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February 25, 2021

Sustainability in beer brewing: Stone & Wood

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By S Haslam

With climate change causing our country to become drier, China refusing to accept our ‘recycling’ and customers looking for more ‘sustainable’ products, the role of Sustainability Officer in a business is an important one. Not only are you involved in decisions that have a real effect on sustainability (more than, for example, a single householder), but for a brand like Stone & Wood it’s important to the business ethos to be constantly trying to improve performance.

We spoke to James Perrin, Stone & Wood’s Sustainability officer who has done a degree in Chemical and Environmental Engineering, and works across all five of S&W’s sites.

Cans vs bottles

James told us, ‘There’s been a lot of talk in the industry about whether cans or bottles are more sustainable. We did a life-cycle analysis on Pacific Ale, our biggest seller, and we found that cans and bottles have very similar carbon emissions, and the main source of that is the energy required to produce bottles and cans.’

A lot of breweries grow by putting an increasing % of their beer in bottles and cans and sending it further away, in which case the lower weight of cans would be a factor, but that’s not the case for Stone & Wood. According to James, ‘50% of our sales are within three hours of where the beer is made. That’s a deliberate strategy for us, and it’s more sustainable.

‘Kegs are the most environmentally friendly. It’s a closed-loop system. We have always prioritised keg beer, which is quite unusual for a brewery as it grows. We sell over half of our beer in kegs. There are some small places where you can fill your beer glass right from the brewing tank, but failing that, you should drink your beer on tap.

‘By prioritising local, and prioritising keg sales, we are massively reducing our carbon footprint.’

Recycling

The key to good recycling is to separate out the product as early as possible, and keep the recycling stream clean. That massively helps the recycling industry. James says, ‘We now have 12 streams that used to go into one ‘yellow bin’ stream. Our bottles all come from SE Queensland and are made with 70% recycled glass.’

Container deposit legislation has really made a difference to that rate, as consumers are incentivised to separate out those bottles from the recycling stream and the recycler is getting clear, clean glass.

In the company’s glass stream, they skip out the middleman and just send their bottles straight back to the manufacturer to be colour separated and then made into new bottles.

Factory space

The Stone & Wood brewery is itself recycled (it was previously a Bunnings Warehouse) and looking around the massive interior, gleaming with stainless steel, it’s very obvious how much more efficient the keg system is. Keg beer is 50% of the beer volume, but it occupies a much smaller space in the factory than the bottling line or the canning line.

Solar power

The company makes as much use as possible of solar power. The Murwillumbah factory has the maximum capacity for its roof (100 kW) which produces about 10% of the factory’s power.

Water

Water is a precious resource, and it takes about 3.8 litres of water to produce 1 litre of beer (it takes about 800 litres to make 1 litre of cow’s milk, or around 5000 to 20000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef). James says 3.8 litres is, benchmarked against other breweries, in the top 20% at the most efficient breweries in the world, and the company’s goal is to recycle even more water. 

The waste water from beer making contains no pathogens, but it is high in sugar, so at Stone & Wood they treat it themselves before either using it in their factory (to make steam or wash down the factory – it’s not put into the beer) or sending it on to Council, but the water sent on to Council is very pure. Ironically, that water is then mixed in the sewer system with untreated household waste before Council treats it again, rather being legally available to use, for example for farm irrigation.

Organic waste streams

Spent yeast from the brewing process and activated sludge and bacteria from the wastewater treatment are composted locally at an old quarry in Terranora, mixed with sawdust, and then sold locally as compost. The spent grain is sent to local farms as cattle feed.

 Future trends

One of the most profound sustainability-related changes that has happened in the industry is the move from colossal breweries that dominated the market, to an increasing number of very local breweries who sell right near where they brew. This has increased the overall sustainability of the industry, for the reasons mentioned above. Stone & Wood is almost the largest of those small independent breweries, in fact James is also the leader of the sustainability project group in the Independent Brewers Assocation.

He says, ‘Most of our raw material comes from within a three hour drive, and most of our sales are made within the same area. The local brewing movement, which shares values with Farmers Markets, has seen customers choose based on where the beer comes from rather than on the brand.

‘This vastly reduces the waste – going to your local brewer to try your local beer (rather than an imported beer) is one easy step we can all take to increase sustainability.’


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