From brewery wastewater to spinach – SAB embarks on sustainable farming project
- South African Breweries has launched Project Imifino in Ibhayi where it uses wastewater from brewing to grow spinach.
- The project will develop a commercial 2,000m2 drip irrigation system that will help local communities sustainably grow spinach in raised beds.
- Since the spinach beds use only 10% of the water, 90% will be available for the brewery to reuse.
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Local beer drinkers will soon be (inadvertently) supporting small scale agriculture. They might not know this when downing a cold one, but some of the wastewater resulting from making the beer will be used to grow spinach.
Called Project Imifino, and based at Ibhayi in the Eastern Cape, the South African Breweries (SAB) backed initiative is aimed at helping local communities grow spinach, while the brewer gets to recycle water at the same time.
Project Imifino, along with Project Eden Water Conservation Park – another SAB initiative involving the construction of an artificial wetland – will develop a commercial 2,000 metre square drip irrigation system to help the local community grow spinach in raised beds.
The crop will use water and nutrients provided by wastewater generated in the brewing process, with no additional water or fertilisers.
“Through Project Eden we were 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,” said Director of Agricultural Development at SAB Josh Hammann.
SAB has pledged to offer a capital investment to set in motion Project Imifino, in partnership with local business TaylorMade Water Solutions (TMWS).
“We will be supporting the operation of TMWS for the first 12 months through the construction and commercial establishment phase, and have offered additional technical and business coaching with the assistance of our Supplier Development Team, after which it will become self-sufficient,” said Hammann.
The team involved in the project, led by Rhodes University’s Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, used various methods to recover the water from brewery effluent.
This includes high-rate algal ponding and constructed wetland technology to recover the water and to harness the nutrient potential locked in the effluent.
"This is the triple helix at its best. SAB is leading the way for the sustainable use of our limited water resources while creating significant and tangible social benefits through the incorporation of the circular economy and water energy and food nexus principles,” said CEO of the Water Research Commission Dhesigen Naidoo.
How it works
The Spinach beds are said to use up about 10% of the water flowing through it, with 90% still available for reuse.
Essentially, the spinach crops serve as a kind of treatment plant. The crops absorb nutrients from the water needed for growth, leaving the remaining water relatively 'clean'.
This 'cleaning' of the water allows the brewery to recover more of it through its water recycling plant, further helping to improve the site’s water efficiency.
“The beauty of the system is creating a brand-new output (spinach) with no additional water requirement in the catchment, and improving the brewery’s water use through improved water quality and reuse potential,” according to the beer giant.
“What began as a project to treat our water has become so much more,” exclaims Hammann. “This is not only the first fully green biological treatment system for a brewery in Africa, it is a platform for the continuation of research and development at Rhodes University, and a source of job creation worth R2 million of downstream value per year.”
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