Dropping ‘use-by’ dates could save millions of litres of milk

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Earlier this month, grocery retail giant Morrisons announced plans to drop the ‘use-by’ dates from 90% of its own brand milk range, as part of continued efforts to reduce group-wide food waste. Philip Simpson, commercial director at ReFood, welcomes this bold step and suggests it could prove pivotal in reducing food waste and the carbon footprint it leaves behind.

According to sustainability charity WRAP, around 490 million pints of milk are wasted every year in the UK – making it the third most wasted fresh goods product after potatoes and bread. It has an extremely large carbon footprint, due to its resource intensive production process, and disposing of it incorrectly (pouring it down the drain) can result in damaging environmental consequences.

Bearing all these facts in mind, the decision by Morrisons to consider scrapping ‘use-by’ dates on own-brand milk products could prove game changing. By simply switching to ‘best before’ dates and empowering consumers to use their own judgement when it comes to product freshness, thousands of tonnes of perfectly consumable milk will be saved.

But is it really safe to drop food labels and instead rely on a consumer ‘sniff test’? Well, in short, yes! Milk that is past its best has a strong unpleasant smell – a simple indicator of freshness. What’s more, even if you drink spoiled milk, you’re unlikely to become ill.

Indeed, as long as the milk has been refrigerated, it can be consumed for several days beyond its ‘best before’ date. And this doesn’t just apply to milk. According to research, a number of commonly wasted fresh products can be eaten beyond their expiry dates (such as eggs, which can last for almost a month).

At ReFood, we applaud Morrisons’ latest initiative. Grocery retailers continue to lead the way when it comes to tackling food waste and this is no exception. If successful, the benefits will be countless. Indeed, it is suggested that every £1 spent on influencing behaviour will return around five times that in consumer savings – an impressive statistic.

However, while the initiative will save millions of litres of milk, preventing waste is just one part of the equation. What should consumers do with products that simply aren’t edible or drinkable?

Rather than relying on general waste collections and watching valuable produce being left to rot in landfill, at ReFood we believe that homeowners should be provided with regular food waste recycling collections by their local authority. A separate caddy, collected alongside your other kerbside recycling, provides a much more sustainable waste management solution for unavoidable waste.

Once collected, food waste is taken to anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities, naturally broken down and turned into renewable energy. At ReFood, we operate three state-of-the-art facilities in the UK, which process more than 400,000 tonnes of food waste per annum. We take the process one step further, by creating a sustainable biofertiliser from the resulting digestate, which is used by local farmers in place of chemical fertilisers. In essence, using yesterday’s food to grow tomorrow’s crops.

Unfortunately, the decision around providing food waste recycling services is left to local authorities and, as such, not all households receive them. This is a dated approach and one which results in millions of tonnes of food waste being thrown away every year. As well as creating harmful greenhouse gases, landfill sites are now bursting at the seams.

The most pragmatic solution would be a national legislated ban on food waste to landfill, alongside the national roll-out of food waste recycling services. This has been delivered in numerous countries worldwide and would prove instrumental to alleviating the impact of food waste. A ban of this scale relies upon support and clarity from those in power, but if we were to achieve it, the results would be immediate.

Of course, the ideal scenario would be a zero waste world. However, this is simply not practical. As such, a two-pronged approach is needed – commitment from those in power, alongside education for the general public. What is clear is that we have to work together to make this happen.

The Morrisons milk initiative should be congratulated. Perhaps it’s the catalyst we need to stir things up, get people talking and encourage other supermarkets to consider their own food product labelling too.

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