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Dairy strategy on food loss and waste

An estimated 20% of global dairy production currently goes to waste – A case study from the UK on how we can minimise waste and deliver Sustainable Development Goal 12.3

Alignment with SDGs


Henry Clifford Dairy UK • United Kingdom


Globally, roughly one third of the food produced for human consumption – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – is lost or wasted. The total financial cost of this waste is estimated to exceed $1 trillion every year (FAO, 2019), and its impact on our climate and environment is equally costly. If food waste was a country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitting country in the world (FAO, 2011). 

In the UK, an estimated 330,000 tonnes of milk are wasted each year from processing to home accounting for roughly 3.2% of the total food waste footprint. Whilst losses are reported all along the dairy supply chain the vast majority of this was (90%) comes from consumers (WRAP, 2019).

Recognising the social, economic and environmental burden of Food Loss and Waste, Dairy UK has made a series of commitments to encourage a step-change in the way the UK dairy sector considers waste.

Dairy UK is a signatory of the Courtauld Commitment 2025, a WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) led initiative aiming for a 20% reduction in the carbon, water and waste associated with food and drink production by 2025. Dairy UK is also a signatory of the UK Food Waste Roadmap helping the UK to deliver its part in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.

The UK Dairy Roadmap aims to incorporate further commitments including the ambition of Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 to halve food waste by 2030.

Moving the wheel

Key to achieving these goals was establishing a clear and consistent framework to define, monitor and report food loss and waste within the dairy sector. Dairy UK supported the development of the world leading UK Food Waste Reduction Roadmap which defines a methodology for monitoring and reporting food waste. As of 2018 we have incorporated this into the Dairy UK’s annual Environmental Benchmarking Survey. Through this, we have supported over 40 dairy processors representing in excess of two-thirds of all liquid milk processed in the UK to regularly monitor and report the waste generated on site. 

In addition to this Dairy UK works closely with stakeholders to deliver actions and initiatives aimed at reducing food waste. Central to this is our collaboration with WRAP which has delivered the following: 

  • Development of an agreed standard for the monitoring and reporting of dairy waste;
  • Development of on-pack labelling and packaging design guidance;
  • Support in the creation of The Milk Report: outlining opportunities to reduce waste along the journey of milk, from dairy to home;
  • Support in the development of a consumer campaign addressing the impact of fridge temperature on milk and other food waste;
  • Support across a series of waste valorisation work items, aiming to find opportunities to use or repurpose previously discarded dairy by-products. 

Progress by 2018 confirms that across all dairy products only 2.8% of the produce entering dairies is lost from the human supply chain, meaning a staggering 97% is delivered to the end consumer.

History of success

Whilst more time is needed to show the progress we have made against our food waste ambitions, data from 2018 confirmed that only 2.8% of the milk entering dairies is lost from the human food supply chain or wasted, and of this more than half already goes to other valuable uses such as animal feed or energy production (Dairy UK Environmental Benchmarking Report 2018).

The UK Dairy industry target to tackle food waste in the dairy supply chain are:

  • By 2020 – 20% reduction in Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) load in pre-primary treatment effluent
  • By 2025 – 30% reduction in food waste generated on site (from 2015 baseline)
  • By 2025 – Increase in product and packaging design features that help prevent consumer food waste.

New opportunities

The waste attributed to consumers – almost 90% of all milk waste – remains a key challenge, and the industry is currently exploring what changes it can make to product design, packaging and labelling, to influence change in this area.

The introduction of the dairy specific monitoring framework provides a vital tool to assess the sectors waste, however, a key goal moving forward will be to maximise uptake and reporting amongst the UK’s dairy processors.