The Environmental Impact of the Baby Formula Industry

When a mother has a baby, she has two options for feeding her baby. The first, is to breastfeed the baby and the second, is to give the baby formula. Both are viable options that give the baby nutrients to grow big and strong. Mothers have the choice to breastfeed or formula feed their children. Naturally, there aren’t any environmental impacts of breastfeeding, but baby formula is a different story. Baby formula and the baby formula industry have significant impacts on the environment and many people aren’t aware of it.

What Goes Into Making Baby Formula?

This $70 billion industry sells baby formula to about 66% of the world’s population. Mothers have a choice between breastfeeding and baby formula, and many chose baby formula. The basic steps behind making baby formula are:

  • Get milk from cows.
  • Store the milk somewhere cool and safe.
  • Pasteurize the milk to sterilize it and make it safe to drink.
  • Let the pasteurized milk dry.
  • Let the pasteurized milk cool down.
  • Package the baby formula.
  • Ship the baby formula to stores, day cares, etc.

Each of these steps impact the environment in one way or another.

How Baby Formula Impacts Gas Emissions

To begin, we need to think about where the milk in baby formula comes from. The milk in baby formula comes from cows. In fact, all powered milk comes from cows. Cows are the second largest contributor to methane gas emissions. Methane gas is a heat trapping gas and is bad for the environment. Secondly, the amount of greenhouse gas that the baby formula industry produces is astronomical. It comes out to 2.89 metric tons, so 2,890 kilograms. If you drove 6,888 million miles, then you would produce 2.89 metric tons of gas! That’s a lot of greenhouse gas!

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Image Source: Nutrition Over Easy

How Baby Formula Impacts Water

It takes 4,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilometer of baby formula. That’s over 1,000 gallons of water! The world is already in a drought and that’s a lot of water being wasted on powered milk. Also, there is a lot of plastic used when baby formula is mass packaged. All that plastic eventually ends up in the oceans and other bodies of water. Sea life and other creatures are threatened by the plastic. Experts have said that the cost of wasted materials used in making baby formula is enough to shut down the industry and pay mothers for breastfeeding their babies.   

It’s OK That You Might Not Have Known

If making baby formula is so wasteful, then why don’t people talk about it? That’s a great question. There isn’t a lot of research that has been done on the topic, specifically. If research isn’t done about it, then it’s not reasonable to assume people know that it’s an issue. There was a carbon footprint report done in 2015 that focused on baby formula. Other than that, common sense is what tells us how the baby formula industry impacts the environment.

There Is an Alternative, Though!

Mothers have a choice between breastfeeding and baby formula. The only alternative to baby formula is breastfeeding. Sometimes, a mother can’t produce milk, so formula is the only option. That’s OK. You need to do what is best for your child. So, if that means that you need to buy baby formula, don’t feel guilty. There are plenty of other ways you can help the environment.


The baby formula industry impacts the environment in multiple ways. From using cows that produce methane gas to excess plastic from packaging. There hasn’t been research conducted on baby formula, specifically, but common sense tells us it has an impact. Overall, a mother can still choose to use baby formula because when it comes it her baby, a mother knows best.      

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Bailey Longhurst

I am amazed every day by the beauty that this world provides for us and think it is important to preserve it! Taking care of ourselves and our earth is crucial and I want to help people discover new ways to do both. Publishing for Green and Growing is a unique way that I can get my message across, and I hope you all enjoy what we write about!

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