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Waste from WNY yogurt plants may benefit another local company

RIT Golisano Institute for Sustainability

RIT's Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) is partnering with a local company to turn dairy industry waste into a useful byproduct.

Scientists are involved in a yearlong project to study the potential use of excess whey - a common waste product in the making of yogurt- into a food source for medicinal mushrooms for the Rochester-based Empire Medicinals.

"Normally, that kind of whey from food processing operations is sent to a wastewater treatment plant at a fairly large cost, or is disposed of in some lower value way,” said Thomas Trabold, Ph.D., associate professor and academic head of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. “This is a potential way of converting that waste material into something that can add value to this company's bottom line."

Waste from food processing plants has low contamination levels and can also be upcycled to create bioplastics or nutraceuticals, Trabold explained.

RIT generates about 400 tons of food waste each year, and researchers at GIS also continue to study ways to divert some of that from landfills.

“I think we’re on the cusp of a revolution here,” Trabold predicted.  "I would estimate that in several years, one hundred percent of our food waste will be diverted from landfill."

He said companies are taking a hard look at upcycling technologies for their economic potential. Not only is there a benefit of avoiding landfill disposal costs, but using what would typically be considered waste to create a secondary product can be profitable.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.