This article looks at the UK brewing industry focusing on opportunities to reduce water consumption and the reuse of wastewater to reduce costs and improve environmental performance.
The article examines the use of water in the brewing process, how water consumption is measured, what the big brewers are doing to reduce their water usage, alternative water treatment technologies, and how brewers worldwide are rising to the water reuse challenge to create new, recycled beers.
The UK beer industry
In the UK, brewing beer is big business, annual beer sales in 2020 topped 28 million barrels, with an industry turnover stretching to a whopping £8.9 billion.
Average annual beer consumption in the UK is now at 71 litres per person
At this scale it’s clear that brewers can have a significant impact on the use of water and the environment.
Water use in the brewing process
You can’t make beer without water… and water makes up around 90% of the finished product which we drink, but it’s also used extensively in many production processes.
Water is an essential component in a range of production processes, it’s used in everything from washing and cleaning equipment to creating steam in boilers.
If brewers can reduce the volume of water used in production along with any resulting wastewater (trade effluent), this can both save money (and increase profits) and reduce the environmental impact of the business too.
What is the water ratio in brewing?
The idea of reducing water usage is nothing new in the brewing industry, which has been coming up with creative ideas to cut consumption for years.
Industry wide water consumption measured by what’s called the “water ratio”.
The water ratio is a simple but very useful measure used in brewing and is calculated by taking the volume of water used in production as a proportion of the volume of the end product produced.
Decades ago, it was common for breweries to operate on a standard water ratio of about 7 – so producing one litre of beer required the use of seven litres of water.
As process improvements and water re-use techniques have been adopted this has dropped substantially, and large breweries have been able to cut their water ratio to around 4.
Who makes up the UK beer market?
These “big four” companies account for nearly ninety percent of all beer drunk, with the remainder coming from imported brands or a growing number of smaller microbreweries producing craft beers — led by Brew Dog.
In the UK there are over 2,500 of these small, independent breweries.
Brewers target reductions in water and wastewater
The large breweries have all set ambitious targets to reduce their water and wastewater usage, not just in the UK or Europe, but across the globe.
Carlsberg’s initiative is called “Together Towards Zero”, and the company has achieved a 9% reduction in water use already. Carlsberg aims to reduce the consumption of water by 25% by 2022 and halve it by 2030.
Heineken’s project, called “Brewing a Difference”, reduced its water ratio to 3.46 in 2018, well ahead of their 2020 target. In 2019, the company launched the “Every Drop” campaign, aimed at reducing consumption even more.
Water and wastewater treatment strategies for brewers
In order to achieve these impressive reductions in water use, well-developed management strategies for the treatment of water and wastewater are essential.
Typically, the large breweries have achieved reductions through a combination of advanced technology, the adoption of current best practice for water reuse and innovative ideas.
Many smaller breweries are also beginning to take these ideas and adapt them for their own requirements.
In many cases, the starting point is looking at water recycling or re-using effluent water from the production processes, which can often achieve an immediate reduction of at least 2 in any brewer’s water ratio.
Alternative water sources and the use of purification technologies
Many brewers have also looked at ways of treating water drawn from rivers or boreholes to provide alternative sources of suitable quality water.
The use of modern filtration technologies such as reverse osmosis can be used to good effect here.
Reverse osmosis filtration can help brewers to improve water quality by removing contamination and minerals from the water, which in turn makes it easier for brewers to control the flavour of their end product.
Improving water reuse by treating wastewater and effluent
Many companies are also looking at the other end of the brewing process, and coming up with innovative ways to reclaim and recycle water and wastewater at the tail end of the process.
70% of the fresh water used in brewing ends up as wastewater
Across the industry, 70% of the fresh water drawn into the brewing process ends up as effluent.
Trying to reuse this wastewater makes sense, both financially and environmentally.
British brewing companies are among the best in the world in making environmentally conscious decisions, and are taking steps to reuse water for cleaning and other processes which don’t involve consumption.
Innovative approaches to brewing beer
Some companies are using reverse osmosis to process and reuse the wastewater and effluent they create, but other brewers are taking an alternative approach.
Several eco-smart brewers from around the world are now brewing beer made from water which would have ordinarily be discarded at the end of the brewing process. These include:
- Half Moon Bay Brewing Company — Tunnel Vision IPA — USA
- Village Brewery — Village Blonde Ale — Canada
- New Carnegie Brewery — PU:REST — Sweden
- Stone Brewing — Full Circle Pale Ale — USA
- Berliner Wasserbetriebe — Reuse Brew — Germany
This style of eco-beer, having been made using recycled water, is only just starting to emerge on the market and, should they prove popular with the beer drinking public, it’s safe to assume they won’t be the last.
Specialist wastewater and water re-use solutions for the brewing sector
Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of innovative water and wastewater solutions including the treatment and reuse of industrial wastewater and trade effluent.
Our experts can provide advice and support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for the identification, investigation and implementation water reuse programmes.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained engineers and wastewater treatment specialists we offer cost effective environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our water reuse solutions can help optimise your water consumption to reduce costs and improve environmental performance.
More information about water reuse and recycling.