Stop wasting 360,000t of milk and save 100,000t of emissions

By Lorraine Mullaney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Greenhouse gas

Professor David Reay lead the study
Professor David Reay lead the study
The UK pours 360,000t of milk down the drain each year, wasting the 100,000t of carbon dioxide produced by making it. Stopping this waste would be equivalent to taking 20,000 cars a year off the road, according to a study by Scottish scientists.

The study, which was published today (May 14) in the journal Nature Climate Change,​ highlighted the environmental impact of inefficient farming and the aggressive marketing of supermarket food.

“We looked at five foodstuffs,”​ says Dr David Reay at Edinburgh University, who worked on the study with Dr Pete Smith of Aberdeen University. “Milk stands out because there’s a high level of avoidable wastage. It has a high nitrous oxide penalty because of the manure used in crop production for feedstocks. It’s the perfect storm of high intensity of emissions and high levels of avoidable wastage.”

Almost half of this is a result of too much being served, with the rest discarded for being sour or past its sell-by date.

As the population continues to increase, more food needs to be produced, which means greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise unless some change is made, said Reay. His studies were based on figures taken from a report by the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK, which was published in 2009.

Wasted globally

“About 30 per cent of food is wasted globally and in the UK​,” said Reay. “If we can tackle this, it would be like taking about 20M cars off the road permanently.”

Despite consumers being largely responsible for the waste, Reay insisted that there was work that the food manufacturing industry could do to help. 

“The key thing for food manufacturers is to build on the progress they’ve already made in terms of working with suppliers and producers to make the supply chain even more efficient and producing informative packaging in terms of the safe life time.”

But the real culprits were the retailers. Reay claimed consumers were buying too much food via promotions such as Buy One Get One Free. Buying more food than they could consume is an issue that could be handled by using public agencies such as WRAP and the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. 


When asked if putting money behind raising awareness was rather ambitious in such times of austerity, he remained optimistic that supermarkets would take some responsibility.

“We’ve got a tight government purse but we’ve also got to increase efficiency,”​ said Reay. “If we can make the supply chain more efficient then that’s good for everyone. 

“The best way is to encourage people to buy what they need, so it’s really at that purchase point that we need to get back to the stage where we used to be: the mentality of buying what you need. As a consumer myself, I don’t like going to the supermarket and being bombarded with offers.

“The responsibility is on the retailers to look at this - do they want to boost their environmental credentials? The industry has shown that it can address this kind of issue: look at Marks & Spencer and Plan A, for example.”

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Why not pour it into the mouths of hungry people!

Posted by ali hamdy,

It is unfortunate that "economy" can not allow feeding hungry people.

Why waste such amount, which could feed so many people?

Also, don't forget waste in other food commodities and in other countries.

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Why do we have fresh milk in this country?

Posted by Chris Stanley,

Most of the waste is due to short shelf life of fresh milk.

Most other countries have UHT treated milk and hence, they have a much smaller problem.

A better alternative would probably be soya milk.

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Oh, come on, be realistic

Posted by Steve Pannell,

This works out at between 18-20 ml per person per day.

That is probably less than the amount you put in a single cup of tea! Surely there are bigger fish to fry than this?

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