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The Resource

Date: Dec 14, 2018

by Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

The Guiness Brewery.Do you like green beer? Not the dyed frothy beverage some people drink on St. Patrick’s Day, but beer that’s made with sustainability in mind. If so, you’re not alone. These days, many beer enthusiasts are even willing to pay more for sustainable beer. In fact, this focus on sustainability is found across consumer markets: a global Nielsen study found that 66 percent of respondents would pay more for products made by sustainable companies, and a Cone Communications study found that 76 percent of Americans expect businesses to address climate change.

Some might say this expectation could negatively affect a company’s bottom line, but studies show that sustainability is good business. An eight-year study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group found that companies can profit by implementing sustainability practices. A study by CDP shows that companies that do this enjoy an 18 percent higher return on investment (ROI) than companies that do not. And a Harvard Business School study shows that one dollar invested in 1993 in a portfolio of companies focused on environmental issues while growing their business would have increased to $28 in 2013 – nearly twice the ROI as a dollar invested in companies focused only on growth in the same time period.

While a global circular economy may seem impossible to some, industry leaders, such as Google, Philips and Unilever, are looking for ways to make it work for them.

Two pints of Guiness.This brings me back to the beer: as a closed-loop model, a circular economy relies heavily on waste prevention and natural resource conservation, and it just so happens one company operating in Baltimore County is leading the way toward a sustainable future by changing its approach to waste.

Located in Halethorpe, Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House is Baltimore County’s newest and largest brewery and the brand’s first U.S. brewery in more than 60 years. Over the last several years, Guinness’ parent company, Diageo, has made great strides in sustainability, most recently making the Global 100, which places them among the most sustainable companies in the world. In addressing waste, the company is wasting no time, with a target of eliminating waste to landfill from their operations by 2020. Besides recycling, their methods for doing so include:

  • Phasing out plastic straws and stirrers in their establishments.
  • Making packaging more sustainable by reducing the overall packaging weight, increasing the level of recycled materials used in packaging, and ensuring all packaging is recyclable or reusable.
  • Using waste for agricultural purposes. Brewing and distilling by-products are now being used by farmers as animal feed.

Diageo has also committed to establishing sustainable supply chains by working with local suppliers, encouraging suppliers and business partners to adopt similar sustainability standards, and by providing training to help their suppliers do so. Diageo also seeks to use and waste fewer natural resources by improving water and energy efficiency, sourcing low-carbon or renewable energy and using new technology to eliminate unnecessary materials from operations.

Since 2009, Diageo has reduced packaging weight by eight percent, increased recycled material in their packaging by 40 percent, and improved the recyclability of their packaging by almost 99 percent. The company has reduced waste going to landfill by 90 percent and absolute carbon emissions by 36 percent since 2007.

Lastly, Diageo and Guinness undertook a massive “upcycle” project by rehabbing old buildings that housed an historic whiskey distillery instead of building new structures for the brewery site, using recycled and low VOC (volatile organic compound) materials in the process.

Visit Diageo’s website for more information about the company’s zero waste to landfill target and efforts to reduce its environmental impact. To learn more about the brewery, visit

By Jeanette Garcia Polasky, Department of Public Works

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate 25 percent more waste. Not only do our celebrations, decorations and gift giving create more trash, but they can cost a lot, too. That means now is a great time to find ways to save money and waste less, such as upcycling items you already own.

Artist Liz Burnett and five upcycle project participants.In November, artist Liz Burnett led several county employees and residents in a workshop to make holiday wreaths from old sheet music and broken jewelry. A MICA graduate, Liz is a versatile artist specializing in jewelry, crafts, murals, illustration, graphic design and photography. She sells upcycled jewelry and art through her business, Schlegel Bagel Design. She also offers classes on how to make one-of-a-kind creations out of things people have around the house.

While her first love is painting, Liz said two things inspired her to start making upcycled art. First, she cares deeply about the environment and wants to reuse as much material as possible rather than buying everything new. Second, she wants to save money. “I needed to make things without spending a lot of cash,” she said. “I liked the idea of reusing things destined for the dump that still had some life, and it was a challenge to make the most beautiful things for the least amount of money.”

When it comes to materials, Liz’s favorite to work with is broken kitchenware. “It has so many possibilities to be turned into something new,” she said. Her favorite piece is a necklace she made from broken Pyrex someone sent to her from New Zealand. “You can’t get the pattern here, and it’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s called, ‘Red Poppies,’ and the bowl was red with a dark purple flower print.”

The upcycle project.As for the upcycle workshop, none of the participants had attended one before, but it didn’t take them long to get the hang of it. In under an hour, each person created a unique paper wreath made with 95-year-old sheet music, beads and hot glue. You can see photos from the workshop and find step-by-step instructions for the paper cone wreath and paper flowers online.

Everyone said they learned something from the experience:

It never occurred to me that you could make something beautiful out of 95-year-old paper! – Sharon

You can take something old and make it new while having fun together as a group. – Ella

I especially liked learning to reuse paper, something we think of as immediately recyclable, creatively to make something that will last. – Natalie

This workshop was a wonderful reminder of how much more fun things can be when done as a group. The ladies of the old fashioned quilting bees had it right. – Kathleen

All of the participants said they’d attend upcycle workshops in the future, and they even offered up some waste prevention tips of their own:

  • Use reusable containers to carry your lunch instead of plastic food storage bags. Keep a recycling bin in more than one room in your house. – Natalie
  • Use items like old boots and buckets as planters. Take building fixtures, wood and other construction debris to The Loading Dock, which builds homes with the material. Make a Maryland-themed decoration from cleaned blue crab shells by painting them any way you like. They look great as beach décor or even a Christmas wreath or ornament. All it takes is a little imagination! – Sharon
  • Buy used Christmas ornaments at yard sales and thrift stores, or round up ones you already own, and upcycle them with craft supplies. Use plastic shopping bags to weave mats and rugs. – Ella
  • Purchase products in reusable packaging whenever possible. For example, I buy a brand of jams and jellies that come in a glass mug. Go against the grain of our modern “throw-away” society. Go old school in your thought process; back to basics. And learn to sew. – Kathleen

Do you have upcycle projects or waste prevention ideas you’d like to share? Send them to 

Follow Liz Burnett on Instagram at @schlegelbagelburnett. Find more holiday upcycle ideas on Pinterest. For waste prevention tips and strategies, follow Clean Green Baltimore County on Facebook or visit the County’s website.

Dec 2018
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Revised October 25, 2019