Heineken invests in the local circular economy

Published on
October 21, 2014

Interesting changes are being made to the drainage ditch at the Die Barle dairy farm and with good reason - it will soon be purifying water on the initiative of the farm’s big neighbour, the Heineken brewery. Over the past year Heineken has embarked on various innovative activities related to the concept of a local circular economy.

From bee-friendly premises to the production of biogas

In the Green Circles partnership, Heineken is cooperating with the province of South Holland and Alterra Wageningen UR to create a climate-neutral brewery. The company also made a section of its premises bee-friendly this year, replacing manicured lawns with flower fields. Heineken is also working on climate-friendly logistics by replacing trucks with ships, reusing wastewater and producing biogas. All these projects contribute to the master plan by the well-known Dutch brewery to close cycles in and around the company based on the circular economy concept.

Natural purification of cleaning water

Heineken is working together with various partners to make itself climate neutral. The trial on the premises of its neighbour Die Barle, for instance, is a cooperation between the dairy farm itself, Alterra Wageningen UR, the regional water authority Hoogheemraadschap van Rijnland and the Dutch company Ecofyt.

The project involves equipping the ditch with a helophyte filter. Helophytes are plants such as reeds or yellow iris, which help bacteria in the ditch purify the cleaning water from the dairy farm. This water currently simply goes down the manure drain. Purifying it in a natural fashion first would not only improve the quality of the manure, but also help the environment, says Jan Kempers, manager for sustainable development at Heineken Nederland. “We don’t want an everyday solution. It has to be something special: not just a thick belt of reeds, but a pearl in the landscape which cyclists will stop to admire.”

Closing mineral cycles

Alterra scientists are providing advice on the construction of the helophyte filter and carrying out measurements on variables such as whether the plants in the ditch are removing sufficient phosphate from the farm’s cleaning water. Along with other scientists from Wageningen UR, Alterra also advises on the regulations regarding manure fermentation. Farmers who produce biogas end up with digestate, a nutrient-rich liquid that may not be used as fertiliser. Within the Green Circles project, Heineken has joined forces with Alterra to look for a way to employ digestate for growing grass. More opportunities to use digestate make it easier to close mineral cycles.

Working together in one’s own backyard

This does not mean that Heineken has closed the cycles in its own operations, however, as the manure processing has nothing to do with the fields where the brewer grows its barley. “Cycles need to be closed globally,” Kempers says. “But helping to reduce fertiliser use in your own region is just as valuable as doing so in the cultivation of malting barley in France, say. What’s important is that we work together with others. This starts at home, in our own backyard.”