7% of UK milk wasted between bulk tank and consumer

A new report has estimated up to 330,000t of milk are wasted in the UK every year, worth more than £150 million.

Sustainability experts at the UK Waste and Resources Action Programme, which operates as ‘WRAP’, explained that the volume wasted between processing and consumption is the equivalent of 7% of the UK’s total milk production.

The total amount of food wasted is estimated at 10.2 million tonnes. Of this, UK household account for the majority – around 7.1 million tonnes.

Milk is the third most wasted food item in the home, after potatoes and bread.

Of the milk wasted, the home is by far the largest contributor, accounting for nearly 90% of UK milk waste with 290,000t thrown away every year.

This equates to more than 490 million pints as a nation – or 18 and a half pints per household.

Furthermore, milk waste in the supply chain, through breakages and leaks during transportation and in retail outlets, represents 30,000t; with an additional 13,000t of waste identified during processing.

WRAP’s report ‘Opportunities to Reduce Waste along the Journey of Milk, from Dairy to Home’ identifies key actions that could help reduce this waste by an estimated 90,000t a year.

Actions are required across the entire value chain, and WRAP’s work shows opportunities to reduce milk waste during processing, transportation, retail and ultimately how we can all cut milk waste in our homes.

Milk waste in the home

WRAP’s research shows that more than anything else, keeping milk at the right temperature is essential to stop it spoiling early. The typical UK family’s fridge is operating 2°C warmer than the recommended Food Standards Agency guideline of between 0-5°C.

Moreover, many people don’t know what temperature their fridge is running at or have any easy way of knowing how to set it to the right temperature.

WRAP estimates reducing the temperature of our fridges to below 5°C could stop more than 50,000t of milk waste every year, saving shoppers £25 million.

Another way to tackle the confusion around fridge temperatures could be the use of temperature-sensitive labels on milk.

These use thermochromic inks, which change colour above or below a certain temperature threshold (for example, 5°C), and could, therefore, display messages indicating that the fridge is too warm.

As milk is a universal product in most people’s fridges, they could be a conduit to help improve awareness at a significant scale – with food waste prevention benefits across many other products.

Another way to reduce milk waste at home is increased freezing, and WRAP is working with the dairy sector to assess how increased freezing could assist in reducing milk waste at home.

WRAP also looked at the benefits that longer shelf lives could bring, and its research shows that increasing the average ‘Use By’ life available to consumers by just one day could reduce waste by more than 20,000t, or £10 million.

Industry continues to take positive steps to increase milk shelf life, including processing innovations, site hygiene best practices, and reducing time in the supply chain. Smart labelling innovations that can adjust shelf life based on the condition of the milk might also offer a future opportunity to increase the life on-pack.

WRAP also reiterates a series of recommendations made to white goods manufacturers, to standardise dials and temperature controls.

Milk wastes in the supply chain

Turning attention further along the supply chain, the most significant waste identified during milk processing arises from the process of separating cream from milk, which produces a material known as ‘separator desludge’.

This is usually sent straight to drain, but WRAP believes this is a potentially rich resource with high nutrient value proteins.

Processing this into materials suitable for food, or animal feed applications could reduce waste by an estimated 10,000t and cut disposal costs by around £1 million a year.

WRAP also recommended practical interventions to avoid milk waste in depots and retail stores, which could save industry an estimated £1.5 million.

For example, reviewing bottle design and specifications to avoid breakages and leaks which are the major causes of waste at this stage of the product journey.

WRAP will work with the sector through the Courtauld 2025 Dairy Working Group to help ensure the recommendations are implemented.

Progress will also be reported as part of a new target within The Dairy Roadmap – to increase product and packaging design features that help prevent consumer food waste.