Advanced Distilling: Managing Distilling Waste

Once your product production gets to a certain point things that were no big deal previously start to become something you need to account for. Managing distilling waste is a headache for distillers of all sizes but the larger you grow the larger the issues can become.

The methods used to get rid of a small amount of waste aren’t necessarily the best way to deal with a large amount and it can take retooling your plan a bit to make sure you’re not sitting on mountains of waste material or mounting fines for improper disposal. Proper disposal methods can vary from municipality to municipality and always check with your local authority before implementing any disposal plan.  

Distilling waste can come in several forms and they all need individual action plans to dispose of accordingly. Some waste streams can be recycled back into your system so that they have a minimal external impact but others have to be processed properly before being disposed of.

One of the main waste streams from distilleries is process water and this can be either very easy or a huge pain depending on the rules you have to deal with and how dirty the water is. If you’re not using a closed-loop system the grey process water from your cooling and heating systems can potentially be recycled into other applications like cleaning water or if given the ok by your municipality can be sent down the drain. Tails are another wastewater source that may need special attention. 

Spent grain can be a little more difficult to deal with because you’ve got a solid component to account for in addition to a liquid component. If you’re lautering and sparging you’ve already got a reasonably good solid separation but if you’re distilling on the grain you will likely want to use some sort of grain separator to get as much of the water out as possible. There are a lot of reasons why drier material is better, if it’s going to be disposed of off-site then transporting that extra water weight is a waste of fuel.

Spent grain is full of useable nutrients in the grain and it is vitamin-rich so landfilling is not the best option. Farms and bakeries can be great places to offload your spent grain and if it’s going to a farm most livestock prefers a drier feed rather than a slurry. Spent grain spoils in a few days so having options on where to send it for reprocessing can help you avoid sending it to a landfill.    

Heads may not be a large source of waste by volume but they can pose a problem in some municipalities. Some distillers have experimented with recycling heads back into the system on their next batch to recover some of the usable alcohols and add more flavor components. Other distillers end up using them for stainless steel cleaner or sending them out to laboratories as solvents and reagents. Regardless of the method you choose, be sure to check with your local municipality on their preferred method of disposal to make sure you are in compliance. 

Managing distilling waste is not a one size fits all endeavor and everyone will have their own unique solutions and hurdles to overcome. Every municipality has different processing capabilities and requirements so always check with them first. Sometimes you have to get creative and find alternatives.

If your local farmers are flakey and the bakeries are not interested, maybe there’s a fertilizer plant or some other processor that would be interested in the solids or the wastewater you’re generating. Networking with your local producers in other industries can pay dividends in that regard. What are some of your most creative waste management solutions? Leave a comment below and let us know!