Beer creates an awful ton of waste, which usually goes unnoticed and is discarded, such as the dregs, which are mostly yeast. Spent grains, or solid residue left over, account for up to 85% of beer waste. Beer-making is also water intensive; it takes up to 20 liters of water per 1 liter of brewed beer. These spent grains –the ones that make up around 85% of beer byproduct– are used as animal feed. In fact, that has been a tactic used since the Neolithic Period. Meanwhile, the dregs have now been used to make British Marmite and Aussie Vegemite.
With all this free time on their hands due to very unfortunate circumstances, beer brewers invested their natural creativity and drive for innovation into ideas for becoming more sustainable. Here are some ways in which they’re doing it.
Spent grains are now often used for bread baking, granola bars, and dog treats. Hewn, a Chicago-based bakery, has decided to use both spent grain and beer in their breads. Simultaneously in Belgium the Brussels Beer Project is doing the opposite, making beer out of leftover bread. According to Sebastien Morvan, one of the founders of the Brussels Beer Project, “Twelve percent of food waste in Brussels is bread”
In the US, the Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, Colorado collaborated with the city in order to research if bacteria could use wort (sugary liquid left over from the brewing process), as an energy source to reduce nitrogen runoff from one of its water-treatment facilities. Similarly, Waste2Watergy in Oregon created a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that generates energy as it treats wastewater from Widmer Brothers Brewing.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Theera Ratarasarn is taking the road less travelled and actually making beer brewed with purified Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District wastewater plant effluent. Due to the nature of the risk of creating this beer, “He chlorinated, dechlorinated, filtered, distilled, tested and added nutrients to the water before beginning to make 5 gallons of Activated Sludge, a wheat ale with 5.15 percent alcohol by volume”, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Spent grains possess everything plants need to grow: organic matter and nitrogen. Great Lakes Brewing Company, is using them as a soil amendment and to grow mushrooms that will ultimately be served in their menu.
On the other hand, we have Ant Brew in Finland. Ant Brew launched a summer beer, a stout, that is, called Wasted Potential, made with wild herbs and local food waste like bread, berries, fruits and goose droppings. Because there is so much goose poop in the city of Lahti, Ant Brew came up with their win-win circular economy solution. By using it in a food-safe way, the parks in the city that suffer from excess goose excrement will now have a way of dealing with it. “This series of beers is our way to create important discussions about food waste, utilization of waste, urban farming, and local and wild food among beer enthusiasts,” says Ant Brew’s Kari Puttonen. “Working with the Lahti Green Capital has been great. We are constantly developing ways to utilize new ingredients in brewing and are not afraid to think outside of the box.”
Beer is only one example of what can be achieved locally and regionally in terms of a circular economy. What seems like a simple cold beverage to drink with some friends can actually make the biggest of difference.