A new report has revealed that 330,000 tonnes of milk – 7 per cent of all milk produced – is wasted per year in the UK, which equates to the loss of more than £150 million. Thankfully, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which produced the report, has made some key recommendations to reduce the waste of one of the nation’s staple products.
90 per cent of the UK’s milk waste comes from the home, which is the equivalent of more than 490 million pints of milk as a nation per year – or rather, 18 and a half pints per household.
Milk waste in the supply chain adds another 30,000 tonnes, whilst processing contributes a smaller, but still significant, 13,000 tonnes. As the third most wasted food item in UK households, WRAP’s report – ‘Opportunities to Reduce Waste along the Journey of Milk, from Dairy to Home’ – has found solutions to this costly and wasteful expenditure.
Its key methods promise to reduce milk waste by 90,000 tonnes per year, offering a saving of approximately £40 million. This requires action from across the entire production chain, from processing, transportation and retail, but most importantly, from consumers.
Spoiled milk at home
Keeping milk at the right temperature is a must to ensure that it doesn’t spoil. Yet, WRAP found that the typical UK fridge is operating at 2°C warmer than the recommended Food Standards Agency guideline of zero to five degrees.
WRAP found that firstly, consumers don’t know how to see the temperature of their fridge, and secondly, don’t know what temperature to set it to. In response, the organisation has produced a new interactive guide on its Love Food Hate Waste campaign website, which explains how to make sure your fridge is looking after your food properly. Simply by improving how consumers manage their fridges, WRAP estimates shoppers could save £25 million collectively.
WRAP has come up with the following suggestions to address milk waste from households:
- Use temperature sensitive labels on the milk;
- Wider use of WRAP’s best practice guidance for the choice and application of date labels and storage guidance, the Little Blue Fridge icon, with the supporting message ‘keep in the fridge below 5°C’;
- Increase the practise of freezing milk from one in four of the population to one in three; and
- Increase the average ‘Use By’ date on milk by just one day.
This last suggestion alone has the potential to reduce waste by more than 20,000 tonnes.
WRAP has also released a series of recommendations made to white goods manufacturers, such as the introduction of visible external thermometers on fridges, along with an illustrated handbook explaining where temperature sensitive food should be stored.
Spilt milk in the supply chain
WRAP has also suggested less wasteful methods to be adopted in the production of milk. For instance, when milk is separated from cream, a material known as a ‘separator desludge’ is produced – this normally goes straight down the drain, but WRAP believes it has the potential to be a source of high nutrient value proteins. This could be turned into food, or animal feed applications, reducing an estimated 10,000 tonnes of waste.
Practical interventions to avoid milk waste in depots and retail stores have also been proposed, such as reviewing bottle design to prevent splits and subsequent leakages in the packaging.
In order to reduce milk waste, WRAP will work with the sector through the Courtauld 2025 Dairy Working Group, a group of signatories collaborating to make food and drink production more sustainable.
There is a great potential for change in the UK food market; as WRAP states, the UK is a global leader in measuring food waste and supporting international food waste prevention, and total food waste in the UK has reduced by 14 per cent per person between 2007 and 2015.
Local campaigns such as Hubbub’s #FoodSavvy in East Anglia, and greater transparency from supermarkets and suppliers publishing their food waste data, show that there is real scope through voluntary action for the food industry to revolutionise its approach to waste.