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The Country’s Largest Brewery Recycling Cooperative

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Everyone knows to recycle their empty beer cans. Whether it’s a new craft brew or an ice-cold classic, most people know to toss, crumple, or spike their empties straight into the recycling bin. However, the brewing process creates waste that isn’t as easy to recycle as your average aluminum can, and many independent breweries are struggling to dispose of this materially responsibly. That’s why Sierra Nevada Brewing is partnering with American Recycling and local breweries to develop infrastructure for over 80 breweries in western North Carolina to recycle average industry waste that might otherwise end up in landfills. The cooperative is the largest brewery recycling initiative in the country, and the new drop-off site for recyclables is set to open in the next few months.

“The cooperative is an effort to pool resources and leverage our shared economy of size to make a real difference in the community,” said Leah Cooper, Sustainability Program Manager at Sierra Nevada. Sierra Nevada is one of the United State’s favorite breweries, and they are pioneers of sustainable craft beer. Not only were they the first brewery to receive LEED Platinum certification, but they were the first company to achieve TRUE Platinum Zero Waste certification. This success in sustainability spurred them to invite their neighboring breweries in western North Carolina to use their recycling facilities for malt bags, shrink wrap, and other common industry waste that isn’t easily recycled. However, Sierra Nevada’s Mills River Brewery was soon overwhelmed with the amount of recyclable waste coming in. So they spearheaded this partnership with American Recycling and local breweries to construct a drop-off point near Asheville and to raise matching funds for this massive recycling initiative.

Sierra Nevada Founder Ken Grossman with bales of fresh hops. Photo Courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

We’ve taken into account the 80+ breweries in our region,” said Cooper. “And while the cooperative was created with breweries in mind, it will also be open to any business with similar materials interested in participating.” Recycling cooperatives aren’t a new concept in the United States, but the scale of WNC Brewery Recycling Cooperative is what makes it unique. Asheville Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., Wicked Weed Brewing Co., and many more breweries have signed on as partners of the cooperative. The physical recycling of the materials will be handled by locally-owned American Recycling of Western North Carolina. “This is a win-win for both the local breweries and American Recycling,” said Ron Moore, owner of American Recycling of WNC. “We want to thank Sierra Nevada and all of the others that have helped to make this possible.” 

As more breweries look to reduce their carbon footprint and divert more waste from landfills, this landmark Cooperative could serve as a model for businesses across the country. “It’s helped us be able to work collaboratively instead of just trying to figure it out ourselves and be able to recycle more items,” said Andrew Dagnan, senior environmental, health, and safety manager at Wicked Weed Brewing. “It’s a huge help for us.” Communities are always stronger when they can come together. The future of good stewardship could be as simple as tipping back a few beers and working together.

Check out the episode of the Consensus in Conversation podcast featuring Brian and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada.

A healthy pour resting on the bar of Mills River Taproom. Photo Courtesy of Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

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