Here’s Why Going Dairy-Free Is Better for the Environment

Apart from being one of the cruelest and most unnecessary industries today, the environmental impact of dairy is also very scary. New research from the University of Buffalo, funded by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute, reminds us what an environmental nightmare dairy can be.

The University of Buffalo researchers, led by researcher Diana Aga, conducted their research on commercial dairy farm with approximately 2,000 cows in in New York State, says a EurekAlert press release. Their working hypothesis was that the farm’s quality manure processing system — a combination of pasteurization (where heat kills pathogens) and anaerobic digestion system — would eliminate harmful estrogens and antibiotics from the manure. Boy, were they wrong!

What’s Anaerobic Digestion?

The American Biogas Council says that anaerobic digestion is:

[A] series of biological processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. One of the end products is biogas, which is combusted to generate electricity and heat, or can be processed into renewable natural gas and transportation fuels.

I was curious how a pro-dairy site would describe the benefits of the processing system. Here are a few benefits of a smaller-scale anaerobic digestion technology described in Dairy Doing More:

– Earning more income through electricity, mulch and fertilizer sales
– Reducing greenhouse gases and other pesky problems
– Decreasing cattle bedding and decreasing energy costs
– Increasing organic fertilizer value
– Removing the weed seeds in manure

Anaerobic Digestion Doesn’t Totally Remove Chemicals

However, according to the new research, anaerobic digestion is far from being perfect. The researchers discovered that estrogen and antibiotics were still present in dairy waste after being processed; these waste materials are often reused as fertilizer and animal bedding on the farm. The treated estrogen was particularly problematic since it posed an even greater ecological threat than in its original form.

Hormones and antibiotics finding their way into the environment threatens wildlife and human health. According to EurekAlert, estrogen that enters rivers and lakes can harm fish reproduction by “causing male fish to develop female traits.” And the overuse of antibiotics on livestock is nudging us closer to superbugs, antibiotic resistance and a public health disaster.

Ultimately, the researchers insist that more research is needed, and that, “We need to start looking closely at additional treatment techniques to identify better practices” because anaerobic digestion fails to “totally remove these chemicals.”

More Dairy Dangers

But the problems with dairy don’t end with chemicals. According to The New York Times, “tainted water, terrible odors, flies and fumes that add to the region’s [San Joaquin Valley, California] severe air pollution” are other factors. There’s also the risk of nitrogen, phosphorus, E.coli and ammonia entering the environment.

Of course, there’s also the issue of methane from cow farts and belches. Research from 2005 shows that dairy was responsible for “2.8 percent of all man-made climate-warming gases.” According to The Guardian, while the dairy industry is trying to move in a more sustainable direction (e.g. voluntary sustainability metrics for dairy farm operations and producers), the expectations might not be realistic. For instance, one sustainability goal is to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030. However, like California dairy farmer Brian Medeiros admits to The Guardian, “The only way to reduce [enteric] methane from a cow is to get rid of the cow.”

Is Dairy-Free Really Better for the Environment?

Fortunately, dairy-free alternatives don’t need cows at all, so there’s no need to worry about estrogen, antibiotics and climate-warming methane. Those reasons alone make dairy-free alternatives better for the environment, but here a couple of charts that clearly illustrate why dairy-free is the way to be:

Photo Credit: Go Dairy Free

Photo Credit: Go Dairy Free

 Photo Credit: So Delicious


Photo Credit: So Delicious

And, hello, even Ben & Jerry’s is exploring dairy-free alternatives. Who knows, maybe Nestlé will also surprise us with dairy-free chocolates? If you’re open to ditching dairy, the easiest place to start is milk. Here’s a great guide on five plant-based milk alternatives to get you started.

Photo Credit: Iain Farrell

267 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Sherene Lambert
Sherene Lambert7 months ago

The dairy industry forcefully cause cows to reproduce via artificial insemination. Since the diary industry forces cows to reproduce rather than letting them reproduce on their own , this leads to excess cows in the environment. Therefore,this leads to an excess amount of methane gas into the environment. This is why a dairy free environment is better.So that no excess cows have to be produced to supply humans with milk.
In case you didnt know, research has shown that drinking too much milk is dangerous. As little as a glass is, a daily glass of milk is dangerous.
Then again since when humans need cows' milk to survive. Cow milk is for cows. just like human milk is for humans(babies). Stop relying on the dairy industry for milk. there are alternatives such as almond milk and hemp milk

Palestine Forever
.8 months ago

Oh - and don't forget the over 65s. We all fart too much, too.

Palestine Forever
.8 months ago

Right - that does it! Kill all those farty cows. Now!

Muff-Anne York-Haley

It's safer for the poor cows too!

Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney9 months ago

Great information.Thank you for caring and sharing.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney9 months ago

Everyone to themselves.Thank you for caring and sharing.

Glennis Whitney
Glennis Whitney9 months ago

Interesting. Thank you for caring and sharing.

Neville B.
Neville B.9 months ago

[Continued]

I'm not condemning all dairy, how is that not clear? Some people may, and others are happy to let the whole world go hang; that's their choice. What this article is about (about the dairy INDUSTRY, it says) is presenting information, because unfortunately scientists are just as easily swayed by wealth, power and threats as anyone, and have buried unpalatable evidence, so we need as much genuine, pertinent (and I stress those two words) information as possible, and reasonable questions - from all sides - to make informed choices of our own when we are being deliberately misled.

Well, as I've not read it I don't feel I can really say what it is. I'm not against flakes or celebrities in themselves, if what they say stands up. I dislike her work because of what it pushes on to young people, and because IMHO, it panders to perverts, the men who get rich off it, and the women in the business who let it happen. And if they all went bust (and to prison) because of me expressing my opinion that it's wrong, well, I'd actually be glad.

So, what was the thing with the bull?

Neville B.
Neville B.9 months ago

Hi Gerald L.,

Well, no, that's not right; not all ARAs are "totally against any animal use". Like humans everywhere there are degrees on either side of any given dividing line.

I think a holistic approach would be just that - a holistic approach; you can't cover that with a single option like trapping because that's not what holistic means. Are you saying the Chief is an ARA?! That's kind of ignoring what was said in the interview and in my post, as does the remark about the anti-fur movement in North America: are you really suggesting that enforced extermination by the government wasn't the prime mover, then and now? Nor were they cajoled into the fur trade; it's a basic staple of living in such harsh lands, as you seem to agree by using 'loss of identity' in paragraph two.

Subsistence living didn't/doesn't use income as we know it, it's forced upon them, and their hunting was not the wildly destructive 'first world' way. Also, their way of life is not so one-dimensional. To be honest, linking the American genocides to anti-fur campaigns is rather insulting. It's a bit like saying Holocaust survivors are to be pitied because of people protesting about Palestine, and ignoring Nazism.

In addition, the people who are really losing out financially here are the fashion houses: that's where the real mark-up is. They could easily pay triple for the furs, skins, etc, and still make a healthy profit, but of course they want more.

I'm not condemning all dairy, how is th