How the Brewing Industry Can Support a Circular Economy in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
This research investigates beer production in Mecklenburg County and its impact on water demand, and waste production, with a specific focus on how beer production fits into Charlotte’s public strategy of a Circular Economy. Charlotte adopted a Circular Economy to not only provide environmental benefits, by reducing waste and recycling, but also to bridge the wealth divide and create opportunities for upward mobility through innovation and job creation. In this research, three questions are examined in relationship to beer production: investigate the impact of beer production on water demand in Mecklenburg County through 2065, quantify the impact of spent grain waste generated by beer production on the Circular Economy, and assess if and how breweries can support the Circular Economy in Mecklenburg County. The results of this research answers questions to knowledge gaps as to the impact the brewery industry has on water demand and solid waste in Mecklenburg County. The first area of research is to investigate the long term water demand of the growing brewery industry in Mecklenburg County. In 2014, Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group (CWWMG) completed a Catawba-Wateree River Basin Water Supply Master Plan to protect, preserve and extend the water supply to the Charlotte region. At the time of the report there were limited breweries in operation in Mecklenburg County. Brewing beer is water intensive, requiring anywhere from 4L to almost 14L, depending on the brewery. By 2020, there were 35 breweries in operation. In addition, during this same time period Mecklenburg County experienced a significant growth in population. The research projected out the brewery growth and production, at different levels of production growth, through 2065, in alignment with the Catawba-Wateree River Basin Water Supply. The results show that while brewing beer is a water intensive industry, the greatest impact on the water demand is the population growth. The impact on the baseline net withdrawals in 2065 from the higher than anticipated population growth is a 20.4% increase in net withdrawals; however, the addition of the beer production at the average water-to-beer ratio at the base production level only adds an additional 0.41% increase. However, water savings achieved through reducing water demand by the breweries would benefit Mecklenburg County and the surrounding area. In 2020 breweries used more water than other industries in Mecklenburg County by a factor of 2.25 (Water Withdrawal (MGD)/Annual Payroll ($)). The second area of research was to quantify the brewers’ spent grain (BSG) that are produced by brewing beer and project those out over time. Brewers’ spent grain is organic waste. Currently, because there is no organic waste ban in Mecklenburg County, the BSG are allowed to be landfilled with other municipal solid waste. In 2018, City of Charlotte adopted a Circular Economy strategy that includes goals to bring down the per capita waste going to the landfill, as well as to reduce the CO2 equivalent per capita to 2 tons/person. Sending BSG to the landfill increases the per capita waste going to the landfill, particularly as the brewing industry continues to grow in Mecklenburg County. If the BSG is landfilled the contribution to the waste landfilled per capita in 2040 would increase approximately 1.5% to 2.5%. Also, by landfilling the BSG, they breakdown and contribute to an increase in CO2 equivalent per person for the County. BSG that are disposed of as food waste will increase the tons CO2E per capita from 0.6% to 1.49%. This percentage might not look significant, but the County needs to achieve an 83% reduction from the 2015 baseline emissions per capita. The research indicates that in order to support the goals of a Circular Economy the BSG must not be landfilled and must be treated or recovered to achieve a targeted reduction in the CO2 ton equivalent per person. The third area of research was to assess ways in which the BSG could be used to support the goals of the Circular Economy strategy. To do this the environmental, societal, and economic aspects of the BSG waste was analyzed. To analyze the environmental aspects of the BSG waste, the US EPA WARM model different greenhouse gas equivalents were calculated for different treatment options. Combustion of BSG provided the largest avoidance of greenhouse gas equivalents. However, BSG must be dried prior to combustion and there is not a food waste combustion plant in the County. Composting was the next highest option of treatment for the avoidance of greenhouse gas equivalents. The County currently operates a yard waste compost facility. To analyze the societal impact, an analytical hierarchy process (AHP) was performed setting priorities based on the Circular Economy strategy identified in the 2018 report. The following priorities were identified: treatment/disposal aligns with the food waste hierarchy, treatment/disposal reduces the carbon equivalent footprint in accordance with the circular economy strategy, and the treatment/disposal method is easy to implement. Utilizing BSG as human food, as an alternative to flour, and animal feed were the highest treatment options from the AHP analysis followed by composting. However, due to the quantity of BSG generated, the rapid spoilage time and the current low cost of alternative products human food and animal feed are not viable options at this time. Composting followed human food and animal feed in the AHP analysis. The last step was an economic analysis on the option that best supported the Circular Economy. The research supports composting the BSG is currently the best option for supporting the goals of the Circular Economy strategy. Other cities, like San Francisco, have implemented mandatory composting for food waste. The research indicates that the brewing industry in Mecklenburg County can support the population and economic growth in the County by working to reduce water demand. While other water demand reductions will need to take place to offset population growth, benchmarking can help the brewery industry continue to grow and minimize water demand. Through benchmarking and resulting process improvements an estimated 9-10% water demand reduction can be achieved. The research indicates that the breweries must be included by the County in a plan to achieve the goals of the Circular Economy strategy. The breweries can support the waste goals of the Circular Economy strategy by not sending BSG to the landfill. Furthermore, the research indicates that by composting the BSG, the breweries will support the goal of reduced waste landfilled per capita and reduce the CO2 ton equivalent per capita that the Circular Economy strategy hopes to achieve for the area.