What's A Dairy Digester? (Hint: it has nothing to do with lactose intolerance.)

What's A Dairy Digester? (Hint: it has nothing to do with lactose intolerance.)

This is part of our ongoing series, called DTL (that stands for Down to Learn), where we take deep dives into the odd, nuanced and mysterious world of sustainability. Each article in our series should give you a good icebreaker for your next Zoom, or perhaps even inspire you. Today, a little discussion about the stinky stuff.


What the heck is a dairy digester anyway?

Get the image of Lactaid out of your head— it's actually technology that could help us save the planet, meet our Paris Agreement goals, and save a lot of jobs.

Here's the tea (milk?):

  • Dairy cows produce about 7.5 gallons of milk a day— and 120lbs of manure.
  • California is super reliant on the dairy industry! It adds about $20B a year to CA's economy and 130K jobs in the San Joaquin Valley alone— that's not even all of CA!
  • Cow manure releases tons o' methane. Methane is a warming gas that traps about 86x more heat than CO2 over a 20 year period and dissipates faster. It takes a while to see the benefits of CO2, but lowering methane emissions means we can "buy time" and see results much faster.



California has spent $118M on 318 dairy "digesters" that capture all the methane from cow manure "lagoons" (yep, the manure is all scraped into big open lakes of... poop...) and prevent it from going into the atmosphere. Dairy digesters can even turn manure into biogas that can serve as fuel for cars, and other fuel-powered devices.


The whole concept behind dairy digesters is creative problem solving at its finest! There are plenty of nuances and issues with the dairy digester solution: some people take issue with the source of the funding, others point out that they do leak some methane (though a tiny amount compared to how much they capture), and they get mixed feedback from the communities they are built in.


We like the concept, imperfect though it may be, because it marks a move to do something (something creative, no less) about methane emissions and the emissions associated with dairy farming. Slurp on the oat milk all you'd like, but with so much skin in the game (aka money and jobs on the line), big dairy is probably not going anywhere anytime soon— it's up to us to find creative ways to problem solve within and around its black-and-white-spotted parameters.




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