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Greek yogurt Chobani

Yogurt Companies Face Whey Disposal Problem

Greek yogurt ChobaniGreek 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.

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6 thoughts on “Yogurt Companies Face Whey Disposal Problem

  1. Why not install the biogas digestors at the yogurt site(s); that’s the entity with the $-why require the farmers to take it ?
    It’s probably a matter of time till an existing technology is identified or new one is developed.

  2. Whey can be effectively used as a substitute for buttermilk and to give baked goods a sourdough-like flavor. The yogurt companies need to partner with commercial bakeries to tweak recipes that could easily be adjusted for using whey.

  3. In Norway, during learner times when food could not be wasted, they made delicious Fudge cheese with the excess whey.

  4. In Germany whey is sold in supermarkets as a refreshing dairy drink. In Switserland whey is used for a soft drink called Rivella, which contains about 25% whey. Whey is also often used in protein powders.

  5. In my country we process the whey and make a creamy shape brownish compond which will be solid after a couple days.It will be very sour and kids love to lick a piece of it.
    We use it in different food preparation as a flavor.

  6. The toxicity of Greek yogurt production is on par with a lot of other cultured dairy products in the United States. Sweet whey, for example, is the byproduct of manufacturing cheese. It has higher protein levels, so its waste is much more commercially useful than the acid whey in yogurt. It, too, can become an environmental issue if handled improperly.

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