Brewery giant Sierra Nevada gained some attention when it announced it was creating a recycling co-op for brewers. The co-op will help both breweries and small businesses in North Carolina recycle responsibly.
If you think about the things a brewery uses every day, the list of potential trash becomes quite long. There are the grain and hops bags, the plastic shrinkwrap protecting pallets, the PET strapping, and all of the boxes items come in. There are also plastic can rings that cause concern as they can rarely be recycled in curbside bins. In the ocean or a landfill, they can strangle fish, turtles, and birds.
In some areas, only a limited number of items can be recycled through pick-up services. It left small brewers and many area businesses with no choice but to toss things in the trash to go to the landfill.
Sierra Nevada looked at this issue and came up with an idea. Interested small businesses and craft breweries can bring their recyclable materials to the brewery’s Mills River location. As part of the Western North Carolina Brewery Recycling Cooperative, Asheville’s new recycling facility will be part of this plan to reduce the number of recyclables heading to landfills from breweries and other small businesses.
This is one way breweries are making a difference. What are some of the other innovative plans breweries are using to help reduce unnecessary waste?
Keeping Spent Grains and Grain Bags From the Landfill
Many breweries donate their leftover grains to area farms. Livestock loves the leftover grains. One company decided to help breweries that can’t find farm partners. ReGrained created a way to upcycle the leftover grains from breweries by taking the barley, rye, etc., grinding them up, and using the flour to make new food items like puffed snacks.
ReGrained sells its snack puffs online. It also offers wholesale food items. The puffed snacks come in a variety of flavors. They’re low-calorie and contain fiber, prebiotics, and no saturated or trans fats.
Grains are just one aspect of waste. The bags the grains come in are problematic. Colorado’s Avery Brewing learned this when they looked for solutions for recycling the bags. They learned that while grain bags could be recycled, markets would only buy them in extremely large volumes. Avery didn’t use enough bags in a year to make recycling possible.
After learning this, Avery Brewing offered to become a drop-off for other area breweries. With close to two dozen breweries participating, they were able to keep the bags from going right to the landfill.
Ensuring Multiple Years of Zero Waste
Back in 2015, MillerCoors (now Molson Coors) made a promise that by 2025, its facilities would be landfill-free. The intent was to guarantee that all metal, glass, plastic, and paper would be recycled properly. Any residual items, such as wood pallets, would go to a facility that burns them for energy.
In addition, the brewery decided to make sure all packaging for its beers were made from biodegradable, recycled, reusable, and compostable materials. Any plastic the company uses must contain at least 30% recycled plastic. To do this, Molson Coors has done things like stop using plastic film wrap.
Plastic six-pack rings were another concern. Molson Coors’ Colorado Native line tested the use of fiber six-pack rings and met with great success. The rings are made from recycled fiber and can be composted.
Recycling Your PPE May Get You a Free Pint
One newer area of waste has been personal protective equipment needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disposable gloves and single-use masks have been part of an increased amount of waste reaching landfills. Anheuser-Busch teamed up to help solve the problem with PPE waste.
The brewery came up with a list of brewpubs willing to participate in a Zero Waste Box program. People can drop off their PPE at a brewpub during specific hours and some breweries give gifts in return (supplies are limited). Participating breweries include:
- Arizona – Four Peaks Brewing Company
- California – Golden Roads Brewing
- Colorado – 10 Barrel Brewing
- Colorado – Breckenridge Brewery
- Florida – Veza Sur Brewing Company
- Florida – Wynwood Brewing Company
- Illinois – Goose Island Beer Company
- Michigan – Virtue Cider
- New Hampshire – Cisco Brewers
- New York – Blue Point Brewing Company
- North Carolina – Appalachian Mountain Brewery
- North Carolina – Wicked Weed Brewing
- Ohio – Platform Beer Company
- Oregon – Widmer Brothers Brewing
- Texas – Karbach Brewing
- Virginia – Devils Backbone Brewing Company
- Washington – Elysian Brewing
- Washington – Redhook Brewing
What happens to the PPE that is collected? It goes to TerraCycle to be washed, melted down, and reused to build things like reusable shipping pallets, composite decking, and outdoor furniture.
Reusing and Upcycling Cuts Brewery Waste
The plastic that’s used to wrap a finished pallet is often disposed of in landfills. Many districts do not have recycling programs set up for this type of plastic. The bins at grocery stores and other retailers that can recycle the plastic are not equipped to take all of the plastic from a brewery.
Brooklyn Brewing came up with the idea to stop using traditional pallet wrap in 2016. Instead, it started using reusable pallet wraps for pallets going between the warehouse to the tasting room. This idea stopped more than 9,100 feet of plastic wrap from being used by the brewery. Since 1991, the brewery has been recycling and upcycling its old pallets and barrels, too. Much of the furniture found in their tasting room comes from upcycled items.
Alchemist Brewery in Vermont also believes in being waste-free and letting others within the community benefit. The grain bags used at this brewery go to a facility in New Hampshire where the plastic is used to make diesel for off-road vehicles. The brewery installed solar panels years ago to provide about half of the power needed for the brewery and tasting room and reduce demand on the local grid.
Alchemist’s food waste goes to a local college where it’s used to produce methane for power. The other innovative change was to install its own wastewater treatment plant and reduce demand on the district’s wastewater treatment plant. Finally, the clear plastic that wraps pallets is saved and sent to a facility to be turned into synthetic decking materials.
What Can Consumers Do to Help?
Consumers can do their part to help keep beer and brewery items from the landfill. If you purchase four-packs of beer, return the can rings to the brewery for reuse. If they won’t take them back, ask other breweries and area homebrewers if they could use them.
Look for breweries that avoid the use of plastic can rings. Some breweries have switched to fiber ones that you can compost. Saltwater Brewery in Florida came up with edible can rings that become food for aquatic creatures.
Support breweries that focus on zero-waste practices. If you know of a brewery that recycles its grain bags, has its own wastewater treatment plant, or joins a coop to increase recycling, support it. As consumers send a strong message that they support eco-friendly practices, it helps push other breweries to follow suit.
If you have a local brewery with beers you enjoy, pay for some reusable growlers and have them filled and refilled as often as needed. It reduces the demand for glass bottles and aluminum cans. If you have to buy your beer in bottles and cans, make sure you recycle them properly.
Some states charge a deposit that you get back when you bring them to a redemption center. If you’re not in a state with a redemption program, check the guide at Recycle Nation to learn where to recycle plastic can rings, glass bottles, and aluminum cans.