Reducing carbon footprint in the dairy industry – Part 2: Milk Transportation

carbon footprint farming

In this second part of our 3 part series on reducing carbon footprint in the dairy industry, we focus on the milk transportation from the farm and delivering it to the processing plant, and then from plant to market. 

There are 2 areas of particular focus in reducing carbon footprint in dairy transport. 

  • Emissions from transportation 
  • Refrigeration leakage 

Milk is collected at farms by milk tankers, drawn by tractor units which use petroleum-based fuel, predominantly diesel, and delivered to the factory. The final processed product is then transported from the factory in refrigerated units which operate on harmful Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s), and similar petroleum-fueled tractor units. 

Emissions from Milk Transportation

Dairy transportation begins with the collection of the raw milk from the farms and then continues with the dispatch of the final product out to market.

Each country will have thousands of farms contributing to the production of the billions of litres/lbs of milk that’s needed to meet demand. What makes milk collection transport so heavy on carbon emissions is the need to visit every single farm with these diesel-run, refrigerated trucks daily and sometimes multiple times a day.

The final products require large trucks to further move the product to central dispatching warehouses or directly to the market. This is a very high volume truck-dependent process. 

When you combine both the milk collection and final product dispatch, you’re looking at a heavy carbon footprint

So let’s break down and look logically at what can be done to help reduce this carbon footprint. 

If we look firstly at the milk trucks themselves, there are a few technological advancements that are making these more environmentally friendly. 

Efficiency in engine design is reducing fuel consumption. This is greatly aided by the advancement of hybrid and fully electric vehicles. Fully electric milk tankers are being experimented with around the world and we will see even further advancements in this area over time. The industry is consistently finding lighter materials and better design in the trucks, trailers, tankers etc, which reduces weight, which in turn reduces the amount of fuel used. Knowing what new vehicles have to offer and how their ultimate design affects performance and emissions is a great way to reduce transport emissions. 

But until the technology becomes more affordable, ensuring your fleet is well serviced and maintained is a big step to reducing carbon emissions. Vehicles that are maintained regularly burn and waste less oils and fuel. 

We appreciate modernising a full fleet of trucks is very costly. It is only fair that other ways to reduce carbon are highlighted. Looking at the operations of the transport industry is a great place to start. Utilising modern back office planning solutions can have a significant impact on taking miles/kilometres out of a milk collection route. A modern planning solution makes milk collection routes more efficient. This is done by perfectly assembling the available milk at each farm into milk trucks in a manner that has the greatest impact on utilising the combined available space of the milk collection fleet and the least amount of miles/kilometres to be travelled. It will even have a big impact on reducing the cost of transport. 

Refrigeration Leakage

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s) are man-made substances and are known as super greenhouse gases or potent greenhouse gases. The measurement of the impact of such substances on the environment is expressed as a substance’s “global warming potential (GWP)”. HFCs have a high GWP score and are thousands of times more harmful than CO2.

Due to HFC’s efficiency in refrigeration, 90% of refrigerated units still use it today. Leakage occurs when the integrity of the refrigeration unit is compromised and the gas leaks as a result. Vibrations from the vehicle travelling, the vehicle’s engine vibrations, a forceful impact, and varying ambient temperatures all impact the integrity of the refrigeration units. 

It is important to understand the type of technology your refrigeration unit uses and how various technologies matter when it comes to preventing leaks. The International Institute of Refrigeration highlights this importance and how various technologies perform. 

From the International Institute of Refrigeration 

“Leaky components have been systematically identified for each transport refrigerating unit technology. Driven-belt units are much more susceptible to leakage than independent units. The main reasons are that mechanical stresses are more important and also because of the location of the compressor near the vehicle engine.”

If your fleet does use HFC in the refrigeration units then ensuring your fleet is well maintained, checked for leaks regularly and allowing only qualified personnel to work on your refrigeration units will reduce the risk of HFC Leakage. 

When looking at replacing refrigeration units, alternatives to HFCs should be considered. 

  • Natural refrigerants
  • HFCs with lower GWP, such as R32
  • Hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs)
  • HFC-HFO blends.

There is lots of helpful information on this on the European Commission’s Climate Action website here.


We don’t envy the work of logistics planners in the dairy and food industry. It is a demanding role. They are the lifeblood when it comes to ensuring production levels are sustained. Keeping ahead of best practices and technologies is no easy task. We rely on their knowledge and skills to keep us supplied with vital food items. We believe that it is an important role of OptaHaul to provide these professionals with the best possible route optimisation tools to help them in their role.

Missed the first article on reducing carbon footprint in the dairy industry series? You can read ‘Part 1: Farming’ here