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Boozing Britain wakes up to recycling headache

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Consumers and brewers produce record amounts of waste

Britain’s boozers, already amongst the heaviest drinkers in Europe, are responsible for one of industry’s biggest headaches – how to deal with the waste products of both production and consumption.

These are the findings of one of the UK’s leading waste management companies, which says that alongside the familiar sight of bottle banks and tin recycling, brewers and distillers are having to cope with the ever-growing mountain of by-products from their business.

While bottles and tins are easily and readily recycled, some brewers have traditionally just poured away their waste products, the Business Waste company says.

“The consumer would be shocked if they knew of the waste behind their favourite tipple,” says Business Waste spokesperson Mark Hall, “but the truth is that they’re only just coming to grips with a centuries-old problem.”

According to official statistics, every year Britons get through

– 1.5bn bottles of wine
– 108m bottles of vodka
– 70m bottles of Scotch
– 30m bottles of gin

Around 70% of British people say they drink alcohol on a weekly basis, with larger numbers of younger people bucking the national trend which had previously shown a decline in adult drinkers.

“Aside from the obvious health risks, we can report that up to 50% of alcohol containers aren’t recycled and end up in general waste bins,” says Hall. “As an environmental health check for the nation, that’s not particularly good.

“That means millions of tons of glass and aluminium not being recycled every year, and that’s a terrible waste.”

But it’s in the brewing and distilling trade that waste is just as pressing.

Figures show that the Scotch whisky industry alone produces 500,000 tons of solid waste every year, and a staggering 1.6bn litres of waste liquids. While the solid waste (called “draff”) is usually spread on agricultural land, the liquid (“pot ale”) is sometimes just poured down the drain.

There’s hope that chaff and pot ale can be turned into other products, and a process has just been revealed that turns the two into useful chemicals such as acetone, and fuels like butanol and ethanol.

“That’s the kind of ‘out of the box’ thinking that could save the distilling industry thousands every year,” says Business Waste’s Mark Hall. “Not only in cutting their waste bills, but selling their by-products as a premium product.”

Business Waste says that other sectors of the drinks industry should take a look at their by-products to see if there is a viable alternative to waste.

“With raw commodities becoming more expensive every day, it means that the gap between waste and value is narrowing,” Hall says.

“New processes could save the booze industry from a financial hangover, but they’ve got to invest first.”

The responsibility for best environmental practice rests with the companies that are producing these products, The reality is that beverage producers, waste contractors, councils, businesses and other major events need to work together to provide adequate away-from-home recycling options for beverage containers if we are to increase recycling rates.

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