Greek yogurt is a booming $2 billion a year industry with popular brands including Chobani and Dannon. But it produces millions of pounds of waste that industry insiders are scrambling to figure out what to do with, Modern Farmer reports.
Greek yogurt is strained, unlike other varieties of yogurt, and the byproduct is a thin, runny, acid whey that cannot be dumped because it becomes toxic as it decomposes, robbing rivers and streams of oxygen, author Justin Elliott writes.
New York’s Greek yogurt industry tripled in size over the last five years with companies in the state producing a total of 150 million gallons of acid whey last year, Modern Farmer says.
Companies like Chobani typically make 1 ounce of creamy yogurt out of 3 to 4 ounces of milk. The rest becomes acid whey. Dumping the runny waste is illegal. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists and state government officials are in a hurry to figure out not only uses for the whey, but also how to make a profit off of it.
In New York, Chobani has been trying to get rid of its vast quantities of acid whey by paying dairy farmers to take it and sending truckloads to their farms. The farmers have been experimenting with it, mixing whey with manure, into cattle feed and converting some of it into biogas that powers their farms and even supplies the local utility with power.
But there are problems with this method of disposal. In mixing it with cattle feed, farmers must take care not to feed their cows too much of whey since it’s similar to feeding them candy bars, the article says. Additionally, converting whey into biogas requires expensive anaerobic digesters be installed below ground, something small farms cannot easily afford.
Dairy scientists at Cornell University and elsewhere have been exploring ways to extract the protein contained within the whey in an economical manner so it can be used in infant formulas. Another angle being explored by scientists is extracting lactose, which has many uses, from the whey. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held the first ever yogurt summit last year.
While Greek yogurt makers grapple with disposing of acid whey, other yogurt makers are tackling their carbon footprint. Last September, Stonyfield Farm said it calculated the complete lifecycle carbon emissions of three quarters of its 200 products, as part of parent company Danone’s charge to individually footprint 35,000 items.