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Brewers’ malt lees turned into ‘craft beer paper’

A business in Yokohama in Japan has started upcycling brewers’ malt lees waste to produce “craft beer paper”.

The company, named Kitafuku, founded in 2019, began as a way to repurpose and reduce waste for local brewers and tapped into a way to transform the spent grains into items still useable by the brewery.

Since Kitafuku was founded, it has been rumoured that craft beer paper has begun appearing at more and more beer promotion events in Japan the form of menus, coasters and drink holders and has, according to Japan Today,  creating a novel way to help small brewers find a way to reduce their waste and assist in making their businesses more sustainable with closed-loop recycling.

The idea, which was inspired by a paper wholesaler in Nara Prefecture that was producing popular recycled paper from rice plants and grass, works well for small craft brewers who cannot sell their spent grains. Whereas large breweries have kit and transportation to dry their malt waste and send it on to farms to feed livestock, craft brewers have needed to find alternatives.

Since December 2020, Kitafuku has collected an estimated 1,500 kilograms of malt lees free of charge from eight local craft brewers and used it to manufacture cardboard boxes and other items that are useful to repurpose for the businesses.

One example saw Yokohama-based brewery Number Nine admitting that it used to create more than 200 kilograms of malt lees a week and needed to pay approximately 150,000 yen (US$1,150) to dispose of the waste each month until it discovered the Kitafuku venture.

Number Nine now supplies its lees free to Kitafuku and instead chooses to have it recycled into menus and other paper products at its restaurant chain.

Number Nine chief brewer Kengo Saito, who uses a business card made from the craft beer paper, described the ‘craft beer paper’ as “a conversation starter with customers and business associates. I would be happy if this groundbreaking initiative spreads around the world and establishes a system that prevents malt lees from being wasted”.

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