How MillerCoors Achieved Landfill-Free Status at its Major Breweries
MillerCoorsâ eight major breweries are officially landfill free.
This status has been verified by NSF International, which verifies landfill-free programs for companies around the world. Companies earn this verification by demonstrating that no more than 1 percent of waste generated at a single site, including recycling vendors, goes to the landfill. They also have to document and implement waste management and sorting processes and actively train employees on these, as well as undergo routine audits to ensure compliance.
Itâs a big challenge. MillerCoors started the process in 2009. Since then, it has reduced its waste across the organization by 89 percent, equal to keeping more than 9 million pounds of waste out of local landfills.
But achieving landfill-free operations at all of its major breweries is not the finish line for the companyâs waste reduction efforts. By 2020, the brewer aims to achieve landfill-free operations at all its major manufacturing sites in the US.
In an interview with Environmental Leader, MillerCoors director of sustainability Kim Marotta said the key to becoming landfill free is employee engagement.
âIn 2009 most of our breweries were recycling or reusing most of their waste â about 98 percent. We had set a goal that we wanted to reduce that remaining 2 percent by 15 percent,â she said. âIn that time we had a gentleman in one brewery on packaging line, Kelly Harris, who was actively involved in the effort. He said, ânot good enough. I think we can get zero waste to landfill.â He put together a plan and presented it to our leadership team. Trenton said letâs try it out and within six months or less they had achieved zero waste.â
That was at MillerCoors Trenton, Ohio, Brewery â the companyâs first landfill-free location as of 2009. Trentonâs best practices have provided the foundation for implementing landfill-free processes throughout MillerCoors other major breweries.
The first step is looking at the type of waste generated, Marotta said. âBill Coors said, âwaste is just a resource out of place,â so how do we put it to beneficial reuse?â
Spent gains is a major waste stream generated during the brewing process, so the company began selling it to cattle farmers, which use it for animal feed. Another waste product â yeast â gets sold to pet food companies that use it in their products.
âPallets are another one,â Marotta said. âWe use these really big pallets to ship cases and kegs.â The company decided to switch its entire wood pallet inventory to plastic pallets, which are more durable and last longer than their wood counterparts. âAnd when they break down, our pallet provider Graystone Logistics grinds them down into pellets that can be reused in recycled plastic pallets.â
At its Golden, Colorado Brewery, employees dumpster dived. âWe had people actually get into the dumpsters to see what are we putting in the garbage,â Marotta said.
This effort, along with process improvements and about $1 million in new infrastructure and equipment such as choppers, bailers and compactors, helped the Golden brewery achieve landfill-free status in 2013. The brewery now 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.
The Fort Worth, Texas brewery earned landfill-free status last year. âWe talked to them and said, âtell us what you need. Is it capital investments or investing in machinery?â It was just changing the culture.â
For example, sometimes the company needs to dispose of a case of beer. âIn our Fort Worth brewery maybe 50 percent or more of waste going to landfill was that specific type of waste,â Marotta said. âIt was a lot easier to just throw that in the trash.â But doing this means the glass bottles and cardboard can no longer be recycled and reused.
The company engaged employees in the recycling efforts and now the materials are recycled instead of thrown in the garbage. From January to the present, the Fort Worth brewery has recycled or repurposed 56,408 tons of materials that would otherwise have been sent to landfills. The remaining 104 tons (0.0018 percent) was sent to a waste-to-energy facility.
MillerCoors wonât disclose financial savings from its zero waste efforts for the company as a whole, but says that its Milwaukee campus is seeing a savings of about $89,000 per year. This savings is realized by increased revenue from recyclables, and reduced costs for sending materials to landfill balanced against new expenses such as equipment lease and a monthly shipment to waste-to-energy facility.
While grain represents the bulk of the waste material sold, the company also receives revenues from spent yeast, aluminum, cardboard, paper, glass, wooden pallets, scrap metals, PET strapping and used oil.
What advice does Marotta have for other companies working toward landfill free status?
âCertainly the best tip is really engaging your employee base,â she said. âIf it hadnât been for Kelly Harris I donât know if we would be sitting her with eight breweries with zero waste to landfill. He really set the bar and thatâs what really makes the difference.â
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