By Michael Cairns
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Does spent yeast constitute a water quality issue for Oregon streams, and a financial burden on the state’s craft breweries? A September 2014 beer blog post described how two Austin, Texas breweries faced a fee of $5000 for “improper yeast disposal.” The piece made this writer want to do a little investigation to understand whether Oregon’s brewers are in danger of also getting slapped with hefty fines.
To understand why yeast would be considered a pollutant, a very brief science lesson is in order. Yeast, along with cleaning water, spent mash and hops that remain after the brewing process is complete, is usually discharged into municipal wastewater systems. Note that in Oregon most spent grains and hops, along with the yeast, are usually sold or given to farmers for animal feed — it’s organic and very nutritious. And yeast is ‘harvested’ for reuse in many breweries. These practices limit a lot of waste discharge, but not all of it. So where does the science come in? Well, the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates the discharge of pollutants to the nation’s waterways. More specifically in this case, it’s the discharge of organic materials that may contribute to biological oxygen demand, which can stimulate the growth of algae in streams, lakes and oceans. This, in turn, can lead to a decrease in dissolved oxygen, which is bad for fish and other aquatic life. High concentrations of total suspended solids that could come from breweries pose another threat to waterways and wildlife. Acidity, expressed as pH, is an additional concern. OK, enough of the science lesson.
To determine whether Oregon breweries are in danger of being fined or required to pay special fees for their discharges, I did some digging and got some of my questions answered. First, Steve Schnurbusch of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) told me that there are no requirements specific to yeast effluents, nor to brewery wastewater discharges in general. He spoke of ‘loading,’ a measure of the total amounts of organic matter discharged to streams in relation to the size of any particular wastewater treatment plant from a brewery and other industrial sources. In other words, if a large brewery is located in a small community with a small treatment plant, then there could be a problem. Schnurbusch noted that the DEQ mainly regulates end-of-pipe discharges to receiving waters — for instance, from treatment plants, rather than discharges from breweries to municipal sewer systems. He suggested I should speak to city officials who operate those treatment plants.
This suggestion led me to the City of Salem, where Nitin Joshi of Salem Environmental Services reiterated some of what I had learned from the DEQ representative. The City of Salem does not have regulations specific to yeast, or even to breweries. Salem breweries are considered commercial, rather than industrial, users. Unless a particular plant, or brewery in our case, discharges more than 25,000 gallons per day, then there are no permits required. Finally, I decided to speak to a brewer to get that perspective.
Santiam Brewing’s head brewer, Jerome Goodrow, was kind enough to talk to me as he was in the process of cleaning tanks after a brew and discharging the rinse water. Like most breweries, the spent grain and hops are used for farm animal feed, and some of the yeast is harvested. He noted that the cleaning solution, or disinfectant, is quite acidic, although it’s neutralized by use of a caustic solution, thereby creating a final effluent that is nearly pH neutral. Goodrow reiterated that they do not discharge enough volume into the city’s sewer system to qualify as an industrial customer, nor do any of the other Salem breweries. There are no issues specific to yeast discharge at Santiam.
So, the bottom line based on my limited research: yeast discharge to sewer systems does not seem to be an issue in Oregon. I’m confident that Oregon’s craft brewers are attuned to the potential and are very conscientious about recycling and limiting their discharge of both wastewater and organic materials. Further investigation may find a very large brewery in a very small community where discharge could create problems with biological oxygen demand, total suspended solids or pH conditions in the receiving waters, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at this point.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
A beer drinker doesn’t have to look far to see Deschutes Brewery’s connection to Oregon’s natural resources and the environment: It’s on almost every label the Bend-based company makes, from Mirror Pond Pale Ale to Black Butte Porter.
But its commitment to the environment goes far beyond some artfully done bottles. The most recent example came just a few months ago when Deschutes won the 2015 Oregon Sustainability Award in the Business category, presented at the Northwest Environmental Conference & Tradeshow in Portland. The state-awarded honor intends to “promote and advance the inclusion of sustainable practices in government and the private sector.”
Serena Dietrich, the sustainability project manager at Deschutes, says being mindful of the environment is one of the core values for the brewery. “It is embedded into our culture,” Dietrich says. “From the beginning, our founder Gary Fish has been about doing things right, no matter how hard it may be at the time.”
Of course, being environmentally sensitive was likely much easier back in 1988 — when Deschutes was founded and obviously much smaller — than today, when it ranks as one of the largest breweries in the country.
The biggest sustainability effort Deschutes undertakes is the restoration of a billion gallons of water annually to the eponymous Deschutes River, which is just a short walk from the brewery. Working with the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) since 2012, the brewery makes a donation to the organization’s water leasing program, which pays farmers to lease their irrigation water and legally protect that water.
Why is that necessary, and what’s that mean for the river?
“In the spring and summer, water flows are greatly decreased in the river due to irrigation withdrawals. By increasing flows in the Deschutes River through the leasing program, fish habitat is revitalized and water quality is improved,” said Dietrich, who also noted that the water restoration also enhances ecosystems for plants and other animals.
The Deschutes Brewery partnership marks the largest private donation made to the DRC to date. The one billion gallon donation also equates to 14 times more water than the brewery and all of its suppliers use to make beer each year. That includes Deschutes’ pubs and everyone in the brewery’s supply chain (hop and grain growers), according to the DRC website.
The work Deschutes does with the DRC is just part of the company’s sustainability efforts, though. There is, of course, the fact that Deschutes has a sustainability project manager in Dietrich. There is also a sustainability committee that features employees from throughout the company, Dietrich says.
The company also makes contributions to a number of other environmental organizations. In 2015, the list of groups Deschutes contributed to include the Deschutes Land Trust, The Environmental Center, The Freshwater Trust and the Western Environmental Law Center.
Other environmentally-minded efforts at Deschutes include:
— Deschutes attempts to recycle nearly everything it can, from packaging material to kegs.
— About 70 percent of the glass used to make Deschutes’ bottles comes from recycled bottles, which reduces the amount of energy required to make new ones.
— Deschutes pays a company to take its “high-strength beer waste,” which also happens to be rich in nutrients. That waste is used to fertilize farms.
Deschutes also endeavors to put the ingredients it uses to make beer to good use, once they’ve gone through the brewing process. Spent grain and hops are combined and sold as cow feed throughout Oregon, which eliminates processing and reduces waste while providing healthy food for cattle.
Some of that effort is tangible in the Bend brewpub, which has had a working relationship with the Borlen Cattle Company since 1995. The company picks up spent grain and hops for feed and, in exchange, the pub buys beef from Borlen for use in its burgers.
Dietrich says Deschutes’ measures keep approximately 11,000 tons of spent grain out of landfills annually.
Deschutes certainly puts a lot of effort into its environmental practices to keep Central Oregon’s beauty intact for future generations. But Dietrich says the current sustainability efforts are just part of a work in progress.
“Even with all the effort, we continue to learn, assess and grow with our surroundings,” Dietrich says. “Keeping a focus on preserving our environment and community has always been a factor.”
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: