On June 24, MillerCoors announced that its brewery located in Golden, CO — the country’s largest single-site brewery — is now the world’s largest landfill-free brewery. Building on its experience in taking four of its other breweries landfill free, this latest move means the largest brewery in the U.S. eliminated an average of 135 tons of waste monthly that was previously sent to landfill. For the brewing industry, the accomplishment is significant: no other breweries, including small craft or large national, have managed to achieve landfill-free status.
How Did They Do It?
Beginning in 2011, MillerCoors began reducing the municipal waste sent from the Golden Brewery to landfill, complementing process improvements with nearly $1 million in new infrastructure and equipment, including new choppers, bailers and compactors. The brewery beneficially reuses or recycles 100 percent of waste, including all glass, paperboard, plastics, metal and brewing byproducts, such as spent grain. Residual refuse, such as cafeteria waste and floor sweepings, is sent to a waste-to-energy facility and used as an alternative fuel source to generate electricity.
Officials spent about $1 million in the past year for infrastructure upgrades toward the goal, such as buying bins to hold various recyclable materials and machines to bail corrugate material. Then it put that equipment to the important use of separating different waste streams that used to go into the ground and organize them in ways that would make them attractive to buyers, said Phil Savastano, vice president. The brewery sells its used stretch wrap, aluminum cans and corrugate material, among other waste, to companies that reuse it. All of its glass waste goes back to the brewery’s own glass plant for reuse, Savastano said. And non-recyclable waste, such as cafeteria food and floor sweepings, is sent to an alternative fuel plant to generate electricity, he said.
Who Led the Charge?
Longtime MillerCoors brewery employee, Sustainable Development Coordinator Kelly Harris, was a driving force in the efforts. As a shop floor technician, Harris noticed small process changes could lead to large waste reductions. After conducting research, he developed and implemented a waste-reduction business plan that in 2010 led MillerCoorsTrenton, Ohio, brewery to become the company’s first landfill-free facility and the world’s first zero waste mega-brewery. Three other MillerCoors breweries – Shenandoah, Irwindale, and Eden – have also achieved landfill-free status.
Harris explains that the keys to success were having a good but simple system in place, and enthusiastic and dedicated employees educated about the benefits of zero waste to landfill. The brewery also used a number of tactics to change key behaviors.
For example, strong visual cues, such as color-coded bins were introduced in the brewery. All of the trashcans and trash hoppers were red – the color of stop signs – to prompt employees to stop and think before they tossed anything away. For scrap wood, bins were painted green to symbolize the leaf of a tree, and bins for cardboard were painted the familiar light brown color of corrugated cardboard.