From 3-5 of June the EU’s annual Environment event, EU Green Week will take place in Brussels and this year the theme is the ‘Circular economy’. The idea is to find ways to build a Europe where nothing is wasted and where sustainability is built into the fabric of society.
This kind of closed loop thinking is nothing new at SABMiller, in fact it’s essential to the way we do business. Brewing is largely a local operation, based on natural ingredients like barley, hops and water. In brewing there are many examples of circular or closed-loop actions. Local loops include using waste water to produce biogas to provide renewable energy for a number of our European breweries. In a wider circle around our operations is the traditional practice of re-filling and re-using large volumes of glass bottles for our beers. Examples of bigger cycles are using spent grains back on farms as animal feed and recycling used glass bottles to be made into new beer bottles.
As an example, in the Czech Republic just under half of the total beer we sell is sold in returnable bottles. These glass bottles make about 28 trips in their lifetime and this can be about 6 times more carbon efficient than a nonreturnable glass bottle. In addition, about 40% of beer in Czech is sold in re-usable kegs and draught format which is also a highly efficient way to package our products. And to further close the loop we are working on increasing the recycled content of our packaging such as glass and aluminium.
A key component of the circular economy is using the ‘waste’ created by one process as the input into another. This is why we are excited about using our waste water to contribute to powering our operations. Across many of our breweries we have introduced biogas generation as part of the waste water treatment, providing an effective, renewable fuel source. At our Dreher brewery in Hungary, which introduced biogas production in 2007, the energy produced is equivalent to 250 households’ yearly energy consumption. This allows the company to reduce its annual “traditional” energy consumption by 10% and therefore reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
And in our effort to make sure that nothing is wasted, our brewing operations also reuse or sell the vast majority of their waste for other uses. 99% of our spent grain is sold locally to be used for animal feed, soil remediation or energy production, and packaging waste is segregated to be baled, compressed and then re-cycled.
And that’s why we are keen to be part of the debate around Green Week. We have many good examples and experiences to share but we also want to learn and be inspired so we can continue on our journey to build sustainable thinking into everything that we do.