Burps and pack waste inform dairy giants’ eco-plans


By Neil Merrett
June 9, 2009


Fonterra and Stonyfield Farm are this month outlining eco-commitments they claim can, or are already, improving their operational sustainability through focuses such a cutting packaging waste or cow burps respectively.

As dairy manufacturers and organisations of all sizes attempt to play down and cut their overall environmental footprint, debate continues over more efficient agricultural and production strategies to ensure sustainable production.
Cow digestion

Stonyfield Farm, a US-based supplier of organic products like yoghurt, says that an ongoing pilot project focusing on naturally influencing cows digestion through livestock feed is positively impacting both product quality and overall carbon footprints.

The company, which began piloting its ‘Greener Cow’ scheme last year, is one of a number of groups researching programs looking towards potentially cutting output of greenhouse gasses such as methane from livestock.

Stonyfield says that it has fed cows at 15 Vermont Organic Valley farms supplying it operations with diets high in natural omega-3 sources like flax and grasses, a process it claims can cut saturated fats in milk and ‘re-balances’ a cow’s main stomach.

As a result of this diet plan, citing research from the University of Vermont, the company claims it has been able to reduce methane generated from its cows boosting wider commitments to cutting greenhouse gas.

"Stonyfield Farm has been able to reduce the enteric emissions from the cows by as much as 18 per cent, an average of 12 per cent,” claims Nancy Hirshberg, vice president of the company’s natural resources division. “If every US dairy were to adopt this approach, in less than one year, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we could reduce would be the equivalent of taking more than half a million cars off the road!"

Meanwhile, New Zealand-based Fonterra, a leading global exporter of dairy products and ingredients, claims it is on track to reuse 90 per cent of waste generated from its operations over the last twelve months, according to a new report.

The company says that the figures amount to savings of 226,000 trees and 7,450 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The group first began the scheme back in 2003.

Fonterra estimates that overall 18,000 tonnes of paper, cardboard and plastic have been diverted from landfill across its supply chain during the last five years.

Spring Humphreys, who serves as the company’s eco-efficiency manager, suggests that in looking ahead to meeting its 90 per cent waste recycling target for this year, major commitments will continue to be required right across the cooperative’s supply chain.

By redesigning its operations around using more recyclable materials as well as greater production efficiency, Humphreys says Fonterra has posted an additional eight to nine per cent improvement in recycling waste.

“We have much better awareness among staff which has helped us put in place systems to tackle organic waste, recover product and recycle packaging,” states the spokesperson.

“Our eco-efficiency programme makes economic and commercial sense as resources are used, or reused, more efficiently and less is spent on waste transport and landfill charges.”

Euro debate

European-based companies and organisations have also moved to push ahead with sustainability schemes ranging from using renewable energy from solar power, to converting manure and waste through biogas digesters.

However, the European Dairy Association (EDA) suggested earlier this year that there was not one specific initiative being favoured in the bloc towards ensuring more sustainable dairy production. A number of member state specific schemes are currently being focused on in markets like the Netherlands and the UK, according to the EDA.


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