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Swannay Brewery cuts beer waste, saves money, benefits cows

Orkney-based brewery saves thousands of litres of unnecessary beer spillage, and thousands of pounds, after asking us to identify resource efficiency opportunities

A summary of what was achieved and what key things the business did.

  • 5,680 litres of beer rescued from spillage
  • Almost £10,000 annual savings identified
  • Funding from Waste Prevention Implementation Fund helps pay for investment

No one wants to see good beer go to waste, but every drop matters even more when you’re in the business of brewing and selling it. That’s why the Swannay Brewery in Orkney got in touch, to see if we could identify opportunities for reducing waste across their business. This we did, saving them thousands of litres and thousands of pounds in the process.

Swanney sits right on the north-westerly tip of Orkney’s mainland and produces over 300,000 litres of beer each year. Lewis Hill, the brewery’s manager, first heard about Resource Efficient Scotland’s free advice and support service when he attended a Zero Waste Scotland circular economy workshop in Orkney.

Lewis was reticent at first to seek advice in case it took up too much time. And the brewery was already recycling a lot of its beer waste products – a local farmer took the draft (a mixture of spent malt and yeast), and the spent hops were bagged and used by local people for fertiliser. Nevertheless, he and the Swannay team decided to request a food waste audit – which our experts conduct free of charge.

The audit identified opportunities for reducing waste in the cask-filling process that could bring potential annual savings of £9,845 and reduce carbon emissions by 21 tonnes. As a bonus, the actions they suggested would benefit the locals. The local cows, that is. Intrigued? Read on.

Our experts found that a significant proportion of beer was being lost in the casking process. The manual process involved filling the casks by hose. But with no valve on the hose, the Swannay brewing team was losing beer when they switched barrels. In fact they were losing 5,680 litres a year.

Our experts recommended that they install a cask racker, which would cut waste down to practically zero. A cask racker fills the casks to a set volume and eliminates spillage. The initial investment was a hefty £18,500, but with savings of just under £10,000 a year this would be paid back in only two years. The investment made even more sense with the help of Zero Waste Scotland’s Waste Prevention Implementation Fund. This provides grants to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) working in the food and drink, construction or commercial and industrial waste industries. 

“To be quite honest, we were surprised by how straight-forward the full process was,” says Lewis. “Our initial fear that accessing the support offered by the service would take too much time was quickly diminished during the food waste audit process, and the funding we’ve been able to gain access to via the Waste Prevention Implementation Fund has been a very pleasant (and well-received) surprise.”

Waste not want not

We also identified an additional waste-saving opportunity. When used casks were returned to Swannay, the leftover beer would be washed out into an on-site lagoon. Around one litre of beer dregs per cask was being lost in this way. A local farmer would skim this and use it for his fields but we suggested adding it to cattle feed instead. There’s a lot of good nutrition in beer and using it in cattle feed is common practise in Japan and Canada. The local beef farmer could even up-market his product as beer-fed (it improves the texture and taste) and make a little more money.

Less wastage, big savings for Swannay and some happy cows – a job well done, we think. And the Swannay Brewery agrees.

“Receiving on-site support from the service has been incredibly beneficial,” says Lewis. “As a successful SME, we already have a good grasp of our on-site operations but we are always trying to be more efficient and lessen our waste outputs. The potential for positive business impact, cost savings and waste reductions associated with the auditing process is very positive. I would recommend that any company considering the support available make time for the audit process.”

We can help your business to cut costs and improve your profits, too

If you’re a small or medium sized business and would like to find additional ways you can improve your margins please get in touch.

For energy efficiency support please email Zero Waste Scotland's Energy Efficiency Business Support Service.

For help to prevent food and drink waste, please email the team. 

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Our free service for Scottish businesses is funded by the Scottish Government and by the European Regional Development Fund through the £73 million Resource Efficiency Circular Economy Accelerator Programme. The support provided to this organisation was delivered by Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Scotland programme, which has been relaunched as Zero Waste Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Business Support Service as of 1 April 2020.

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