Beer is one of the oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic drinks in the world. Its origin dates back some 5000 years, possibly more, and by 2018 188.79 million kilolitres were being consumed, the equivalent of approximately 298.2 billion bottles. However, the industry poses a major threat to the environment as brewing is one of the most wasteful processes on the planet, mainly in terms of energy consumption, water consumption, wastewater disposal, solid waste disposal, and emissions to the atmosphere (Olajire 2020) but also resulting from agricultural production, packaging/bottling, and distribution.
According to research conducted in Belgium, it would take a tree 53.46 days to absorb the carbon emissions of a single six-pack of amber ale. Not surprisingly, under such circumstances, brewers have been increasingly concerned to make the process more environmentally friendly. In recent years the industry has become highly creative, innovating to reduce the water consumed in the brewing process, the dependency on fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions, and introducing recycling programmmes. However, one UK start-up business Toast Ale (https://www.toastal.com) has been concerned not just to make brewing greener but to reduce the level of food waste and the consumption of barley. Accordingly, it is collecting bread that would otherwise end up in landfill and using it to produce beer, thereby reducing the need for malted barley by one-third.
Brewing beer from bread is not innovation. Rather, it is believed to date back some 4,000 years to the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon. However, the company that produces, Toast Ale, is new. It was founded in 2015 by Tristram Stuart, a food waste activist. Essentially leftover bread is collected from local bakeries and sandwich makers and combined with malted barley, oat husks, hops, and water to create beer. In total, each batch of Toast Ale requires 280 kgs of bread, the equivalent of 9,400 slices. This means that in every 330 ml bottle of Toast Ale there is the equivalent of 1 slice of bread – and in the UK alone households throw away an estimated 24 million slices of bread a day!
Founded in partnership with Hackney Brewery in the East End of London it moved to larger premises in North Yorkshire where it partnered with Hambleton ales and in 2017 set up a satellite in the Bronx area of New York in partnership with the Chelsea Craft Brewing Company. By 2018 it had acquired B Corp status and was raising funding to launch in South Africa in partnership with the Devil’s Peak Brewing Company, one of the best craft brewing businesses in Africa. By 2021, the UK operation was in partnership with Hepworth Brewery in Sussex and was claiming to have produced 1.76 million pints of beer, “saved” 2.07 million slices of bread, reclaimed 171,848m2 of land, saved 252,043 litres of water, and avoided 42 tons of emissions. Importantly, also, it had donated £48,498 of its profits to “Feedback” (feedback global.org) a campaign group working to regenerate nature by transforming the food system.
Talking about the idea to Matthew Kronsberg in 2017, Tristram said he knew ”bread was being wasted all over the world in industrial quantities while it was still fresh” and he knew “there is a distributed global network of craft brewers with whom there is a culture of collaboration, talent, real openness, and an interest in cracking problems” plus he knew there is “a global network of food-waste fighters who were looking for entrepreneurial ways to turn food waste into revenue for non-profits”. There was a market and the materials, producers, and distribution networks were in place to enable the concept to succeed given the increasing interest in sustainability and the apparent willingness of consumers, and especially the younger generations, to pay more for environmentally friendly products.
While its primary objective is to reduce food waste (SDG 12), Toast Ale is very much a Harmonious Enterprise as it addresses economic issues (SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 9 = Industry innovation and Infrastructure), environmental issues (SDG 13 – Climate Action and SDG 15 – Life on Land) and Social/humane issues (SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities). In addition, it addresses SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals).
Holbrook, E. (2019), Research shows Consumers Willing to pay up to 5% more for Environmentally friendly products. Environment Leader. November, 4th.
Kronsberg, M. (2017), If you’re concerned about food waste try this beer: Toast Ale, a British Beer, turns excess bread into a heady brew. Bloomberg, October 10.
Olajire, AA. ( 2020), The brewing industry and environmental challenges. Journal of Cleaner Production. 256 20th May.102817.
Yalkin, D. (2017), Toast Ale, from recycled bread, is now brewed in New York. New York Times, April, 24th.
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