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Oregon Company Wants to Turn Recycled Water Into Beer

Words by Leon Kaye

Would you drink a beer knowing it was made out of recycled sewage water? An Oregon company, Clean Water Services, wants to do exactly that and is petitioning the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to allow reuse of recycled water in alcoholic beverages.

The proposal kills two birds with one stone: Meet the growing demand for beer nationally and globally while dealing with the ongoing threat of water scarcity. As more municipalities struggle with providing water for their citizens, more government officials and citizens are getting over the “ick factor” of drinking water that in a past life may have been flushed down the toilet. San Diego has already given the green light to a long-term plan that will source a third of the city’s drinking water from recycled sources by 2035. Singapore, rich in just about every metric but lacking reliable supplies of water, has been recycling water for over a decade.

Meanwhile the popularity of microbrews on the domestic front, while the middle class has grown overseas, has translated to an increase in beer sales. If we as a society will continue to enjoy the products water makes possible, we will have to be open to new sources of water. And that includes water that has gone down the drain.

Last fall Clean Water Services sponsored a beer competition outside of Portland to demonstrate that the use of recycled water is fine for brewing beer. According to the company, the water provided to the competitors was so pure that brewers had to add their own minerals in order to achieve the taste and feel of their end product. At a higher level, the point of the competition was also to show recycled water is often purer and safer than other sources of municipal water. There is a message for beverage companies and breweries here: If they are going to expand or even maintain their businesses, tapping into conventional sources of municipal water may not always be possible.

Clean Water Service’s petition is currently in a public comment phase. The company is asking the DEQ to permit the use of recycled water in brewing beer as long as it is boiled, in addition to meeting or exceeding standards set by the National Water Research Institute. Oregon’s state health authority has already approved the company’s request, but DEQ insists it has “a high threshold for approving potable reuses of wastewater.” The 80+ pages accompanying this request are only for Clean Water Services to start making limited batches of beer for a pilot project — if a local brewer wanted to do the same, it would have to file its own request with the DEQ. As all that documentation shows, bureaucrats and much of society have a ways to go before they are over that ick factor.

The DEQ will accept written comments until Feb. 20, and a public hearing on Clean Water Services’ request will be held in Portland on Feb. 12.

Image credit: Visitor7

Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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