Greek yogurt is one of the trendiest foods of the moment, dominating the dairy aisle at grocery stores and even spawning stand-alone yogurt bars. But while consumers enjoy the thick texture and probiotics known to aid your digestive tract, upstate New York producers are facing a major hurdle when it comes to getting rid of the leftover whey, says NPR.
For every four pounds of milk, only one pound of Greek yogurt is produced at the Fage factory in Johnston, NY. The remaining three pounds is mostly whey (the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained), which cannot be easily disposed. The problems arise because whey can release sugar-eating bacteria, making it a potential environmental hazard if it is not properly handled.
At this point, the factories “have to pay people to take [the whey] off their hands.” One of these companies is a water treatment plant with an anaerobic digester, which treats the waste by feeding it to bacteria in large tanks. The digesters can convert whey into a methane-like biogas, which the plant can then use to power electrical generators. But this solution is by no means comprehensive. Fage produces more waste than they can process, and it “has to find other takers for about 20 percent of its whey.”
The Greek yogurt contingent isn’t the only industry having to solve the issue of food or byproduct waste. The Environmental Protection Agency has elicited pledges from companies like Whole Foods to cut down their food waste. According to Environmental Leader, the EPA has found that “food accounts for 25 percent of all waste sent to landfills nationwide—more than any other single material.” This is a major problem as “[foods] decompose rapidly and become a significant source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.”