The Zero Waste Model for Brewing: Rotten Beginnings to a Sustainable Future

Image by Kate Drane

By Bryan Birch

In my experience traveling the country leading zero-waste programs at some of the largest events and festivals on the calendar, I’ve come to a conclusion. Its the rotten, the discarded, the anaerobic sludge, and the often forgotten outputs that have the most transformative effects in the triple bottle line model.

The zero-waste model is the starting point we should all consider, not because of its level of environmental impact, but because it radicalizes its participants and empowers employees. A zero-waste model not only considers the basics of recycling, but includes organic waste composting, sustainable product sourcing and a communication campaign beyond the norm.

Achieving environmental sustainability is more education and awareness over technology, communication over logistics. Activating a zero-waste model is the desirable entry point because of the consistent group awareness it takes to achieve success. Individuals can screw things up, teams make it happen. In a company that embraces zero-waste, every member of the team, from janitor to CEO, becomes an environment steward by the decisions that make several times a day.

In the festival and event world, that amount of waste kept out of the landfill, the “waste diversion rate”, depends on many factors. The size and scope of the event, vendor participation, attendee awareness of programs, recycling and compost haulers, commercial recycling and composting facilities contribute to the final number. However, nothing gets done unless all stakeholders share a unified vision to make positive change happen.

A great example of this is the Brewer’s Association Great American Beer Festival, the country’s largest beer festival at 3 days, 500 breweries, 2000 beers and 45,000 attendees. By tracking the GABF’s waste diversion of 50%, 59% and 79% over three consecutive years we see that effort, training, communication and practice over-time yield results. Effort and time are an undeniable factors in successful zero-waste programs.

Waste Diversion for 2011 GABF

Trash: 4.18 tons
Recycle: 13.74
Plastic Film Recycle: .61 tons
Compost 1.05 tons

Total Material (including waste) = 19.58 tons
Total Material Diverted from the Landfill though Recycling and Composting = 15.4 tons

2011 GABF Diversion Rate = 78.7%

The changes that we made to increase our waste diversion rate 30% in three years had very little to do with logistical changes. The bulk of the increase had everything to do with increased attendee participation, venue staff awareness and overall program “buy in” from stakeholders.

And with success new opportunities arise. The Brewers Association engaged the model for its second biggest event. The industry only Craft Brewers Conference started small to encourage positive results. By partnering with Mirimar Greenery, the City of San Diego’s commercial compost facility and the Town and County Resort, the conference’s host, the BA launched kitchen organics and catering composting. It was a positive start, not preoccupied by the waste diversion numbers, but simply focusing on laying the groundwork to promote its sustainability message.

A zero-waste company is full of environmental advocates, no one sits on the sidelines, everyone celebrates in its success. Start with the tangible, the touchable, the initiative with the highest level of participation and grow from there.

Bryan Birch is the founder of ZeroHero, Inc. a Colorado based company providing large national festivals services that lower their environmental footprint. In 2011, ZeroHero worked with approximately 25 festivals in 11 different states ranging from music, beer, biking to yoga.

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