Scientists have calculated that the 360,000 tonnes of waste milk that is poured down British drains each year creates greenhouse gases equivalent to 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is about the same as that emitted in a year by 20,000 cars.
The 99 per cent of milk that is thrown away by British consumers is designated as “avoidable waste”. Almost half of this waste is a result of too much being served, with the rest discarded for being sour or for having passed its sell-by date.
The research also found that reducing food waste and cutting back on meat and dairy production in favour of vegetables could have a significant impact on the greenhouse gases linked with climate change, specifically nitrous oxide which is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is rising globally as a result of agricultural expansion.
Moreover, according to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA), EU greenhouse gas emissions increased in 2010, as a result of both economic recovery in many countries after the 2009 recession and a colder winter.
Dr David Reay, who led the study on nitrous oxide published by Nature, said: “Nitrous oxide is the major greenhouse gas from agriculture. It stands out as the gas you can really reduce in terms of emissions if you can cut down on agricultural waste and increase agricultural efficiency. Eating less meat and wasting less food can play a big part in helping to keep a lid on greenhouse gas emissions as the world’s population increases.”
Concentrations of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere have risen significantly since 1990 and are expected to increase even more rapidly by 2030 as a result of agricultural expansion and the widespread use of nitrogen fertilisers. Growing cereals for animal feedstock and biofuels would boost nitrous oxide levels still further, researchers said.
“Nowadays, about 30 per cent of food is wasted globally. If we can tackle this, it would be like taking about 20 million cars off the road permanently”, says Dr Reay.