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Natural Awakenings San Diego

Nut Milk Carries Hefty Environmental Burden

Almonds outside of cracked shells

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To grow one orange requires 14 gallons of water, a cup of coffee 35 gallons, one potato 100 gallons, a glass of dairy milk 48 gallons and a half-cup of tofu 61 gallons. One almond (technically a seed, not a tree nut) needs about 3.2 gallons to reach maturity; almost 1,300 gallons are needed to grow a pound. The source of almond milk, although positioned as an eco-friendly alternative to cow’s milk, is usually treated with methoxyfenozide, which threatens honeybee health. With a global market of more than $5 billion, the beverage’s footprint is increasingly detrimental to the drought-plagued state of California. Walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios consume as much water or more, but almonds are in higher demand. The “Eureka” state supplies 80 percent of the world’s almond supply, covering more than 1.5 million acres in the Central Valley. Water from ancient aquifers there is being pumped out for irrigation faster than it can be recharged.

According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, almond orchards were treated with more pesticides than any other local crop in 2017. Harmful chemicals are sprayed year-round to combat ants, mites, leafrollers, peach twig borers and weeds. Also, fertilizer pollution can spike drinking water with hazardous nitrates. Instead, consumers can purchase milk that is packaged in sustainably sourced and recyclable materials and buy shelf-stable milk to conserve energy from refrigeration.

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