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Green beer: Bridge Brewery strives for zero waste

Making beer creates a lot of waste from water use to the release of by-products from fermentation operations, which can overtax the sewage system.

Leigh Stratton set out to make beer that would be good for her customers and good for the planet.

Abby Wiserman/For Metro

Leigh Stratton set out to make beer that would be good for her customers and good for the planet.

For Leigh Stratton, making Bridge Brewery a zero waste establishment was an obvious choice. She set out to make good beer, that would do good for her customers and the planet, even when it was not the easier thing to do.

From training staff on recycling, to using hybrid cars, Stratton’s efforts to lower consumption is in every facet of her business. Although she has not achieved 100 per cent zero waste, she’s come pretty close.

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“I think the challenge is educating our staff, so part of our training is walking them through the process,” says Stratton. “It is frustrating when you’re holding a piece of plastic without a number on it and the lineup is out the door and you don’t know where it goes, so we make sure they have as much education as possible.”

The rise of microbrew culture has seen over 60 breweries open in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland in less than five years. As a result, beer drinking has become a local passion with festivals like Craft Beer Week and Hop Circuit bringing people together.

The lesser talked about story of the craft beer revolution is waste. Making beer uses a lot of water – about a six to one ratio or higher – something Stratton says can’t entirely be avoided. Concerns about overtaxing the sewage system prompted Metro Vancouver to create a bylaw restricting the release of by-products from fermentation operations into the sewer system (breweries, wineries, etc.).

Stratton found a solution for the spent grains and by-products that pose a threat and hired a company named Enterra to turn the grains into natural fertilizer, a practice that harkens back to the original Canadian brewers and distillers that turned spent grains into cattle feed.

Where Stratton does believe she can make changes that have lasting impact is in the details of how customers consume her food and her beer, while they are at her brewery and at home.

Bridge Brewery was one of the first breweries to introduce the growler to Vancouver – following Parallel 49 that opens weeks earlier. Now the growler has become a trendy symbol of freshness and good taste, but it also majorly reduces waste.

“It is really the ultimate waste free packaging,” said Stratton. “You buy it for five dollars and just keep bringing it back. If you need to you can recycle it.”

For Stratton, the secret to a zero waste brewery – or close to – is implementing best practices from the beginning. It’s much harder to change the status quo in an established business, then to create the business around a zero waste policy.

“We chose to go zero waste because it’s the right thing to do,” says Stratton. “We’re making that choice for ourselves, our customers, for our customers family. We want to provide excellent beer, and I want to be able to say we made this great beer without costing the planet.

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