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It is well known that a major topic relating to the production of beer is water. As many most likely know, beer is made up of roughly 95 percent water. However, the amount of water used specifically for the production of beer is far greater.  According to the Brewer’s Association, somewhere around 70 percent of that production water intake will end up as effluent Community(the wastewater that is generated and discharged through the sewer system.)  Some of the main inputs in effluent which contribute to total suspended solids (TSS) include spent grain, yeast, and hops. 

There are both regulatory and non-regulatory drivers which call for the implementation of wastewater treatment plans at breweries throughout the country. Regarding regulatory drivers, the legislation passed by Congress known as the Clean Water Act has heavily regulated the discharge of pollutants in waterways, as well as developed outlined standards for surface waters in the United States.  Some legal drivers under the Clean Water Act that are affecting the industry include effluent limitations guidelines, various pretreatment streamlining rules, and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program. NPDES sets guidelines for publicly owned treatment works (POTW) facilities on how they collect wastewater from homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities and transport that to the treatment facility.  Because of these stringent guidelines, POTWs are left having to pass on these treatment costs to the polluter, and in this case, the brewery. A 2015 sustainability benchmarking study performed by the Brewer’s Association concluded that for breweries producing between 1,000-10,00 barrels (bbl) per year, wastewater accounts for 16 percent of the total cost of each bbl. This leaves an incentive for breweries to minimize their TSS in effluent prior to discharge back to a POTW in order to lower their treatment costs. 

1000 Bbl Graphic A few non-regulatory drivers which can call for the implementation of wastewater treatment plans at breweries can include brand image and community involvement.  Overall water conservation and efficiency plans play hand-in-hand with wastewater programs at breweries and can be a great marketing advantage for the business. Water issues are often viewed as a significant issue worldwide and proactive efforts to combat this are perceived positively by the public. 

The Brewers Association “Wastewater Management Guidance Manual” can provide breweries with the best practices and examples of implementations for proactively reducing wastewater in a brewing operation. A few “quick tips” we suggest would make a good start in solids reduction would be to install sediment/ grease traps on all floor drains, implement filters in brewing tanks, and find ways to recycle or reuse process water (this would include cleaning of equipment and watering of the landscape.) 

It is inevitable that breweries will contribute wastewater to a POTW due to the nature of the brewing beer process.  The best options for proactive sustainable change are to minimize overall effluent and to foster a positive relationship, as well as have open communication, with the local POTW.


Grant HelleAbout the Author
Grant Helle
Program Assistant
Iowa Waste Reduction Center

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