TWIN FALLS • Recent reports cite Greek yogurt’s whey byproduct as a potential environmental hazard, but the key is in the disposal method, scientists and Chobani Inc. officials say.
Chobani, which opened one of the world’s largest yogurt-processing plants last year in Twin Falls, typically returns its whey to farmers, said spokeswoman Melissa Stagnaro.
“In Idaho, roughly two-thirds of those farmers use it as a supplement to their livestock feed,” she said. “Approximately one-third is used as a natural, land-applied fertilizer, but only on farms that have the proper nutrient management plans and permits in place with the IDEQ and Idaho Department of Agriculture.”
Spreading acid whey on alkaline soil actually can beneficially lower the soil’s pH to a more neutral range, said Dave Anderson, local engineering manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ).
Dumping acid whey into surface water can create major problems, though, including fish kills, Anderson said.
“We do not, nor have we ever, ‘dumped’ our whey in a way that is harmful to the environment,” Stagnaro said by email.
The manufacture of Greek yogurt leaves a watery mix called “acid whey,” named for the byproduct’s low pH.
It has about the same acidity as orange juice, Modern Farmer reported May 22, so its beneficial uses are limited.
The New York Post deemed the $2 billion Greek yogurt industry’s problem “a waste disposal nightmare.”
Anderson said the IDEQ has received complaints about disposal of acid whey near Hollister.
“We have had some concerned citizens calling about Sweet’s (Septic Service) hauling whey out there,” he said. “People didn’t know what they were hauling, and they were concerned about the number of trucks.”
Rick Dunn, planning and zoning administrator for Twin Falls County, said his office received “lots of calls about a month ago.”
Chobani officials from New York visited the area to address the complaints, which “seem to have stopped now,” Dunn said.
“Chobani is committed to being a good community partner,” Stagnaro said. “That extends to the responsible use of whey…”