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From crop to cuppa: The hidden energy and resources that go into the milk in your tea

It is common knowledge that a cup of tea can solve almost any problem, with over 100 million cups being drunk in the UK every single day of the year.

Stop Food Waste Day is a day about educating and igniting change in the fight against wasted food and we have developed an infographic that highlights the energy and resources which go into making the milk that most Brits favour in their brews, to inspire consumers to avoid food waste – including milk waste – at all costs.

Why milk? Because along with bread, potatoes and chicken, WRAP estimates that milk is one of the most wasted food products in the UK. WRAP estimates we waste about 330,000 tonnes of milk annually, that’s about 490m pints being poured down the sink – and it takes a lot of energy and resources to produce.

In recent months, waste prevention has been high on the news agenda, now dominated by the challenges and solutions society faces to reduce not only its carbon emissions but rising living costs, too.

Users of the popular food waste prevention app TooGoodToGo have been documenting their findings on TikTok, often garnering thousands of views of unwrapping their discounted goodie bags containing anything from unwanted sausage rolls, fruit and vegetables, and even entire roast dinners.

It’s a topic that deserves our attention too, food waste is estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to contribute 8-10% of total man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter after China and the USA. So where are resources and energy consumed in the production of milk?

In the primary stages of milk production, it takes 8 litres of tap water to produce 1 litre of milk, and the embodied energy in barns account for 10 – 30% of the total energy use on dairy farms. The transportation of milk also produces more carbon emissions and particulate matter than the average delivery journey – refrigerated lorries transmit up 165 times more particulate matter and 93 times more Nitrogen Oxide as the latest diesel cars. Plastic bottles produced to transport the milk from farmer to consumer consume resources in production too – a one litre plastic bottle uses two litres of water during manufacturing, on top of this, each bottle takes about four million joules of energy to create, which is the equivalent to powering a 100 watt lightbulb for 11 hours. After it is packaged, the milk makes its way onto the supermarket shelves, where the refrigeration systems account for between 30%- 60% of electricity used in the supermarket.

Once purchased, milk goes onto the shelves of fridges up and down the country that consume energy to run, until it is either consumed, or unfortunately in some circumstances when best before dates are missed, it is poured down the sink.

The production of milk, much like other food produce, is one that uses a significant amount of energy and resources, something that’s easy to forget as a consumer when you are only part of the final stage of the product’s journey – purchasing it in a shop.

So this Stop Food Waste Day, what have you got in your fridge that you need to use up before the end of the week? Will a round of tea for your friends help?