Forget returning beer bottles for change; in the future we’ll return beer bottles for a handful sand. Or that’s what New Zealand-based DB Breweries hopes. A variety of industries ranging from construction to pharmaceuticals rely on sand and are harvesting it from beaches quicker than it can be replaced naturally. Finding a more sustainable future is more complicated than switching to desert sand, which is too spherical and smooth in comparison with jagged beach sand. To prevent New Zealand from losing its beloved beaches, DB Breweries developed a machine that grinds up glass beer bottles into a sand substitute.
DB’s machine sits in bars and generates approximately 200 grams of sand for each bottle deposited. The process happens in no more than five seconds. Stick an empty bottle in the slot, the machine cleans off labels and debris, then grinds it down and deposits it into a holding container in the machine. Customers can watch through transparent sides and measure how much sand they’ve cumulatively created—and bottles of beer they’ve drank! Given the fact that approximately 25% of all beers drunk in New Zealand end up in landfills, this machine stands to generate a lot of sand.
DB is currently forging partnerships with companies involved in sand-intensive industries. They recently teamed up with New Zealand’s foremost producer of bagged concrete and hope that beer bottle sand will become the default material for construction projects such as road pavements and cycle pathways. DB also wants their sand to be used in water filtration systems. The initiative follows on the company’s Brewtroleum project in 2015, during which they turned used up brewing yeast into 300,000 liters of biofuel.
While we applaud the movement toward sustainability, there are still a few points that need to be ironed out before it becomes the obvious thing to do with a bottle of beer. Consumer awareness is the first hurdle and consumers need to be educated about the importance of preserving sand to prevent the novelty from wearing off. Bars will also need to be convinced that it’s worth the investment to surrender the space for a hulking machine in their already crowded bars. In the meantime, start saving those empties.