The Dark Side of Greek Yogurt | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

The Dark Side of Greek Yogurt

A bowl of thick, creamy Greek yogurt seems like the most wholesome of meals. If you’re a New Yorker, you can feel virtuous not only because you’re consuming copious amounts of calcium and protein, but also because you’re boosting our state’s dairy industry. Greek yogurt production in the Empire State has tripled in the last five years. In the U.S. at large, Greek yogurt is a $2 billion industry. But our national addiction to the white stuff comes at a cost, acid whey pollution:

For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years. [Modern Farmer]

Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt because more whey is strained or spun off in production. Unfortunately, unlike the sweet weigh that is a byproduct of cheese making, acid whey can’t easily be dried to make bodybuilding supplements. Some scientists are working on methods to filter the lactose out of acid whey, to be used as a food additive, but these solutions aren’t ready for prime time yet. In the meantime, the New York dairy industry alone is stuck with 150 million gallons a year of corrosive yogurt byproduct that nobody really knows what to do with. 


[Photo credit: Ephien, Creative Commons.]