This post was updated on May 4, 2020.
The protracted closure of the hospitality sector and need for responsible social distancing makes it probable, if not inevitable, that brewers will need to dispose of out-of-code beer from the market or excess onsite inventory.
When disposing of unsaleable beer, brewers need to do so responsibly. Wherever feasible, excess beer can be repurposed into the production of hand sanitizer. Alternatively, if the best option is to dump excess beer, avoid creating undue harm to the municipal wastewater treatment system. If disposing of beer at your facility, it must go into a drain connected to a municipal treatment facility. Dumping anything down a storm drain, other than weather-related precipitation, is illegal. Doing so will expose your company to regulatory consequence and reputational harm should the disposal result in fines or adverse environmental consequence. Finally, composting represents another disposal channel to explore.
Below are best practices for repurposing out-of-code beer via distillation, disposal to a municipal treatment facility, and composting.
Distillation for Hand Sanitizer Production
It is likely that some craft distilleries in your area have transitioned to the production of hand sanitizer. Fermentation time and capacity are the limiting factors in this process and unsaleable beer can help alleviate the bottle neck. If possible, brewers and distributors should reserve out-of-code beer to support the production of hand sanitizer. Brewers may transfer beer from their brewery in bulk without payment of tax to a distilled spirits plant/alcohol fuel plant (DSP/AFP) under IRC provision 26 U.S.C. 5053(f). Brewers must record such removals in their daily records, report the removal on their brewer’s report of operations, and maintain supporting documents, such as a receipt from the DSP/AFP, under the requirements of Subpart U—Records and Reports.
Requirements regarding tax paid beer that is in the marketplace and that a brewer wants to destroy, such as sending to a DSP/AFP, and be relieved as tax paid usually has additional requirements. Under normal part 25 regulations at Subpart N, subject to submitting a Notice of Intent to the TTB for review, brewers may destroy beer without returning it to the brewer’s premises and be relieved of tax. However, due to the business disruptions brewers are facing during COVID-19, TTB is waiving the requirement that brewers submit a Notice of Intent to TTB to destroy tax paid beer in the marketplace, which also alleviates the 12-day waiting period required under current TTB regulations. This waiver extends through July 1, 2020. Refer to the TTB’s new Beer Destruction FAQs for additional details including record keeping requirements and filing claims to recover taxes paid under this alternate procedure.
A brewer also may transfer bulk beer from the brewery via pipeline to the bonded premises of a distilled spirits plant that is located contiguous to the brewery. Certain regulatory requirements, such as record keeping requirements, apply. See 26 U.S.C. 5412, 26U.S.C. 5222, and 27 CFR 25.201. See 27 CFR part 19 for regulations applicable to distilled spirits plants, including regulations regarding the receipt of beer at a distilled spirits plant.
Disposal to Municipal Wastewater Treatment
First and foremost, contact and communicate directly with your local wastewater treatment facility. Regardless of your municipal plant’s usual situation, their current status likely differs significantly due to shifts in industrial and residential activity.
In most instances, your water treatment plant will be operating at or near maximum Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) capacity; in these cases, too much BOD or COD at one time can overwhelm the processing capacity of their microbial population. However, some municipal wastewater districts may be operating at a deficit, which can starve microbes that need oxygen to function and render the plant less efficient or unstable; in these cases, they may actually welcome waste beer and negotiate reduced demand charges. Communicating with your district directly will help you understand their needs, and allow you to make a responsible beer disposal plan.
In the instance your wastewater plant remains sensitive to elevated BOD and COD, and disposal to the plant remains your best option, their engineers will need to know the strength and volume of your beer to determine the timing and flow rate of disposal. This communication is a crucial step to avoid damaging infrastructure, maintain important biological processes, and prevent permit violations for the municipality or your brewery. In general, an unfiltered beer at 6% ABV has an average pH between 4.0 and 5.0 (although some sour beer styles can be as low as 3.3), a biological oxygen demand (BOD) greater than 80,000 ppm, and a chemical oxygen demand (COD) greater than 120,000 ppm. These are high levels from the perspective of a wastewater treatment facility. Keep in mind that as the AVB increases, so does the chemical oxygen demand.
There are a few actions brewers can take, in concert with a coordinated plan with local municipalities, to reduce negative impacts to wastewater facilities. Most municipal wastewater treatment facilities require discharges to have a pH greater than 6.0 but less than 9.0. In all cases, wastewater should meet discharge limits. Neutralizing with caustic protects against corrosion of concrete pipes and foaming at pumping stations, and protects in-house piping and equipment. Neutralization can be as simple as treating the bulk beer in a free-standing holding tank which must be depressurized and open to atmosphere or equipped with a vacuum breaker and pressure relief valve. When working with any chemical, always read and follow the directions from the manufacturer and consult the safety data sheet for personal protective equipment recommendations and hazard communication to end users. Disposing of unsaleable beer at a slow, measured rate and/or disposing at night when residential demand is low, will help manage the load going into the facility.
Tips for Emptying Kegs When Disposing of Beer
- For both safety and economic considerations, push beer from kegs with compressed air rather than CO2.
- If pushing beer from kegs with CO2, perform the operation in a well-ventilated area and monitor concentrations of CO2 to maintain safe levels (under 1,000 ppm).
- Utilize proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including appropriate eye and hand protection.
- Larger drain hoses (1/2″ ID) will decrease drain times.
- Simple manifolds can be constructed with easily available parts to drain multiple kegs at one time.
- Avoid “flailing hoses” by adequately securing the drain ends of hoses.
- Do not exceed the kegs’ working pressure when emptying kegs.
Large scale composting operations may be able to receive and compost waste beer. Communicate directly with local composting operations and farmers to assess their liquid volume capacities; they may or may not be able to process the volume of beer you need to dispose of. A composting operation may have pH requirements that can be addressed in bulk. Liquid waste disposal companies may offer tanker collection and delivery services. Consider partnering with nearby brewers to collect sufficient beer to fill a tanker for most economical use.
Beer returning from the market in package can either be disposed of at the brewery or sent to companies that can certify product destruction, recycle packaging, and provide documentation for excise tax reporting/refunding.
Follow Tax and Trade Bureau regulations addressing destruction of beer. The TTB has information on the Voluntary Destruction of Beer which includes information on the refund/adjustment of tax. Forms can be found at https://www.ttb.gov/beer/forms.