Greek yogurt is all the rage in the world of food, and understandably so. It’s more nutritious than regular yogurt, being high in protein and low in calories, and comes in an impressive range of delectable flavors. It is, dare I say, an objectively excellent snack. However, I was recently saddened (read: devastatingly heartbrokenly CRUSHED) to discover that Greek yogurt poses serious threats to the environment that no one yet knows how to fix.
I was formerly under the impression that Greek yogurt possessed some magical quality that regular yogurt did not. I assumed it contained different ingredients or was processed by superior methods. Alas, I was sorely mistaken; Greek yogurt is just regular yogurt with most of the water strained, resulting in its trademark thickness and high nutrition concentration.
The water left behind is the problem. In fact, it’s not really water at all: it’s “acid whey,” and it’s bad news. Acid whey consists of mostly water, but also sugar, protein, and yogurt cultures. It is about as acidic as orange juice. And although it’s safe for us to consume it, organisms living in water aren’t so lucky. It is illegal to dump in waterways because it is so toxic to the environment; it removes oxygen from the water, resulting in massive aquatic life deaths which could seriously disrupt aquatic ecosystems and their services to humans. Unfortunately, for every ounce of Greek yogurt produced, 3 to 4 ounces of gross acid whey water stuff is left over.
Although the harmful byproduct is illegal to dump in waterways, where else is it supposed to go? The recent spike popularity of in Greek yogurt (a now $2 billion industry) indicates that there is a lot of this stuff being produced with no use for it. A report by Modern Farmer found that Chobani has no choice but to pay local farmers to take the whey off their hands, most of which is used to produce livestock feed. But if the animals consume too much of it, it disrupts their digestive systems. Other potential options for its use include putting it in baby formula, using it as an ingredient in weight gain supplements, extracting the sugar to use in other foods, or even converting the lactose to methane, which could potentially generate electricity. Sadly, none of these tactics have been adequately researched and are far from establishment.
All of the articles sourced here mention upstate New York as home to the Greek yogurt processing plants. New York produces the most acid whey over any other state, totaling 150 million gallons in 2012. Thus, this issue hits home for us. Now that I’m aware of Greek yogurt’s dark secrets, I haven’t partaken in its heavenly deliciousness, though it hasn’t been easy to break away from my go-to snack. Breakups are never easy, but they’re a part of life, and I’ll get through it. I’m sure you will too if you decide to no longer contribute to this growing environmental issue.
Edit: Chobani recently spoke out about the issue. Though they did not disclose how they dispose of the acid whey waste they produce, they did confirm that they do not harm the environment in the process. Read more here
Written by Melissa Kullman, class of 2014