Everyone loves Greek yogurt. It’s healthy, it tastes great (ok, for some of us not so much), and it’s chock-full of those magical probiotics. So what’s not to love? Well, apparently something called “acid whey.” According to a lid-blowing Modern Farmer article, researchers have discovered that the production of Greek yogurt has been creating a liquid byproduct called acid whey which can’t be dumped because it’s too toxic for the environment and could ruin waterways and kill fish.
And with the increasing popularity of Greek yogurt year after year – now a $2 billion industry – more and more of this toxic byproduct is being produced. And when you consider that for every three to four ounces of milk, only one ounce of Greek yogurt is produced, that’s a lot of waste. Just the state of New York itself produced 66 million gallons of acid whey. Whoa!
So what’s going to happen to all of this acid whey? Well currently farmers and scientists alike are trying to think of some productive use for it (and, who are we kidding, make money at it as well). One idea was to extract the protein from it for use in infant formula. Another farmer is attempting to convert the lactose into methane (which can generate electricity.) Companies like Chobani are apparently so desperate to get the waste off their hands that they’re paying farmers to take it.
So is this recent outcry over acid whey justified? Well according to Michael Neuwirth, senior director of public relations for Dannon, as told to CNN,“There is nothing environmentally hazardous about [acid whey] when it is re-used or disposed of properly. Most of our whey is used for animal feed for local farms, about one-third is used for land application as fertilizer, and the majority of the rest is treated in a biodigester.” Indeed, that same article has a farmer claiming that his pigs could easily drink 2,000-3,000 gallons of acid whey a day if he let them.
I suppose only time will tell of the true greater environmental impact of acid whey, and until then, Greek yogurt will continue flying off those shelves.