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Dig Deep to Make Waste Management Work: Q&A with Blue Point Brewing

Mark Burford (left) and Nick Rosenberg (right).

Blue Point Brewing Company, like many 21-year-olds, is charting its own course. The craft brewery started in 1998 in the village of Patchogue, New York, and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch in 2014. Although the brewery follows sustainability goals set by the larger company, their Long Island location presents unique challenges — and opportunities.

“We’re on an island and we’re surrounded by water,” says Mark Burford, president of Blue Point Brewing. “You need good water to make great beer so it all comes around in a circle.”

Like Burford, the brewery’s environmental health and safety manager Nick Rosenberg grew up on Long Island and says that keeping waterways clean has always been part of his life. Recently we caught up with both of them to learn about the brewery’s holistic approach to waste and water management.

What does sustainability mean for Blue Point Brewing?

Mark Burford: We’re a small seaside town community so clean water has always been a pillar of the brewery. We follow a lot of the larger sustainability goals that Anheuser-Busch has, but we also blaze our own path. Nick leads that charge for us.

Nick Rosenberg: My day-to-day priority is keeping brewers safe. The second part is making sure that the brewery is doing the right thing on the environmental side. Helping Blue Point create zero impact on our environment, that’s what I’m here to do.

What are some of your sustainability initiatives?

Rosenberg: After going through the brewing process, spent barley is a big byproduct. We recycle 100%. The spent grain goes to dairy farms in New Jersey for cattle feed. The cows love it.

The next thing is brewery yeast used in the fermentation process to create alcohol. After a certain lifecycle, we can’t use that yeast any more so we collect it in a holding tank and that will get 100% recycled through land applications. It gets applied to fields and provides valuable nutrients to organically enrich the soil, creating opportunities for plant growth.

How does the recycling process work for spent grain and yeast?

Rosenberg: We have a holding tank onsite for spent grain, and they’ll come three times a week, fill the truck up, and send that out to farms for feed. Spent yeast is not often recycled in a craft brewery. We collect that in a holding tank, and it gets picked up once a week.

Were these byproduct recycling initiatives easy to implement?

Rosenberg: For spent grain, it was a bit of a challenge. The farms here on Long Island are pretty small and we would have had to buy our own truck and go around to supply each one. Logistically, it sounded like a nightmare, but we wanted to do the right thing. Fortunately, we were able to find somebody close in New Jersey who would help us.

We did a big expansion recently and have been at the new facility for about a year. We have the capability to produce about 60,000 barrels a year. Some of the byproducts were easier to manage at a lower level, but we needed to find new vendors who could support the growth. It takes a lot of research. We start as local as we can and then work our way out to make sure we’re recycling 100%.

Do you have other sustainability initiatives?

Rosenberg: We are the only brewery on Long Island that has an aerobic digestion system, a natural process where microorganisms break down the organic material in our brewery wastewater. This treats our brewery waste before it goes into waterways.

What are the benefits for the brewery?

Burford: The business advantage is that we’re pre-processing the wastewater to give it to the municipality in a system and a spec they can handle. That allows the village to grow so we don’t take all the capacity that the village has in its wastewater treatment plant with our waste line. These things don’t have traditional ROIs, but they do in a bigger sense.

I saw something about oysters. How do they fit into all of this?

Burford: A big partner of ours is the Billion Oyster Project, an organization that’s trying to plant 1 billion oysters in New York harbor by 2035. They collect oyster shells because oysters reproduce best when they can attach themselves to another oyster shell. We sell a lot of oysters here — thousands a week — and we return the shells to the Billion Oyster Project.

We also have a beer we put out called Good Reef Ale where every time someone buys a pint, it puts five oysters in the bay. Those oysters will recycle 250 gallons of water through their filter feeders. If you get enough oysters back, it will naturally clean the water.

Do you have advice for other brewery leaders, especially around water and recycling?

Rosenberg: You sleep better at night knowing that your byproducts are going to the right home. I suggest keeping your options open and not always going with the first vendor or solution that you find. Make sure that they really are doing the right thing with the product, and do research on the companies that you find.

Burford: My general advice would be to go out and look. When you put effort into these programs, you meet a lot of great people. Connecting those dots is fulfilling, and it does the right thing for everyone. There are solutions if you’re willing to put in the hard work and dig them out.

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