Nation’s Largest Brewery Goes Landfill-Free

MillerCoors’ Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado, is the nation’s largest brewery. It became landfill-free in June 2013, making it the fourth Coors brewery to achieve that status.

Coors’ commitment to landfill-free status at its breweries began about nine years ago, when Kelly Harris, who is now the company’s sustainable development coordinator, began doing some work in waste management at the company’s Trenton, Ohio, brewery. “Kelly had a real passion for this kind of work,” said Phil Savastano, vice president of the Golden brewery. “When I came to the Trenton brewery a few years ago, Kelly and I began working on this initiative.” Eventually, in 2010, Trenton became Coors’ first brewery to go landfill-free, making it the world’s first zero-waste mega-brewery.

When Savastano arrived at Golden two years ago, the brewery was sending an average of 135 tons of waste to local landfills each month. As noted, it now operates landfill-free.

Savastano attributes the quick success to a number of things: One was his own passion for waste management. A second was the existing passion of the employees at the Golden brewery. “When I got to the Colorado brewery about two years, I found a lot of passion for sustainability in general here, so the momentum really started to move forward,” he said. “In fact, there was already some work taking place on this goal before I arrived.”

The third was the fact that Savastano and the employees were able to combine and synergize their passion. “When I arrived, we began to motivate each other, with the goal of becoming landfill-free as quickly as possible,” he said.

Fourth, Savastano was able to arrange for Harris to visit the Golden brewery to help create the necessary culture. “As a result of everyone working together, it only took us about a year and a half to become landfill-free,” he said. “What Kelly provided was information on how to actually create the culture and make it easy for people to reach the goal. That is, the key was to build a culture. We didn’t have to spend millions of dollars on the effort. It was about working with people who care about the environment.”

Fifth, the initiative was designed to be as easy as possible. Savastano and Harris focused on making sure the initiative didn’t create any additional work for the employees. “We created color-coding in our waste stream and made it as easy as possible for people to get involved,” said Savastano. “We have one color for corrugate, one color for aluminum, one for glass, etc. We have one color, red, for actual trash, but we want to keep that one as empty as possible.” The brewery also located the waste stream deposit areas as close to where the waste was created as was physically possible.

Sixth, while the brewery didn’t have to invest millions of dollars, it did invest about one million dollars in infrastructure and equipment to support the initiative, including balers, choppers and compactors, and installed them near where they would be used, again, making it as easy as possible for the employees to participate.

Employee involvement was also crucial. In fact, the brewery put teams together to determine where the waste was being created and where the deposit points should be. Teams also participated in the selection and location of equipment. “We didn’t tell the teams where the deposit points should be or where the equipment should be located,” he said. “We asked them, and then located them based on their responses.”

Finally, the brewery set goals. In 2012, the brewery was still landfilling 135 tons a month. “As we reduced this to various levels, such as 125 tons, then 100 tons, we would hold celebrations,” he said. “These continued to keep the employees interested and involved.”

Currently, the brewery reuses or recycles virtually everything, including glass, paperboard, plastics, metal and brewing byproducts. Residual refuse, such as cafeteria waste and floor sweepings, are sent to a waste-to-energy facility in Oklahoma and used as an alternative fuel source to generate electricity.

“Now that we have reached our goal of landfill-free, our next step is to see what the commodities are actually worth,” said Savastano. “So, instead of just saving money from not sending trash to landfill, we are focusing on selling these commodities – determining what they are worth now that we have them all separated.” Already, the brewery is generating about one million dollars a year from its recyclables. For example, hops and barley are trucked away and sold as cattle feed. “This is encouraging us to do even more,” he said. “For example, we are able to separate out stretch wrap, and we are just starting to realize how much this commodity is worth.” Plastic wrap, for example, can be sold and used to create decking for homes.

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