Reduced water consumption

The dairy manufacturing industry continues to invest in more efficient equipment that reduces water use.

Manufacturers reducing reliance on water

The dairy industry relies heavily upon the availability of water for farming and manufacturing.  Given the dry seasonal and cyclical drought conditions that are typical around Australia, dairy manufacturers are continually looking at options to reduce their water consumption.  For many, this is a direct response to reduced access to primary water supplies. For others it is an attempt to ensure water supplies are maintained for as long as possible.

Consumptive water is defined as ‘water in’ which may include mains, ground and surface water. It includes 'fresh' water that includes municipal water, ground water, rivers/dams/streams, harvested rain water, treated waste water and other and 'recycled' water (which includes recycled water and any water treated on-site for reuse).

The type of dairy product heavily influences manufacturers’ use of water.  This is because different manufacturing processes consume varying quantities of water, although low water use can also have unexpected environmental or sustainability consequences.  Milk powder as an example consumes significantly less water during production than cheese.  It also presents a much greater potential to recover water as part of the drying process.  However, the drying process itself becomes less energy efficient when the equipment is under-utilised e.g. when smaller volumes or milk are available for drying due to drought-reduced supply.

Beyond the impact of product mix, individual dairy processing plants still use substantial volumes of water.  Cleaning is the single largest water-consuming process used within all of these plants, driven by product safety requirements.  Cooling towers, boilers and other service processes also consume water.  The dairy manufacturing industry therefore continues to invest in more efficient equipment that reduces water use and helps meet its commitment to reduce consumptive water use.

In 2015–2016, Australian dairy manufacturers, as reported by participating Dairy Manufacturing Sustainability Council (DMSC) members consumed an estimated 1.62 megalitres (ML) of water for every megalitre of milk processed. This figure is representative of 89% of the milk volume processed nationally and represents an increase of 3% in the intensity of water consumption from the previous year and a decrease of 7% on the baseline year of 2010–2011. At least some of the trend in the 2015–2016 year may be due to the changes to the scope of consumptive water and differences between manufacturers in assumptions, interpretations and data management.

Sustainable Development Goals

The dairy industry is committed to managing water resources and to reducing consumptive water intensity. This commitment to water efficiency in Australia also has implications under global sustainability frameworks and activities. A number of the dairy industry’s Sustainability Framework environmental targets reflect strong alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

2.4 By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.

6.b Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.

15.1 By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements..