by Tom Rotunno
Among the more than 2,500 breweries in the United States, MillerCoors said it has accomplished something no other brewer can claim: landfill-free status.
MillerCoors changed its production process at its largest facility, in Golden, Colorado, so no waste is sent to any landfill. The brewery reuses or recycles 100 percent of the waste it generates, including all glass, paperboard, plastics, metal and brewing byproducts, such as spent grain.
In addition, residual refuse, such as cafeteria waste and floor sweepings, is sent to a waste-to-energy facility and used as an alternative fuel source to generate electricity.
In all, more than 135 tons of waste per month have been eliminated from the Golden facility. MillerCoors announced Monday it moved to landfill-free status. The facility is the fifth of MillerCoors’ eight breweries in the U.S. to gain landfill-free status.
It's no small feat, as the brewery is 9 million square feet and features a production capacity of 22 million barrels of beer per year. But while the beer flows, there's no waste created.
The landfill-free initiative started from the ground up, or more accurately, from the shop floor up. The movement was spearheaded by longtime MillerCoors shop floor technician Kelly Harris, who works at the Trenton, Ohio, brewery.
“Back in 2008, the company set a goal to reduce landfill by 15 percent over five years, and I thought, you know I think we can do a little better,” said Harris. “When I set a goal for myself, I’m a very competitive person.”
Doing “a little bit better” meant developing and implementing a waste-reduction business plan that in 2010 led the Trenton brewery to become the company’s first landfill-free facility, and the world’s first zero-waste mega-brewery.
Harris didn't stop there. Recognizing the potential to implement the plan at other facilities, Harris helped three other MillerCoors breweries—in Eden, North Carolina; Irwindale, California; and Shenandoah, Virginia—to achieve landfill-free status.
Then came a even bigger challenge: the Golden brewery.
“When I pulled [into Golden] the first day, I was like, ‘Kelly, what have you gotten yourself into?’” Harris laughed. “But I made a promise to Pete Coors, [who] asked me personally to come to Golden. I said, ‘We’ll get it done, I promise.’ I gave that man my word and I’m a man of my word.” Coors is chairman of the Molson Coors Brewing.
Keeping his word meant weekly visits to the Golden facility since the process began in 2011. Originally expected to be completed by 2015, the Golden brewery became landfill-free two years earlier than expected.
MillerCoors spent $1 million on new infrastructure and equipment to achieve landfill-free status and expects to see a return of $1 million in extra annual revenue from the sale of recycled materials (depending on the market prices) from the Golden plant.
“I tell [co-workers], ‘When you retire 20 years from now, you'll look back and say, “Yeah I did that.”’ That's what really motivates people, the pride with it. Especially when you’re first in the beer industry,” Harris said. “I think it shocked a lot of people. People are just amazed that it got done.”