All eight major MillerCoors breweries in the U.S. are now landfill free as of the new year, but the practices used to achieve the environmentally friendly status originated from lessons learned here in Butler County where the Trenton Brewery was the first to reach the milestone by 2011, according to the company.
When MillerCoors Trenton Brewery, located just outside the city in St. Clair Twp. on Wayne Madison Road, became landfill free, it meant 99.8 percent of employee and process waste was reused or recycled such as aluminum, glass and cardboard. This is still true today. The rest of the waste including floor sweepings goes to a place in Indiana where it is burned for energy.
Now instead of filling a landfill, more than 200 million pounds of waste a year is recycled from the Trenton Brewery, said Denise Quinn, plant manager and vice president of the local beer-making operation for MillerCoors.
Even spent grain is provided to farmers to use, Quinn said.
“Everything is going somewhere other than it going to a landfill,” Quinn said.
One of the key success factors that helped the Butler County brewery eliminate trash cans and a practice Trenton shared with other breweries was employee buy-in. In fact, a production technician passionate about recycling efforts was given the long-term, multi-year assignment to cut waste, working with the environmental engineer, and traveled to other breweries to help implement the new processes, Quinn said.
“We’re always going to continue to look for kind of that grassroots support. We are going to our technicians who are closest to that process we’re going to try to change and get their commitment and buy-in,” she said.
Trenton employees also shared their experience seeking recycling partners like farmers and color coding recycling containers such as tan for cardboard with fellow MillerCoors breweries to help the other breweries become landfill free too. Recycling stations are set up on the manufacturing floor as well as the office hallways.
“It really has to be modeled from the top,” Quinn added. “As much as the technicians drove it… if it wasn’t viewed as important by me and the folks they report to, it gets less and less attention.”
The Trenton Brewery’s conservation efforts didn’t stop with reducing waste. Water conservation and energy reduction are also high priorities, Quinn said.
Already, the local brewery uses employee councils formed to address topics such as safety and quality to make improvements. At the end of last year, a new sustainability council was launched to find ways to reduce water and energy use at the plant. The councils meet about once a month and in between meetings, have key assignments to follow, she said.
“It is a pride piece. Our employees talk about it. They talk about the fact this is a landfill free facility,” she said.
Earlier this year the Trenton brewery stopped burning coal and is in the process of converting the coal burners into natural gas-fired boilers to power the manufacturing plant.
The local brewery sits atop the natural Great Miami River Buried Valley Aquifer. Thanks to water-tracking meters and other efforts, the Trenton operation has reduced its water usage by about 18 percent since 2011. In 2016, Trenton is targeting an average 2.97 barrels of water used to make one barrel of beer, which is below the MillerCoors average, according to the company.
“Water comes into play, obviously the key component of our process, but also came into play because we are both in country water scarcity situations and if you look at the U.S., we have a brewery in California, we have a brewery in Texas, even the one in Colorado, there were a lot of issues relative to water scarcity over the last couple years,” Quinn said.
“The general population needs to know that we really are serious about this. It is an incredibly important resource to us but we also know we have a responsibility to protect both the quantity and quality of that resource.”
Additionally, last year, the Trenton brewery partnered with Colorado biotechnology company Nutrinsic Corp. to convert waste water from the beer-making process into fish and animal feed. Nutrinsic built an addition onto MillerCoors’ water reclamation facility. New equipment was installed that captures waste water — consisting of water and waste beer along with spent barley and yeast — and transforms it into single-cell proteins. The end product can be substituted for other types of feed such as fish meal or used as a feed ingredient, according to information previously provided by Nutrinsic.
As the Trenton brewery marks this year its 25th anniversary of operations, estimates are for production to reach approximately 9.69 million barrels, a record level, Quinn said.
“We’re never stopping,” Quinn said. “We’re going to continue to work to reduce waste in the process period so there would be less then to have to be recycled.”
MillerCoors is a joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors. The Trenton brewery opened for operations in 1991. It produces more than 60 different beer brands and employs about 530 workers.