of natural lands have been converted to almond farms. 16,000 of those acres were land previously classified as wetlands. Additionally, some agricultural land has been converted from lower-water crops to almonds.”

As per this, the long-term effect is already felt by the residents of California, who totally use groundwater for drinking purposes.

3. Use of Pesticides

Use of Pesticides

Any crop grown these days has plenty of pesticides sprayed on them, for their growth. For the commercial production of almonds, a lot of pesticides are used that leave their residues on almonds. Pesticides contaminate water and water resources equally.

Lots of farming communities stay nearby the lands they cultivate and drink this pesticide-contaminated toxic water. Their lives are in danger, but the only source of earning their livelihoods is the almond plantation. They are, therefore, forced to stay near the plantations they work for. They cannot leave the place and stay elsewhere.

According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, “Almond orchards were treated with more pesticides than any other local crop in 2017-18. More than 34 million pounds of ‘active ingredients’ were sprayed across the region, a 15% increase from four years prior. That same year, almond acreage treated with insecticides had increased by 5%, treated with herbicides increased by 6%, and treated with fungicides increased by 12%.”

Methoxyfenozide, which was one of the five ingredients used in the insecticides sprayed in the orchards, is toxic to bees.  Since almond trees are prone to various Foliar and Bloom diseases, the pesticides are sprayed only when the trees are in full bloom. The spraying is tremendously detrimental to the 1.6 million honey bee colonies, which are generally transported to Central California, by bee farmers on each bloom season, mostly to be returned empty-handed, when they come to get back their hives. Most of the bees die eventually, in the process.

4. Harmful for the Bees

Harmful for the Bees

Swarms of bees are required for the mass scale production of the almond orchards. This can happen only through large scale pollination. Massive bee production is done by bee farmers and the hives are given to these orchard owners. During the spring season bees overwork to pollinate these orchards to cope up with the increasing demand for almond and almond products.

The bees cannot survive with the chemical fertilizers sprayed on the crops and die in the process. Plenty of empty hives come back to the bee farmers, who suffer the loss knowingly, for earning more money.

Since 2006, honey bee colonies, especially the Western Honeybee colonies, have been declining. A record loss was reported by the commercial beekeepers, during the winter of 2018-2019. A whopping amount of fifty billion bees, more than one-third of the U.S.’s commercial bee colonies, died. Huge amounts of agriculture and the use of pesticides were blamed for the mass-scale death of the bees. The bees are mostly made to wake up from their usual winter sleep, two months prior than their natural process permits. This puts additional stress on the bees, as they are very delicate to undergo such an amount of work stress.

5. Blanching Almond Skin and Inedible Kernels

Blanching is a method, by which, the almonds are soaked in hot water, to remove the skin on the kernels. Hot water scalding helps to remove the skin almonds have, thereby, a different kind of biomass is generated. The blanched almond paste helps in producing almond milk and other almond beverages. More and more almonds are blanched and processed to satiate customer needs. “For example, in California alone,  about 159,000 metric tons of natural almonds were blanched in 2017 itself. The result of this blanching was 7,500 metric tons of almond skins.”

The inedible or heavily damaged kernels are disposed of by the almond industry, into the nearby water body or landfills, from being used in the process to develop products for the market. These seeds amount to approximately 5, 600 metric tons.

6. Harming the Marine/ Arial Life 

The inedible kernels are usually disposed of in the nearby rivers. These seeds are heavily sprayed with pesticides and are very poisonous. The fish and other river animals get affected by this. Fish usually cannot sustain these pesticides, also, the water becomes a slow poison for them.

The birds or other mammals who eat these small fish, also indirectly get affected by the pesticides consumed by these fish. Gradually, the death of more fish will mean a lack of food for the birds and other animals of the river. This will hamper their natural habitat. Birds are unable to build nests around the water bodies due to the noisy and heavy machinery work in the orchards. An imposed unbalanced biodiversity near the cultivation area disturbs the local ecosystems of the land as well.

7. Use of Carrageenan

Carrageenan is a thickening agent, used to thicken, coalesce and preserve most milk or milk products. Known as red seaweeds, they are believed to have long-term side effects on the human body. Since they belong to the group of polysaccharides, they can cause diabetes, digestive disorders or cancer and incite severe allergic reactions or inflammations. Though it has no nutritional value, the milk producers often use it to give a thick effect to almond milk, as water makes it thinner and does not give it the milk-like consistency required.

8. Use of Fertilizers

Almond trees are deciduous trees and need a lot of nitrogen to rejuvenate and refresh, unlike other crops. Nitrogen directly helps in production. Especially in orchards, the fertilizers typically help in this rejuvenating process. 

Fertilizers, heavily doused with nitrogen, contaminate soil and groundwater with their toxicity. These toxic compounds can cause plenty of health hazards if consumed in huge quantities. Dilating blood vessels or lowering your blood pressure can be some of the immediate risks to start with.

High quantity nitrate in drinking water is especially dangerous for infants and pregnant women. Due to its odourless and lack of taste features, it can also poison livestock and wildlife.

Almond trees shed their leaves once a year. The fertilisers and pesticides sprayed on those leaves also get soaked in the soil. The groundwater eventually also gets affected in the process, if there is heavy rainfall. 

9.Drought in Almond Plantations

Orchard plantations are constantly pulling the water resources to their extreme ends. The underground water is reducing because the underground aquifers are being emptied faster than getting recharged.  Lack of underground water is causing rivers to dry up and drought-hit areas are increasing more and more.

10. Transport

Emissions are always generated while transferring the milk and other almond products, from the processing units to the supermarkets and retail shops all around. Apart from this, delivering the bees and re-collecting the hives from the plantations, adds to the transport emissions already threatening the world. They have the highest GHG that is making an impact on the environment with more carbon footprints.

Suggested Solutions

1. Stricter land laws should be brought in regarding the land areas permitted for each orchard for each company so that limitless farming is not done.

2. Permissible amount of water resources should be allowed per orchard, exceeding which should be considered as a punishable offence.

3. Retail stores, all over, should make a policy of not succumbing to unlimited demands oversupply.

4. Certified organic almond milk does not use pesticides or fertilizers. It’s always better to buy from certified ones. Certified almond milk uses less water while manufacturing.

5. Overproduction should be stopped, while the seasonal cycle should be properly maintained to stop the killing of bees while pollinating the almonds.

6. The disposal of damaged kernels, leaves and skin of almonds should be done in a proper manner and constant checks should be made to keep track of the unethical practices by the plantation owners. This way both marine and aerial lives would be saved.

7. The carbon footprint of the transporters should be reduced by strictly enforcing the laws on checking and controlling the pollution levels emitted from their vehicles.

8. Unnecessary or over spraying of fertilizers should be avoided. Chemical fertilizers should be kept under check so that the over-usage of the same will not keep its residue in the end product or on the lives of the bees.

9. Customers should avoid brands that contain carrageenan to avoid long-term side effects and health problems while buying almond milk. 10. Home-made almond milk is always healthier and more organic. Other milk alternatives like oat milk are also equally healthy and available in the market.

10. Home-made almond milk is always healthier and more organic. Other milk alternatives like oat milk are also equally healthy and available in the market.