What Usually Happens To Brewer’s “Spent” Grains?
This is a valid question. And we find ourselves answering it a lot. It’s a polite way of asking if ReGrained is a solution in search of a problem.
TLDR; We’re not.
Historically: The supply of this brewer’s byproduct has been in balance with agricultural demand for thousands of years. Brewers would sell or give away grain to farmers who would then use it as high-protein feed for livestock. Most still do…but many do not.
Today: Virtually all growth in the Beer Industry is occurring within the craft segment. The craft beer boom is downright frothy. In 2016, we saw more than two new breweries opening every day. We’ve now well surpassed pre-prohibition brewery numbers, before heavy industrialization and consolidation gave us Big Beer.
Breweries are opening all over the country, and reflecting urbanization, we’re seeing an increasing concentration in cities. Here’s the 7×7 miles of San Francisco, with more than 30 breweries. That’s more breweries than neighborhoods.
Urban Craft Beer: This urban brewing ecosystem is the new normal, and it’s influencing the fate of “spent” grain. It is not practical for a farmer to come pick up brewers’ “spent” grain in a city. With breweries everywhere, including closer to their farms, there’s just not much incentive to take the journey. This has upset the historical paradigm, and many urban breweries either have to pay the farmer to come out or pay the city to haul away their grain as waste.
San Francisco and other Composting Cities: In San Francisco, Recology handles centralized composting along with recycling and landfill. Organic waste is composted into nutrient dense soil amendments, which is then sold back into the agricultural supply chain.
We’re lucky to have composting infrastructure, and this is why we don’t currently make impact claims around diverting waste from landfill or post metrics about mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
Although, unlike many compostables such as coffee grounds, egg shells, and peels, brewers “spent” grain is nutritious (and tasty!). It is an edible byproduct, not a table scrap. Our food system does not compost whey (the byproduct from cheese) anymore for a reason—we feed it to people. Closing nutrient loops is the essence of the edible upcycling revolution that we founded ReGrained to catalyze.
Elsewhere: Unfortunately, centralized municipal compost is not available in the vast majority of American cities. In worst case scenarios, urban brewers have no choice but to relegate their grain to landfill. When organic material (food) ends up in landfills, it emits tremendous amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas more than 20x worse than CO2.
Our brewery friends across the country that fall into this bucket should not be villainized! It’s not their fault there’s no centralized composting infrastructure in their city. Yet, as long as these brewers are making beer, they’re also making it’s co-product.
This is a problem of missing markets: the systemic shift caused by craft beer and its urbanization has outpaced innovation around applications of “spent” grain. Closing this loop is a huge opportunity that we are inspired to address.
ReGrained is more than a bar. Our brand represents a platform for valuing resources. We’re crafting a much-needed ecosystem service for the newest movement in one of the world’s oldest industries. We’re transforming beer “waste” into food, built around Beer Flour. Thanks for being with us on the journey…eat up!
(Article originally posted on ReGrained.com 6/13/2017)