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Driven by a huge increase in consumer demand over the past few years, Greek yogurt has grown into a $2 billion a year industry. But what the vast majority of consumers are not aware of is that the manufacturing process is creating an ecological nightmare beyond all comprehension. In order to produce one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt, three or four ounces of milk is used, and the excess milk which is left at the end of the process is so acidic that it is considered by many experts to be a toxic liquid. It’s illegal for this liquid waste to be dumped into the environment as it would cause immeasurable destruction to the natural habitat. Problem is, the industry doesn’t have a clear plan in place to deal with all this toxic waste. The boom in Greek yogurt production has lead to a threefold increase in New York alone of this toxic liquid between 2007 – 2013, and in the northeast of the U.S., 150 million gallons of acid whey was produced last year.

Here are four big ways in which Greek yogurt is destroying our planet:

Whey Acid Dumping

There are strict regulations on the way in which whey acid can be disposed of, and this is for a very good reason. When released into waterways, the whey acid depletes the oxygen from the water, killing the fish and plants living in the environment. In 2008, the Minerva Cheese Factory released acid whey into an Ohio creek, killing over 5,400 fish along a 1.5 mile stretch. This is just one of several recorded cases of dumping acid whey into the environment and its immediate impact on the wildlife.

Increased Dairy Farm Sizes

To cope with the demand for more Greek yogurt, the industry leading state of New York has created new laws to allow for the expansion of dairy farms. Without the need for any additional regulatory checks or animal welfare guidelines, the USDA has altered small dairy farm herd caps from 199 cows to 299 cows. This means that the environmental impact of dairy farming is  going to increase with the demand for Greek yogurt. More farms breeding increasing amounts of cows will increase the strain on planetary resources and pollution levels.

Livestock Fertilizer Reaching Water

One of the “solutions” of the increasing whey acid problem is for yogurt manufacturers to sell off the whey to farmers to be mixed into feed for animals and fertilizer for the land. The problem with this is that the overall acidity of the farms which are utilizing the waste product increases. Manure and fertilizer used directly on the land ends up getting washed off into waterways and this is causing widespread concern to many. Some figures suggest that 70 percent of whey is discarded in this way, but there are no industry wide figures to show where it is all ending up.

Stockpiles of Whey Acid Building Up

While it is claimed that around 70 percent of the whey acid produced during the Greek yogurt manufacturing process is currently being utilized by the agriculture industry, companies have been extremely reluctant to give details on what is going to happen to the huge stockpiles of whey that are mounting up in factories around the country. As we have seen before, even a small leak of this substance into the environment can be devastating, and there seems to be a lack of any viable long term solutions to the millions of gallons of whey acid which is building up. It’s an unsustainable production method and an environmental time bomb waiting to explode.

Image source: Project Manhattan / Wikipedia Commons

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73 comments on “4 Ways Greek Yogurt is Destroying Our Planet”

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Alexandra Smaragdi
1 Years Ago

At first I thought that this article was satirical...
Seriously! The problem is not "Greek" yogurt. It\'s the intensive dairy farming practices, and overuse of fertilizers that is causing problems. Also, have you wondered what happens to all the whey discarded from making cheese?
In Greece we\'ve been eating strained yogurt for generations, (that\'s what is known elsewhere as Greek yogurt.) And it has caused no disasters here!
But think of pickle juice, what do people do with all that discarded vinegar & brine in New York?
To make Greek Yogurt you\'ll need: plain yoghurt, clean linen tea towel, string and a bowl. Tip the yoghurt into the towel, tie up the corners and hang from somewhere such as a knob on your upper kitchen cupboards, with the bowl underneath to catch the liquid. Go watch a movie, and when roughly half the volume of the yoghurt has strained into the bowl, check in the towel, and see if it\'s as thick as you\'d like it...
p.s. Try a sip of that yellowish liquid that separates from your yoghurt, you\'ll discover it\'s not very acid.
p.p.s. In Greece we also use sheep and goat milk, as well as cow to make yoghurt.

1 Years Ago

This is so sad ! :( I love Greek yoghurt, mostly because I"ve always loved yoghurt - til I discovered the amount of sugar in typically found brands. Greek yoghurt provides all the protein you could want without sacrificing calories or taste of sugar levels. That being said, I\'ve recently heard of Skyr - think, Icelandic form of Greek yoghurt.

Does anyone know the process/impact of Skyr on the environment? Is it as harsh as GY? I would happily convert if it was more sustainable!

Anne Klauber
4 Years Ago

I love Greek Yogurt :-)

Deb Ophof
4 Years Ago

Oops, Val Val Feder, not environmentally friendly at all.

KimChi's Zen
4 Years Ago


Audrey Lykemynds Parkes
4 Years Ago

Shaun all dairy yoghurt is vegetarian. It's all made from milk. I eat only coconut yoghurt. It's vegan

Rosemarie Siever
4 Years Ago

I found this article, but I can't verify it's validity: http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2013/06/12/whey-ing-greek-yogurts-environment-impact/

Shaun Siever
4 Years Ago

Greek is the only vegetarian yogurt.

Chermaine Madison
4 Years Ago

what is gmo

Chermaine Madison
4 Years Ago

the biggest problem is farms etc. that are non free range if people could see the conditions of the animals we are eating because of the way the animals are Stored to grow and l mean Stored ....lf it wasnt for all the drugs they give them ...we would all be deathly sick... the gov. allows the way they are kept and thats why they dont stop them from using antibiotics. for the diseases ...growth hormones to make grow bigger ....all because they are packed in places so small most can never even turn around think about the dirt and germs being created in your food let alone the crulety to the anmails


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