Overall Trader Joe's Oat Milk is relatively sustainable, and TJ’s has good sustainability practices as far as packaging and food waste control, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. The two caveats I have with this product are that it is not organic, and their sourcing is unclear. Non-organic oats are notorious for being sprayed with the Monsanto herbicide glyphosate. While most of California has banned or discontinued the use of glyphosate as of 2017, it has likely been replaced with another herbicide, which is harmful to the environment and our health. Additionally, TJ’s has almost no disclosure of where their products really come from, and thus it is unclear where their ingredients are sourced, which is essential in determining their sustainability and impact.
Trader Joe's Oat Beverage comes in two sizes, one quart or two quarts. The one-quart contains just water and hydrolyzed oats, while the two-quart contains other added ingredients such as sunflower oil. Though the two-quart contains 2% or less, sunflower oil is one of the most unsustainable vegetable oils because of the high water usage in its production. Oats, on the other hand, are a relatively sustainable crop, with moderate water usage, high abundance, a low carbon footprint, and no significant land damage. TJ’s claims that all their “Trader Joe’s” labeled products are Non-Gmo, with no artificial preservatives or flavors, and no artificial trans fats. However, the TJ’s Oat Milk Beverage is Not organic, which is problematic because of the use of glyphosate (a herbicide) that has been linked to cancer. While California has added Glyphosate as a listed carcinogen, and many cities have outright discontinued or banned it, when a product is nonorganic, there is always the high risk that they contain harmful chemicals.
Oat milk is made via Hydrolyzed oats. Hydrolyzed oats are essentially water-soluble oats, made through the process of hydrolysis; splitting oats with water molecules. Enzymes are added to break down starch and then are heated to sustain shelf life. Sunflower oil, xanthin, and gellan gum are added as emulsifiers, while vitamins are added to increase nutrition content. The smaller size is packaged by Tetra Pac, a sustainability-oriented packaging company whose products are recyclable. Although their carton packages leave a low carbon footprint, not all recyclers accept it, and their materials are virgin sources, meaning they use paper straight from trees. The smaller size is not packaged by Tetra Pac but is also paper-based and recyclable. This product could improve if it used more a sustainable oil emulsifier, and used packaging made of already recycled materials so as to not add to deforestation.
TJ’s, compared to other grocery stores, is innovative in its sustainability practices. They have a section of their website outlining how they reach sustainability goals via reducing packaging and plastic use, composting and recycling materials, and donating unsold food. However, while TJ’s has the image of selling unique home-brand products, they seriously lack transparency. In fact, TJ’s doesn't even have its own factory even though most of its products are labeled under their own brand name. Instead, they source their products from generic manufacturers and sell it as their own. Some products come from popular generic brands that TJ’s customers wouldn’t necessarily purchase. Others come from small manufacturers that are unknown to the average consumer. Either way, it is not disclosed where these products really come from, and so there is no way to really know what, or who you are buying when you make a purchase at TJ’s.