Beer brewing is a thriving industry, with millions of people around the world enjoying a cold brew after a long day. Globally, the average person drinks 24 litres per year, being the alcoholic drink industry’s biggest player in volume and value. However, the process of brewing beer can have significant environmental impacts, from the production of raw materials like barley and hops, to the energy used during the brewing process, water consumption and the disposal of waste products like spent grains, wastewater, bagasse, and biogenic gasses. That’s where the circular economy comes in!

What is the Circular Economy?

The circular economy is a system of production and consumption that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible, reducing waste disposal and creating a closed loop of materials. Instead of a traditional linear economy, where resources are extracted, used, and then disposed of, the circular economy focuses on regenerating and reusing materials in a continuous cycle.

Applying the Circular Economy to Beer Brewing

The beer brewing industry is a prime candidate for the circular economy approach, due to the high number of by-products that are currently underused. With a few adjustments to the brewing process and supply chain, brewers can drastically reduce their environmental impact and create a more sustainable industry. Here are a few ways circular economy principles can be applied to beer brewing:

  • Sourcing local ingredients: One of the biggest environmental impacts of beer brewing is the transportation of raw materials like barley and hops. By sourcing these ingredients locally, brewers can reduce the carbon footprint of their beer and support local farmers. This also helps to create a more resilient supply chain, as local ingredients are less susceptible to global market fluctuations.

  • Reusing spent grains: After the brewing process, spent grains are typically disposed of as waste. However, these grains still have nutritional value and can be repurposed as animal feed, compost, or even used in baking. Some breweries have even started to use spent grains to create innovative new products, such as spent grain granola or spent grain bread.

  • Water conservation: Brewing beer requires a significant amount of water, which can strain local water resources. However, by implementing water conservation measures like reusing wastewater or capturing rainwater, brewers can reduce their water usage and minimize their impact on the environment.
  • Energy efficiency: The brewing process requires a lot of energy, from heating the mash to powering the refrigeration systems. However, by investing in energy-efficient equipment and using renewable energy sources like solar or wind power, breweries can significantly reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint.

The Benefits of a Circular Economy Approach to Beer Brewing

Implementing circular economy principles in beer brewing can have numerous benefits, both for the environment and for the brewery itself. Here are a few key advantages:

  • Reduced environmental impact: By minimizing waste and conserving resources, circular economy practices can significantly reduce the environmental impact of beer brewing.
  • Cost savings: Many circular economy practices, such as water conservation and energy efficiency, can also lead to cost savings for breweries.

  • Enhanced reputation: As consumers become more environmentally conscious, breweries that prioritize sustainability and circular economy practices can enhance their reputation and appeal to a growing market of eco-conscious consumers.
  • Innovation and creativity: Adopting circular economy principles can also encourage innovation and creativity in the brewing process, leading to new bio-based products and processes that can benefit the industry.