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Waste Not
New Beer Made from Treated Wastewater Highlights Potential of Water Reuse

The San Francisco Bay Area-based pilot project reallocated 2,000 gallons of treated water from a residential high-rise to become more than 7,000 cans of beer.

While it’s not the first time it’s been done, Epic OneWater Brew is the latest and perhaps the highest-profile attempt at using treated greywater to make something potable — in this case, beer.

The effort used an intensive filtering and disinfection process to purify 2,000 gallons of water from a San Francisco high-rise to create a “blank slate,” drinking-water-quality product. From there, Epic Cleantec — whose OneWater onsite water-recycling system made Time’s Best Inventions of 2022 list — physically moved that water via totes and trucks to Devil’s Canyon Brewing Co in nearby San Carlos, where brewery owner Chris Garrett and his team created a Kolsch from the liquid.

“It ended up being a really great product,” Garrett told Sustainable Brands®.

What makes this version of a recycled-water beer different is the sourcing.

“What’s interesting about Epic is that this is the first example of using water that’s come out of an onsite recycling system,” says Travis Loop, producer and host of water-related media outlet Waterloop (Loop is also a lead organizer of the Pure Water Brewing Alliance, which advocates for responsible water use and reuse in the beer business.).

The process works like this: First, greywater from residential building Fifteen Fifty (which recycles up to 7,500 gallons of water per day, or up to 2.75 million gallons per year) is collected from laundry and showers. Then, it’s treated through Epic’s combination of ultra-filtration (filtering out impurities to the diameter of a human hair follicle), disinfection with ultraviolet light and chlorine, and a granulated activated-carbon (GAC) filter (for reduced mineral content), and typically reused for toilet and urinal flushing within the building. Scientifically speaking, the recycled water is treated to an extremely high level of purity that meets (or even exceeds) federal drinking-water quality standards.

But for this project, 2,000 gallons of that treated water was toted about 30 minutes south on the peninsula for the beer collaboration.

“Typically, a project like this has only been done through a utility,” says Epic Cleantec CEO and co-founder, Aaron Tartakovsky. “Brewers have so much knowledge about water chemistry; so, we wanted to find a contract brewer who would be interested.”

The final result was 7,000 16-oz cans of beer — not available for commercial sale but distributed to an array of water professionals and beer fans, along with a cameo at the recent UN 2023 Water Conference in New York City.

A rep from Epic says the beer “really made the rounds at the conference” and “several breweries reached out to learn more about collaborating.”

Drawing attention to a larger issue

Of course, the goal of a collaboration like this is to highlight water conservation in a part of the water cycle many don’t really think about.

“We’re a ‘flush and forget’ society,” Tartakovsky says.

US wastewater-treatment facilities process approximately 34 million gallons of water daily; so, there’s seemingly unlimited potential to find new ways to reuse the water that simply goes down a drain.

These brewery/treated-water collaborations have been somewhat of a forefront for the conversation/reuse conversation, with Loop noting at least 100 brewers (both home and professional) who have produced a similar beer to OneWater Brew over the last decade.

“(These beers) are a great public-awareness tool,” he says.

The state of Colorado was a recent example of the movement gaining steam as the latest state to legalize the use of direct potable reuse (DPR) water with Florida, Arizona and California also looking into similar measures. The goal is to help water customers get over any preconceived notions of treated wastewater and redirect it for potable uses.

Everyone involved hopes that the more these collaborations occur, the more they can get people talking about water.

“We should judge water by its quality, not its history,” Loop says.