From Crop to Consumption

South African Breweries turning brewing leftovers into sustainable greens for local communities

In Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) South Africa, hundreds of beds of spinach are ripe for the picking. It’s an unusual sight in an area plagued by drought and a water crisis, and perhaps just as unexpected is its location - at South African Breweries (SAB).

The spinach crop is one outcome of several long-term water stewardship projects led by SAB, along with Rhodes University, The Nature Resource Management Programme and other partners. Altogether the effort is providing leafy greens and much more to the local community: additional food security, new agricultural jobs and two million ZAR (South African rand) of value to the Gqeberha economy.

The project began 13 years ago when SAB paired up with Rhodes University, University of KwaZulu Natal and the Water Research Commission on a project to develop a fully green biological treatment solution for wastewater and other leftovers from the beer brewing process. The resulting system uses sustainable ponding and artificial wetland technologies to convert brewing by-products into nutrient-rich water.

Now SAB is taking its commitment to water stewardship one step further, with the development of a 2,000 sqm commercial drip system for a local grower of spinach. The new crops are irrigated using the wastewater, which has enough nutrients to eliminate the need for additional fertilisers and water usage. What’s more, the spinach beds reduce the nutrient concentration enough that about 90% of the water can be recovered and reused in the brewery.

“What began as a project to treat our water has become so much more,” said Josh Hammann, SAB Director of Agricultural Development. “This is not only a first-of-its kind green biological treatment system for a brewery in Africa, but we were also able to double our impact to reduce our internal water consumption, and can now provide a source of food and income to our local community.”

The spinach growing project is part of several agricultural capital investments being made by SAB in partnership with local start-up business TaylorMade Water Solutions (TMWS). In the first year SAB has constructed a 2,000 sqm of raised beds and offering technical and business coaching assistance through its Supplier Development Program to prepare TMWS to become self-sufficient.

“These projects get us closer to achieving our sustainability goal to improve water availability and quality in high-stress areas,” said Mr Hammann. “We have proven our commitment to the environment and our local communities, as we all seek to build a stronger and more sustainable South Africa.”