Reducing waste in the beef supply chain

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A recent whole chain resource efficiency project, funded by the Waste Resources Action Programme WRAP, identifies potential annual savings of up to £420,000 across the beef mince supply chain.  The project, managed by ADAS and Oakdene Hollins, brought stakeholders in the beef mince supply chain together to identify resource ‘hotspots’ and ways of improving resource efficiency in the beef supply chain.  Better segregation of animal by-products in the abattoir was a key recommendation of the project.

Reducing waste in the beef supply chain

Improving resource efficiency and reducing waste arising from production, processing and manufacture is a focus for food and drink businesses.  This is driven by a need to reduce costs and meet sustainability targets. 

By working together, businesses can identify opportunities for waste reduction leading to significant cost savings across the whole supply chain.  Additional benefits of this collaborative approach include greater business and supply chain resilience, enhanced business reputation and improved economic and environmental sustainability.

Whole Chain Resource Efficiency

In recent years WRAP has initiated a programme of whole chain (Pathfinder) projects covering a range of agricultural products. Case studies for Pathfinder projects can be found on the WRAP website for onions, apples, potatoes and pork.   

Whole chain projects bring together supply chain stakeholders and facilitators to identify and investigate the causes of resource hot spots in the supply chain, brainstorm potential solutions and agree on improvements that can bring about resource efficiencies.   Effective collaboration can influence large sections of the supply chain and provide a forum for developing solutions to ‘big issues’. Recent whole chain projects have focused on protein sources; with beef being identified by WRAP as one of the top fifty grocery products from an environmental impact perspective[1].

This work is being continued through Courtauld 2025 launched by WRAP in March 2016 which encourages resource use efficiency in the whole supply chain.

Case study – Beef whole chain resource efficiency project


Consultancy firms, ADAS and Oakdene Hollins, worked with organisations in the beef supply chain to assess the beef mince supply chain from farm to retail.   

The project used a ‘lean manufacturing’ or continuous improvement approach that looks strategically at resource use across the whole supply chain with a view to eliminating all forms of waste within a process.


In this project ADAS provided targeted expertise on beef production and Oakdene Hollins provided in-depth knowledge of processing and manufacturing operations.



The study found that the major resource hotspots and opportunities for cost savings included:

  • On-farm greenhouse gas emissions – opportunity for processor and retailer to work collaboratively with farmer suppliers to support reductions in emissions and improve efficiency and productivity at farm level.
  • Animal intake specifications – opportunity identified to improve management of out of specification animals to reduce waste and cost.
  • Energy and water use in the abattoir – opportunity for savings in energy consumption through investigation of  relationship between energy consumption and production volumes
  • Residual material use – opportunity to reduce Category 1 waste stream

The most significant impact was from improved classification of residual material, so this is the focus of this case study, although other aspects were also important. The study identified potentially large savings that could be achieved by diverting misclassified residual materials into appropriate saleable material categories. This could be achieved through the accurate assessment, separation and management of animal by-products to minimise the Category 1 waste which has no market value and has a cost of disposal (Figure 1).

The project team reviewed the categorisation at the case study processing site. This assessment identified that while there was good practice in ensuring that meat in the food chain is fit for human consumption the management of the waste streams could be improved.

In this case, 19% of the animal volume was being designated as Category 1 waste compared to an industry benchmark of 12%2. The reasons for the misclassification of waste material included the contractual requirements from waste contracts such as fixed volumes, insufficient waste bins on site to allow proper segregation, and awareness of staff involved.

For example, misclassification of fluke damaged livers (that can make up 10-50% of livers processed)[1], can be sent as Category 3 material for pet food but are often sent as Category 1 waste. This can have direct costs saving and maximise income, but improved communication along the supply chain could support improved livestock management at a farm level to reduce the level of damaged livers in the first place.

With potentially large savings from correct classification of residual waste, it is worth investing time in continual staff training to support best and up to date practice, and simple logistical changes to enable implementation.  Similarly, investigating alternative markets and uses for residual material can add value and reduce costs.


Figure 1: separation and management of animal by-products


Project Team

For more information on the approach to whole chain resource efficiency, Courtauld 2025 or for an initial consultation on how your organisation may benefit, please contact ADAS consultant: Leslie Berger -  For information on waste reduction in the beef supply chain contact Karen Wheeler –

Sustainable Food and Farming

ADAS provides insight and solutions to businesses within the food and beverage industry. We support our clients to develop and implement sustainable sourcing, risk management and resource efficiency strategies, generating cost savings and building business resilience. Our long history of engaging with the agri-food industry ensures we understand the different commercial drivers across the food chain, from farm to consumer.

Oakdene Hollins supports clients wanting to improve the sustainability of products and services.  We offer strategic advice to businesses, governments and their agencies, backed by sound data analysis. Our customers look to us for innovation and thought leadership, especially with regard to efficiencies that can be made with manufacturing technologies.  Our staff have excellent academic qualifications which are complemented by a wide range of industry backgrounds including in manufacturing and the food sector.

WRAP  is a registered charity. It works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy through helping them reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way.  WRAP’s vision is a world where resources are used sustainably. It works in partnership with governments, businesses, trade bodies, local authorities, communities and individuals looking for practical advice to improve resource efficiency that delivers both economic and environmental benefits.

WRAP mission is to accelerate the move to a sustainable resource-efficient economy through:

  1. re-inventing how we design, produce and sell products,
  2. re-thinking how we use and consume products, and re-defining what is possible through re-use and recycling

[1] AHDB Beef and  Lamb. The use of animal by-products: The improving opportunities to add value to beef and sheep slaughtering sectors. 2014.


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