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Breweries work together on sustainability efforts

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Craft brewers from throughout the region gathered Wednesday to discuss sustainability and recycling initiatives at Ardagh’s glass manufacturing plant in east Wilson.

“We all have a passion for what we do — whether it is making glass or making beer — and we want to make quality products,” said Clint Gawart, vice president of sales for the Ardagh Group. “I was also struck about the sense of community today. There is the saying about rising tides raise all ships and I’ve been really impression with the community in the craft beer business.”

Josh Brewer, the brewmaster at Kinston-based Mother Earth Brewing, joined the owner of Double Barley Brewing in Smithfield and a sustainability specialist from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan in a panel discussion about sustainability practices at breweries. He noted the importance of working with larger breweries like Bell’s to find ideas that can be implemented on smaller scales.

“You can see the difference between having hundreds of employees to having 15 employees, but the goal is still the same,” Brewer said. “You can see the difference of having that many more heads in the game with all these different ideas. We can go to these big breweries and find out what they are doing.”

Kate Binder, the specialist from Bell’s, said the brewery’s sustainability efforts got underway about 10 years ago when an employee noticed the company putting cardboard into a mixed recycling dumpster instead of separating it and recycling the materials for money.

“That was our first recycling effort and it snowballed into a sustainability department today,” Binder said. “...A lot of times sustainability can get wrapped up in the warm and fuzzy ‘do it because it is the right thing’ argument, which is absolutely true, but it is more robust and powerful if you can also make a business case for it. Everything we do in our sustainability department has a (return on investment) and a business case. That can sound kind of limited, but in reality, it makes a clear path toward doing those projects if you can save $1,000 this month if we do this or 15 million gallons of water saved equals however many tens of thousands of dollars over the next year.”

From more efficient equipment and construction to composting programs in taprooms, the breweries traded ideas that can save a few dollars or yield a big savings to a business bottom line.

“We try to involve employees along the way when we make those decisions and changes so that they can have buy-in,” Binder said. “It is craft beer, so people already have a ton of pride in what they are doing, so the more you can involve them in the process along the way, the better those sustainability efforts stick.”

Binder recommended everyone — businesses as well as residential customers — put utilities into a spreadsheet and be on the lookout for differences in use. She said by doing so, her company realized a valve had been left open and increased energy consumption and cost, but spotting the change on the spreadsheet ensured staffers remedied the problem early.

Ardagh Direct General Manager John T. Shaddox noted the company’s $140 million investment in improving the environmental footprint and sustainability initiatives across its 14 glass facilities in the country.

“From a consumer standpoint or a behavioral standpoint, why don’t we recycle more?” Shaddox said. “We have facilities in Europe and the collection rates are astronomical. Like 90 percent of glass products that go out are recycled. I know the geography is different, but there is definitely a mentality of European consumers that they need to recycle that isn’t true here.”

Wendy Worley, recycling and materials management section chief with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, said her office strives to work with companies across the state to find ways to increase conservation efforts. She said the state has more than 16,000 private-sector jobs in recycling and there are more than 650 businesses dedicated to recycling, such as Ardagh and Strategic Materials. Bill Clark, regional sourcing development and clean glass initiative manager for Strategic Materials, said recycled glass supports more than 2,300 jobs in this region, including Wilson crews that collect 2,200 tons of glass at a time for processing.

“The folks in this room are real leaders and make a big impact,” Worley said. “Everyone likes to go to your local craft brewery and have a good time, but there is a mentality with you guys about sustainability and being a model for your change in your communities.”

Visit tinyurl.com/yy7tmkjf and scroll down to “Recycling” for more information about garbage collection, compost and recycling in the city of Wilson.

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