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The key ways that the dairy industry are reducing their carbon emissions


The dairy industry has often come under scrutiny for its impact on the environment. From the methane emissions of dairy cows to high-energy processes, the industry is having to reassess its methods. Considering the industry is growing year by year, and with 80 per cent of the worldwide population regularly consuming dairy products, it’s clear that the dairy industry faces a huge responsibility. So, what is this booming industry doing to make a change and tackle carbon emissions?

The Dairy Roadmap

With so much of the world beginning to adopt Western diets, the dairy industry has to solve the problem of meeting soaring demands while cutting down on its emissions. Plus, the legally binding commitment that the UK will reach net zero emissions by 2050 means that slashing emissions has become a race against time for the dairy industry.

Thankfully, major progress is already being made. Many leading UK dairy companies, such as Arla Foods, Müller, and Yeo Valley, are striving towards a greener future. In fact, the British dairy sector is ‘world-leading’ in its environmental sustainability, according to Dairy UK. How has this been possible? Well, at least partially due to the Dairy Roadmap, a sustainability scheme launched in 2008. 

The Dairy Roadmap, founded by Dairy UK, the National Farmers Union (NFU), and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), has set out key targets for the dairy industry in order to achieve its ambitious emissions goals. The initiative focussed on all stages of the production process and recognises that there is no end to sustainability. Instead, the Dairy Roadmap, like the industry as a whole, is ever-evolving and adapting to meet new environmental targets. Through key focus areas, the Dairy Roadmap has already set some major changes in motion. Read on to discover the progress that has already been made in these vital areas.


Despite being an industry that relies on water for many of its processes, the dairy industry’s processing sites have already managed to cut their relative water consumption down by an impressive 23.4 per cent. As well as this, the industry has brought in a multitude of water-saving sustainability measures to decrease its overall environmental impact.

These measures include:

  • Water mapping projects
  • Rainwater harvesting to reverse osmosis
  • Reduced freshwater abstraction
  • Optimised Cleaning in Place (CIP) systems.

Landfill and recycling

Since 2008, the dairy industry has shown its commitment to re-using, recovering, redistributing and recycling the waste from its processing sites – and we’ve seen a marked improvement. In 2008, 65 per cent of waste was recovered or recyclized. The remaining 35 per cent was sent to landfill. In comparison, the dairy industry now recycles or reuses an impressive 94 per cent of its waste, with the ambition to reach 100 per cent as soon as possible.

Climate change and energy

According to the 2020 benchmarking figures from Dairy UK, we have already seen some major environmental achievements in the dairy industry. For example, there has been a 20 per cent increase in primary energy efficiency (kWh/tonne). In addition to this, the UK dairy industry has eliminated widespread use of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants, as well as increasing fuel efficiency, phasing out inefficient engines, and pledging its commitment to Industrial Decarbonisation & Energy Efficiency Action Plan.

The next big aim for the industry is to cut emission by a further 30 per cent and adopt more clean and green fuel options such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) which have the lowest carbon footprint of any off-grid fuel.

Plastic and packaging

For years now, plastic waste has been a serious environmental concern. In the dairy industry, however, some major changes have already been made when it comes to plastic waste. In fact, this industry boasts some of the most recycled and reused packaging of all consumer products. For example, 85 per cent of HDPE milk containers were recycled in 2018 and at least 95 per cent of tertiary packaging was reused or recycled in the same year.

Food waste

Tackling the problem of food waste in the dairy industry isn’t an easy feat, but the changes that have been made so far are encouraging. In 2016, for example, the majority of would-be food waste (produce not meant for consumers) was used in an eco-friendlier way. 23 per cent of it was used for anaerobic digestion or biogas production, while 63 per cent was recovered for animal feed and redistribution.


Although biodiversity puts us in mind of farming, improvements can be made all along the production line. In Dairy UK’s 2018 biodiversity strategy, the organisation called for big changes to be made by the processors to improve the dairy industry’s biodiversity status. In response to this, processors have begun to engage in more projects within their local communities and help to reintroduce native species in opportune spaces around their processing plants. 

The dairy industry has long been under intense pressure to minimise its carbon footprint, but from the actions that have already been taken, the future looks hopeful. By following the targets set out in the Dairy Roadmap, this industry has already shown that it can revolutionise its processes and, with future targets in place, we can expect equally impressive improvements over the coming years.

Thanks for reading our latest blog. For more information about our work with the dairy industry, visit our dairy energy page.