Family-run Little Big Dairy on track to be Australia’s first commercial circular dairy brand, with its latest packaging choice for its milk closures in keeping with broader sustainability shifts within the business.
Since it was established by the Chesworth family in 2012, in the height of the $1 milk wars, growth has been dramatic for the Dubbo-based dairy company, particularly in the last three years. From supplying two supermarkets and a local café, the dairy now distributes 110,000 litres to more than 1000 customers a week.
Determined to lead the charge in making Australian dairy an even more environmentally friendly industry (the dairy industry currently produces just two per cent of national emissions), the Chesworth family has recently formalised a circular strategy for Little Big Dairy.
A signatory to the Australian Packaging Covenant, Little Big Dairy is acutely aware of the 2025 National Packaging Targets and using 100 per cent recycled materials for packaging is on the list of company goals.
Through discussions with its customers, including supermarket giant Coles, the business has been encouraged to make an important change to the closures on its bottled milk products – moving to colourless caps.
“Once we learned that clear lids are preferable for recyclers, so that they’re able to fully recover the value of the plastic raw material – because closures made with dark-coloured pigments don’t yield the same results – we knew we had to start the roll-out,” head of sustainability at Little Big Dairy, Campbell Chesworth, told PKN.
“We pride ourselves on being agile and innovative, and we believe strongly, that in terms of making post-consumer plastic recoverable in the recycling stream, this is the way industry must move. We’re one of the first in the dairy industry to do this, and Coles is looking to us as the case study,” Chesworth said.
Coloured caps are often a strong brand identifier and Little Big Dairy is aware of this, so Chesworth says the company has been communicating the change to its customers. “We have a very loyal customer base and our level of engagement with them is high. As a supplier and a manufacturer, we see it as our job to educate our consumers, as well as our café customers.”
The dairy is working closely with bottle supplier Pact Group, which is also increasing its capacity to supply rHDPE bottles through its new milk bottle recycling plant. Pact supplies the clear HDPE closures.
The milk packaging is labelled with the Australasian Recycling Label, to ensure consumers know the cap can also be recycled along with the bottle.
In other sustainable packaging news for the business, following the recent awarding of a government grant, it was able to purchase a new case packaging machine supplied by Australian machinery manufacturer Recopak.
“Before, we were using packing tape to close the top and bottom of the boxes, with this new machine we’re able to use small amounts of glue, reducing the amount of packaging overall and increasing the recyclability of the boxes,” Chesworth said.
To reduce the number of plastic bottles it sends to its café customers, the company has moved to a bag-in-box system, using a 10-litre bladder that hooks into a milk dispensing machine allowing precise dosing and reducing milk wastage. The soft plastic bladder is recyclable, although Chesworth admits the education process with café owners is still a work in progress.
For its industrial plastic waste, the company has invested in a soft plastic baler to ensure 100 percent of its soft plastic is baled and returned.
Apart from its packaging initiatives, the business has made other sustainable shifts.
Major initiatives have included installing renewable energy across all operations, recycling wastewater from the dairy and milk processing to irrigate the farm and using manure as fertiliser.
Chesworth says, “We’ve reduced our carbon emissions by around 515 tonnes a year. We know what we do well and then work closely with specialists to fill the gaps.
“Animal nutritionists work with us on feed to ensure it is converted in the most efficient way into milk. A standard dairy cow produces 20 litres a day, ours produce 31 litres, which equates to just over 10 per cent reduction of emissions from the cows,” he says.
In the company's sights further down the track is a delivery fleet that is electric or runs on biofuels.
“We are looking at ways to further reduce our water usage and emissions as well as ensuring the by-products from milk production are turned into second-life products,” he says.
Little Big Dairy is working with a consultancy to map its Scope 1,2, and 3 emissions, providing a carbon inventory to outline what the company should focus on to achieve its goals
“It is all well and good to have grandiose plans, but at the end of the day, you actually have to do something,” he says.