by Tim Carlson

Forever Our Rivers Foundation works with companies to support organizations and communities working to enhance river health. One of these companies, PrairieFood, has developed an innovative technology that treats feedlot wastes for use by farmers to improve soil health and agricultural productivity while reducing nutrient loads in waterways. They asked us an interesting question: How are all the closed restaurants, bars, and brew-pubs going to dispose of all of the keg beer that goes bad during Covid-19 closures? Canned or bottled beer normally has a shelf life of several months, and a lot of it is standing by in breweries, distributors, and your favorite local haunts.

Prohibition officers pouring beer into the streets and sewers of New York City, 1920

Historically, excess beer, milk, or other food waste was often dumped directly into rivers. Such practices are really bad for rivers and are now illegal. Beer can decimate water quality. The bacteria that grow to decompose, i.e. feed on, the beer demands so much oxygen that they use it all up, leading to fish kills. It’s hard to believe, but beer needs around 250 times more oxygen to decompose than raw untreated municipal wastewater, what some call sewage. 

In normal times, restaurants and breweries know what to do with excess beer. They work with the local wastewater treatment facility and state agencies to decide on how to dispose of it. It may be to stage incremental disposal for larger volumes to prevent overloading treatment centers or to send it to a specialized disposal facility. In some states, beer can be sprayed directly onto agricultural land, used as an amendment for composting facilities, or, more recently, used to make hand sanitizer. 

For these less-than-normal times, the Brewers Association created a great resource for breweries, restaurants, bars, and distributors in an updated version of their Best Practices for Responsible Disposal of Beer

Since milk is just as hard on rives as beer is, there are best practices for dairy farms too. Help us out, buy keg beer from your favorite local breweries in growlers when possible.