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Leading Beer Companies Aim for Zero-Waste Plants

December 16, 1997

Employees take care of more than just brewing beer. (Photo: Kirin Brewery Co.)

Japan's leading beer companies are making efforts to turn their plants into zero-waste facilities. Their plans call for the separate collection of waste created in the plants at the production stage, such as beer dregs and packaging, for recycling, so that all of the garbage is used again in some form or other. Their target is to achieve zero-waste plants by the year 2000 if possible.

Thorough Collection, Detailed Separation
Asahi Breweries, which produces the top brand of beer in terms of annual sales, achieved a 100% waste recycling ratio at its main plant in the Tokyo metropolitan region in November 1996. This plant creates about 46,000 tons of waste a year. The company has adopted a system of dividing this waste into 54 categories, which are retrieved separately in 110 boxes set up in 22 places inside the plant. The retrieved waste is then sold to reprocessing businesses for reuse. For example, beer dregs, which account for 85% of the total waste, are reused as fodder for cows, plastic bands for packaging are reused as carpet material, vinyl bags become bathtub frames, bottle caps become construction materials, and cardboard boxes become recycled paper. The key point for the success of this project is the thorough separation of waste for collection. The plant even takes care to prepare separate retrieval boxes for waste that is created in small amounts, such as fluorescent light bulbs and batteries.

The cost of introducing this system has come to about 60 million yen (460,000 U.S. dollars at 130 yen to the dollar). Initially Asahi estimated around 100 million yen (770,000 dollars), but the thoroughness of separating garbage led to a large reduction of expenses. In November 1997 the company set about cutting waste to zero at two other plants, investing a total of 200 million yen (1.5 million dollars) for the installation of raw waste disposal machines and other equipment. It aims to achieve the 100% recycling of waste at all of its nine plants in Japan by the year 2000.

Aiming for a Perfect Record by 2000
Another leading brewer, Kirin Brewery Co., achieved a 100% recycling ratio at its plant in northwestern Japan in March 1997. This company plans to extend the 100% ratio to all of its 12 plants in Japan (excluding three plants to be closed) by January 1998. Furthermore, it is spreading the efforts not only in its own plants but among other group enterprises, too.

For example, in line with the parent company's plan, a soft-drink subsidiary in 1992 installed special retrieval boxes and depositories at its main plant in the Tokyo metropolitan region for more than 10 categories of waste, including used polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, used glass bottles, aluminum, waste plastic, and cardboard boxes, and began the separate collection of all garbage, except for tea-leaf dregs and slush. As a result, the waste recycling ratio at the plant rose to 89.9% in 1994 and 97% in 1996. It aims to achieve the 100% mark in 2000.

This subsidiary is not only aiming to raise its recycling ratio but has also implemented an environmental auditing system, carrying out regular checks in about 70 areas including the control of garbage discharge and pollution prevention.

The third leading brewer, Sapporo Breweries, aims to achieve zero waste at its two plants in the Tokyo metropolitan region by the end of 1997. This company plans to raise its present waste-recycling ratio of 98% at its 10 plants in Japan to 100% by 2000, so all three main brewers can be expected to attain zero waste at all their domestic plants.

Environmental Investment Emphasizing the Long-term View
At present, this investment in environmental countermeasures is a cause of rising costs for companies. For firms aiming to achieve zero waste, the cost involved in establishing separate garbage collection and promoting reuse in plants considerably exceeds the revenue that they earn from sales to reusable waste businesses, and is more expensive than simply disposing of the waste. From now on, however, regulations on the discharge of industrial waste can be expected to tighten, and waste disposal costs can be expected to increase, too. Therefore, businesses increasingly believe that actively tackling the issue of recycling now will lead to significant benefits in the long term. There are also cases of new jobs being created in companies dealing exclusively with recycling.

Cost is not the only factor, though. Many companies report that recycling has the effect of increasing morale among employees and that the sense of mission involved in "contributing to environmental countermeasures" adds liveliness to the workplace. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that in the near future consumers will come to judge a company's social contribution by its efforts toward the effective use of resources and will select products accordingly. So as social interest in the environment increases, the zero-waste movement in plants can be seen as a sign of the times.

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Trends in Japan Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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