Arla Foods: Zero waste to landfill and beyond

Improving the design of its milk bottles and changing the materials used to manufacture cream pots are just two of the initiatives taken by Arla Food to achieve its zero waste to landfill goal

What’s the background? As one of the UK’s leading dairy companies, Arla has six manufacturing dairies across the UK, processing around two billion litres of milk each year, and employing around 2,800 people.

Enabling the whole business, to achieve zero waste to landfill was a significant challenge. In December 2011 we achieved this ambition.

The waste hierarchy was at the heart of Arla’s approach: reduction is the best method to reduce waste.

If that can’t be done, reuse the waste, or recycle the materials. If those are impossible, recovery is required. Energy from waste is a recovery method.

Give us the low-down on how the initiative was implemented Working closely with recyclers helped identify and provide the solutions. Over a number of years, the best ways and equipment to recycle were implemented.

Our Ashby dairy started crushing bottles with a new auger system, while the Leeds dairy developed a sophisticated system that allowed three different plastics to be separated and collected at site from waste product packaging.

The search for alternative materials began to substitute waste streams; cardboard boxes were sent for reuse as market trader boxes; we worked with our plastic bottle supplier to make our milk bottles lighter; cardboard boxes were made out of recycled cardboard; and we improved the construction of our cream pots, moving away from the difficult to recycle polystyrene to polypropylene.

Arla sourced returnable crates for the bottle caps, removing large amounts of cardboard in one stroke. The move at most sites away from compactor bins (where waste could ‘hide’) allowed sites to show their colleagues what was still being thrown away.

Training sessions with colleagues at all sites enabled a growing awareness to spread on the importance of recycling and waste reduction. The infrastructure for the removal of the residual stream began to be provided in 2010 in the form of dry mixed recyclable bins with other waste being taken back by the contractor to a newly developed chain of materials recycling facilities.

The amount of waste having to go down the residual waste route reduced vastly from 2006 to 2011, with recycling rising from around 40% to over 90%. The final link came in 2011, when the final residual waste could be converted into a valuable fuel pellet for highly efficient energy from waste plants.

What impact has your initiative had on your business and the environment? Arla achieved zero waste to landfill for all the existing sites in December 2011. We also did this with no net on cost and an increase in recycling revenue – we achieve 90% recycling. Since we merged with Milk Link in October 2012 we are now working to convert all its sites to zero waste to landfill, using our existing experience we will achieve this in 2013.

And why does your story deserve to win a 2degrees Waste and Resource Management award? This achievement was through true teamwork. It was not just an initiative of the environmental team, but pulled together by internal colleagues at all levels of the business from purchasing, packaging and operations, who all who played a vital role.

It also meant working with a variety of external organizations, from waste management companies, packaging manufacturers, and charities such as Fareshare, who were able to put surplus food to beneficial uses.

In 2005, Arla UK sent 1,904 tonnes of waste to landfill. Through a focus on elimination of waste and recycling, we managed to achieve sending zero tonnes, in just six years. To our knowledge we are the first major dairy company in the UK to achieve zero waste to landfill – and we’re really proud of our achievements.

This article forms Arla Foods' submission into the Waste & Resource Management category of the 2degrees Sustainability Champions Awards 2013. It was written and submitted by Robin Dearden, group EHS manager, Arla Foods.