This Is The Environmental Cost Of Formula Milk

Taking action to support breastfeeding mothers would equate to taking 77,500 cars off the road, argue experts.
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The environmental cost of formula milk should be a matter of “global concern”, argue experts in the British Medical Journal.

Support for breastfeeding mothers is imperative, they say, adding that the production of “unnecessary infant and toddler formulas” exacerbates environmental damage.

Experts believe that breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life could save the equivalent of up to 153kg of CO2 compared with using formula.

They argue that the government taking action to support breastfeeding mothers would equate to taking up to 77,500 cars off the road in terms of environmental impact.

Formula milk impacts the environment at several stages, according to the experts:

  • The food industry contributes about 30% of global greenhouse gases. Most formula milk is made from powdered cows’ milk. Every kilogram of powdered milk has a ‘water footprint’ of up to 4,700 litres.

  • Safe preparation of formula involves heating water to 70 degrees celsius, which uses as much energy across the country as keeping 200 million smartphones charged.

  • A 2009 study found that 550 million infant formula cans are added to landfills every year – that’s 86,000 tons of metal and 364,000 tons of paper.

There are additional environmental concerns, such as additives like palm oil and fish oil, transportation of heavy drums of formula, and plastic packaging. Half of the greenhouse gases emitted come from the production of ‘follow-on formula’ – something which regulators say is “unnecessary”.

The UK has low breastfeeding rates. Despite more than 85% of pregnant women expressing the desire to breastfeed, just 24% of babies are being exclusively breastfed by six weeks. The World Health Organisation suggests six months of exclusive breastfeeding – something received by just 1% of British babies. The global figure is 41%, meaning more than half of the 141 million babies born every year don’t get what the WHO consider necessary.

Improving access to milk banks, where breastfeeding supplements are needed; increasing the availability of lactation consultants; and working on cultural change to remove stigmas around breastfeeding are all areas in which governing bodies could work harder to reduce formula use, experts say.

The carbon footprint of breastfeeding is minimal, they add, and the health benefits in turn lead to fewer healthcare resources being needed.

“We need to acknowledge that ‘our house is on fire’ and that the next generation requires us to act quickly to reduce carbon footprints in every sphere of life,” write the authors in the study. “Breastfeeding is a part of this jigsaw, and urgent investment is needed across the sector.”