Brewery revels in recycling

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The biggest North American beer brewery produces virtually no landfill waste. That accomplishment was announced June 24 at the MillerCoors Golden Brewery.

“It’s not only a major milestone for our brewery, but for the entire industry,” Golden Brewery Vice President Phil Savastano said about reaching a 99 percent waste-diversion rate.

The Golden brewery produces 11 million barrels of beer a year. Savastano said that prior to a year-long internal campaign to reduce waste, the facility sent 135 tons of materials to the landfill each month.

After the press conference, Pete Coors said his family and their brewery has always prided itself on being innovative and improving from within.

“It’s not a culture of top-down. It’s an evolutionary process,” Coors said. “We encourage our employees to improve, innovate, and then get out of their way.”

In the case of waste reduction, it was a rank-and-file worker on the glass-packaging line of the MillerCoors Trenton, Ohio, brewery who has led the way.

Kelly Harris, now a Sustainability Coordinator for MillerCoors, said he has been in the beer business for 22 years, but one day five years ago, while driving a forklift of trash, he had an idea.

“I was dumping a load and noticed it all looked recyclable,” Harris said.

Harris developed a business plan to make the Trenton brewery landfill-free in 60 months. His managers gave him the green light to proceed, and the plant achieved the goal in 23 months.

“The largest challenge is the culture change, convincing people that virtually everything can be recycled,” Harris said.

Using Harris’ plan, personal trash cans at the Golden brewery were replaced by a series of color-coded bins. Yellow is for aluminum, gray for glass, and so on.

“Red (trash) is no go, don’t put anything in there unless you have to,” Savastano said.

Most of the red-bin material goes to energy-from-waste facilities.

Shrink wrap, used on many of the materials brought into the brewery, was only recycled at a rate of one to two tons a year. Harris said that within the last year, the rate has increased to as much as 10 tons per month, and that the recycle-reimbursement rate is generous.

The company installed a new cardboard bundler machine, to help ship used cardboard back to mills to be remade into new product packaging. Harris said the new bundler paid for itself within a year of installation.

“When we started this, we thought it would cost money. But everything we try to do seems to make us money,” Harris said.

Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan praised MillerCoors for its accomplishment during a company press conference.

“These efforts will have a direct impact on extending the life of our local landfill, while the rest of us catch up,” Sloan said.

The Golden Brewery is the fifth MillerCoors facility to reach zero-landfill status. Harris said three more breweries are working toward that status. All the company’s North American facilities could be landfill free by 2015.