In the past half decade, Greek yogurt has received enormous attention for its health benefits, and it’s here to stay. According to Packaged Facts, Greek yogurt made up 35% of all yogurt sales in 2012, increasing from just 1% in 2007. However, with increased sales comes increased waste. Even though the benefits are undeniable, new research has shown that Greek yogurt might actually be harming someone – the environment.
Greek yogurt companies can only strain one ounce of Greek yogurt to every three to four ounces of milk, leaving behind a byproduct called acid whey. However, simply dumping it would cause huge environmental problems, tainting waterways and killing thousands of fish. But with such a rise in consumer demand, these companies are desperately trying to keep up with America’s love affair.
Chobani has apparently called upon local farmers to take the whey off their hands for significant compensation. Modern Farmer first reported that local farms mix the whey with silage to feed their livestock, add it to their fertilizer, and even convert it for electricity usage. It’s unhealthy for livestock, though; one farmer tells them, “it’s also sort of like feeding your cows candy bars – they like it but can’t eat too much of it.” There’s also some talk about using the excess to create a new infant formula, but acid whey in large doses is harmful to the digestive system of humans as well.
In the meantime, companies are secretly racing to find the best disposal options, but with the more Greek yogurt eaten, the more acid whey is produced. Despite the valiant effort, it seems we are a long way away from finding a solution to whey.
UPDATE: A rep from Chobani had this to add:
"At Chobani, we are committed to being a good community partner. That includes finding responsible uses for whey, a natural byproduct of the process to create authentic strained Greek Yogurt. We are constantly exploring the best ideas and options for beneficial whey use.
Right now, we choose to return whey to farmers, most of whom use it as a supplement to their livestock feed. Some is used as a land-applied fertilizer but only at farms that have nutrient management plans in place with the state environmental conservation agency. A small percentage is also sent to community digesters, where the whey is used to produce energy."