Dairy processing in major dairy producing countries has undergone rationalisation in recent years, with a trend towards larger yet fewer plants operated with less staff. Consequently, most dairy processing plants are quite large in Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Large processing plants have enabled the use of automated and more efficient equipment - including the use of specialised processes such as membrane filtration, ion exchange and modern drying processes, thus increasing the opportunity for the recovery of milk solids that were formerly discharged. In addition, sophisticated process control systems have allowed improved processing efficiencies and cost savings.

However, large-scale manufacturing increases the environmental burden on to smaller areas, loading the impact of liquid waste disposal, noise and gas emissions in the vicinity of the plant. Additionally, large-scale processing also increases the requirement for long-distance distribution, with centralised plants supplying large geographic areas, further adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

The dairy industry has focused much attention on the utilisation of sweet cheese whey over the years. However, several aspects of waste disposal continue to be troublesome in the dairy industry; including acid whey, nanofilter permeates, mother liquor from lactose crystallisation, clean-in-place waste and spent ion exchange regeneration brines. Although limited utilisation of many of these by-product streams is due to low returns and economies of scale, continued research and process optimisation is required to overcome the remaining technological barriers for maximising the recovery of dairy by-product streams.

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