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Sustainable Recycling in the Beer Industry

At Equity, we believe that brewers should always be looking to the future, and that making beer sustainably is a big part of that. In a new blog series “Sustainability in Beer”, writer Hollie Stephens will cover the different ways that breweries can be more mindful of the environment when making beer.

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Have you ever wondered what happens to the waste products at breweries? Every time beer is made, the spent grain, hops, and yeast slurry are left behind. After each brew day, the mash tuns need to be cleaned out and the waste disposed of, which can be a grueling task. Part of brewing in an environmentally conscious way is ensuring that these waste products are disposed of safely and sustainably, and ideally, recycled!


Spent grain accounts for around 85% of the byproducts from beer production, as it is by far the bulkiest waste. A common use for spent grain is livestock feed for farmers. At Equity Brew Co, we work with another local brewery, 405 Brewing, providing our spent grain to them so that they can get it to a local ranch. It’s fantastic to see a waste product that would otherwise end up in the trash instead having a second purpose, enriching our local community further. “There’s a pretty longstanding history with breweries and trying to reuse or repurpose the waste products,” says Robert at 405 Brewing. He explains that the local ranchers raise Wagyu cattle, and they collect the spent brewing grain from the brewery. “It’s a very good supplemental feed as far as the sugar content and the protein content that is still left in the grain,” says Robert.


In some parts of the country where there is not an abundance of livestock farmers who can make use spent grain, breweries need to come up with innovative solutions for managing their waste materials and getting the most out of them. One example is North Coast Brewing, who have partnered with a farm close to the brewery to establish a composting operation. Spent grain, hops and yeast slurry are combined with redwood sawdust and woodchips to create compost which is used grow heirloom vegetables. Then, completing the cycle, the vegetables are used in the taproom’s restaurant.


When it comes to responsible waste management, small steps can add up to something big. Five years ago, the US Zero Waste Business Council awarded New Belgium Brewery its highest level of certification, for diverting 99.9% of waste from the landfill.


The key to sustainable brewing is to see the brewery as part of the community. Sustainability efforts are most effective when they benefit the local area, and recycling responsibly can reduce waste and even help to create extra value for local businesses and residents. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, there was unfortunately a lot more beer wastage than normal, as kegs that were due to be delivered to shuttered bars and restaurants were going unused. In some cases, breweries worked with distilleries to donate their unused beer to be turned into hand sanitizer.


From raw material sourcing to production and waste management, sustainable brewing is all about limiting negative environmental impact. By working with local organizations and improvising wherever possible, breweries can reduce their strain on the planet and ensure a better future for beer.



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