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This is not Waste: the case of Brewers' Spent Grain (BSG)

BSP is the main leftover of brewing. Most of it ends up in landfills but now is ingredient for granola bars, pasta, bread, and dog biscuits.

Photo of Jessica Aguirre
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Spent grain is the main leftover of brewing and it represents approximately 85% of total by-products generated. However, spent grains are of high nutritive value and can be incorporated in a variety of other products. Spent grain is being used as ingredient in the production of granola bars, dog biscuits, bread, and soap. Spent grain is also being used as energy source. The combustion of spent grain using a biomass boiler produces thermal energy; it can be used as a source of sugar for bioethanol production, and through anaerobic digestion the production of biogas.

Some of the successful stories repurposing spent grain:

Portland Pet Food Company produces brew biscuit dog treats made with repurposed spent grain. Biscuits are made with high quality ingredients and sourced from local breweries.

Sfoglini is a pasta maker located in Brooklyn dedicated to sourcing high quality organic grains to bring classic Italian style pasta. In collaboration with the Bronx Brewery, they use the spent grain from its Bronx Rye Pale Ale to produce the BXB radiatori pasta.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Rethinking Waste. Byproducts are not necessarily synonymous with waste products and they can be used as raw materials in other manufacturing processes. In the case of Beer Spent Grain: “In the U.S. approximately 200 million barrels of beer are consumed each year with an average of 6 billion pound of grain use by the brewery industry.”

Tell us about your work experience:

Actively pursuing alternative uses for byproducts, researching, and telling their stories.

This post emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual


Join the conversation:

Photo of Daniel Kurzrock

Thanks for including ReGrained Jessica Aguirre ! ReGrained has its own post too, if anyone wants to join the conversation there around closing the nutrient loop:

Photo of Jessica Aguirre

Hi Daniel. Great to have you in this challenge. ReGrained's story has been an inspiration to look beyond these "by-products". I look forward to keep collaborating in the idea phase. 

Photo of Daniel Kurzrock


Photo of hannahchatham .

Hello Jessica Aguirre ,

Thanks for this great story! I am curious, how did you happen to focus on this particular waste product? 

I have heard a similar story about a company using used coffee grounds to mix with resin and create a sort of "plywood" and make furniture. These sorts of things are fascinating, but I wonder how to determine what sorts of waste streams are best suited for expansion.. Any thoughts? 


Photo of Bertha Jimenez

Hi Hannah,

Could you point me out to the coffee ground with resin? I also found this type of upcycling sooo interesting.....

Photo of Ashwin Goutham Gopi

Hi hannahchatham . , you should check this out: Organic Food Waste in Brooklyn Part 2: Beer 

Photo of Jessica Aguirre

Hi Hannah,
Thanks for your comment. It all started when I met a group of students at NYU working on a project about Industrial Symbiosis. Now, we are collaborating to make the concept more accessible and mainstream. We are focusing on spent grain for now but we are considering other byproducts such as coffee grounds, grape pomace, etc.
Most of the founders from these businesses, using alternative materials, saw an opportunity when they worked in the industry. They witnessed how such good quality materials were being discarded and found a way to re-use them.
We believe that learning from their successes and challenges will be a good start to determine which byproduct might have the best potential. However, a successful story in Portland might not translate to equal success in New York. We have to consider various elements but we are very committed to work out the best solution.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Jessica! Thank you for highlighting the different products that can derive from BSP. It will be interesting to see how these businesses grow over the next few years. I wonder if some of the products will be more successful than others and which ones will stand the test of time. 

Photo of Jessica Aguirre

Hi Kate,
Thank you very much for your comment.
I had the opportunity to interview some of the founders of these businesses and they had shared some of the roadblocks encountered as they continue refining their concepts. Either logistics, accessibility of materials, or public acceptance; it had required fine tuning and constant consumer education. How successful they will become, only time will tell. So far it has been a great opportunity to learn from their experiences and keep thinkering about what else could be done to support them.

Photo of Shane Zhao

Thanks for the additional info Jessica! The repurposing/ re-using of food scraps to create and grow new foods is being adopted by more and more businesses — it'll be interesting to explore how sustainable this approach will be in the long run. Perhaps your learnings from the interviews will generate more opportunities for viable business solutions in the Ideas phase of this challenge!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Thanks for the additional info Jessica! The repurposing/ re-using of food scraps to create and grow new foods is being adopted by more and more businesses — it'll be interesting to explore how sustainable this approach will be in the long run. Perhaps your learnings from the interviews will generate more opportunities for viable business solutions in the Ideas phase of this challenge!

Photo of Jessica Aguirre

Hello Shane. Thanks for your comment.
During this inspiration phase, I do want to share some of the insights that we had discovered about the potential of repurposing food/materials that otherwise will be discarded. And yes, an idea is on the works!
As you mentioned more and more businesses are adopting re-using/repurposing practices. How sustainable some of these young businesses will be in the long run? It will be interested to know. What we know is that in most cases this “rejected” material is being hauled by private carters to landfills. It comes to this end because of different barriers. It is the only option, it’s expensive, there is lack of institutional support, regulations, etc.
As we continue this conversation with the OpenIDEO community, we hope to translate these needs to a better solution.

Photo of Kate Rushton

This is very relevant to me. Several years ago I had to write a piece about the economics of waste and how to get the most value from it. I was looking at landfill gate fees/tipping fees across the US. The costs to send waste to landfill vary so much from state to state and between districts that I wonder if it is considerably more viable to locate a re-use facility in a place with very high landfill gate fees. The ideal location being near a brewery on the outskirts of a city with very high district gate fees.

This is a link to fees for the UK (considerable variation) - I remember the US also having a large variation.

Am I right in thinking that a lot of bsp goes into pet food at the moment?

Photo of Jessica Aguirre

Hi Kate.
We have been focusing on the waste management in New York and how it services the two main waste generators, household and commercial. It is a vast network of many kinds: waste transporters, recycling/processing facilities, transfer stations, energy recovery facilities, recyclables markets, and landfills.

We know that in the case of the breweries, the private carter picks up the spent grain. Some private carters offer to compost it but at extra cost. A small brewery generates around 2,000 pounds of spent grain each week. It is quite an expense and most breweries are on-board to any solution that could reduce this cost.

In New York City the number of breweries is around 44. Most of the waste is sent to private waste transfer station in the city and later sorted out to and sent to a waste-energy facility in New Jersey or landfills in Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Ohio.

We find the whole system cumbersome, isolated, and with very few syndicates. However, we see great potential for transformation and especially with the 0x30 initiative which hopes zero waste to landfills by 2030 and the commercial organic law. You could check more details about this in Ashwin’s post

Lastly, comparing the number of breweries and spent grain generated, it is not a lot what goes to pet food. The collaboration brewery-pet food manufacturer is more successful in small localities where businesses support each other. New York presents its own challenges; nonetheless also possibility.