From farm to fridge: how we can all play our part in reducing milk waste

Peter Maddox, Director, WRAP UK

I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself: I’ve just tweaked the temperature control dial in our fridge. And it’s shocking to think that if every household made sure their fridges were no warmer than 5°C, the loss of milk in the UK each year would be cut by 50,000 tonnes. These lost ‘pintas’ cost a remarkable £25 million.

WRAP has just completed a detailed analysis of the scale of milk wasted from cow to cuppa – and, importantly, the reasons why. We have calculated that 330,000 tonnes of milk is lost annually, and this figure is dominated by household practices resulting in 290,000 tonnes being thrown away. That’s 490 million pints - enough milk for more than 150 cups of tea for every household in the country, every month of the year (depending on how milky you like your tea).

Clearly this is both a problem and a big challenge. And because WRAP’s sustainability vision involves not only re-inventing how we design, produce and sell products, but also re-thinking how we use and consume them, that challenge is for all of us, including the growing number of producers, brands and retailers wanting to make a contribution to cutting food waste. The big question is how we can best work together to reduce these figures?

That’s why so many companies have signed up to the Courtauld Commitment 2025, the first voluntary agreement to tackle resource efficiency across the entire food chain from primary production on the farm to the point of consumption. It has a target of a 20% reduction in food waste in the UK per capita, over the decade to 2025. Reaching this target will help the UK achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 by 2030 (a 50% cut in consumer and retail food waste since 2007, when we started working on this). I’m proud WRAP helped to bring this industry commitment into being, and that we are now seen as global leaders on the issue, being part of the Champions 12.3 coalition.

Let’s get back to those findings, newly published in our report: Opportunities to Reduce Waste along the Journey of Milk, from Dairy to Home which came about because leading businesses signed up to the Courtauld Commitment were concerned about the amount of milk going to waste. We’ve already seen that 290,000 tonnes are lost in the home annually. The top three reasons for this are that the milk has gone off, has passed its Use By date, or more is poured out than is wanted. A further 29,000 tonnes is wasted in transit or at retail outlets, mostly because of breakages and leaks, for example where the HDPE bottles get snagged in metal storage cages. Another 13,000 tonnes are lost during processing and filling, typically when the milk and cream are separated.

Looking at the entire supply chain, we’ve identified five top opportunities for the businesses concerned to help reduce milk waste. Back to my fridge for a moment: one of the five actions is to make sure that dials are at the right settings. That means the whole chain can be involved in a campaign to get that simple message across to consumers – while manufacturers are increasingly switching to temperature displays.

The supply chain can do even more to drive consumer change. For example, we estimate that increasing the ‘Use By’ date by one day would save 20,000 tonnes. Another 10,000 tonnes would be reprieved if 10% more households put their surplus bottles in the freezer. And, as we’ve seen, the dairies and the retailers now know where they themselves can save waste – and money – before their products reach the shelves. Action to tackle milk waste is being integrated into the Courtauld Commitment and is a new target within the dairy sector’s own ‘roadmap’ towards preventing consumer waste.

The study, the new report, and how the supply chain is embracing the findings are a perfect example of the way WRAP helps prevent food waste. We identify a problem, convene the relevant businesses, rigorously research the issues, share the findings and help the supply chain to find practicable solutions that also make financial sense.

One small element illustrates how business is responding: work is underway testing temperature-sensitive labels on milk bottles to warn householders if their fridge is running too warm. And if you want to make sure your own dial is in the right place, there’s a great web-based tool at Chillthefridgeout.com

Time for a cuppa.

WRAP is grateful to the following, who provided data or insight for our study: Alpla, Arla, Asda, Co-op, Dairy UK, Lidl, M&S, Muller, Nampak, Sainsbury’s, Tesco