A row of urinals in a public bathroom.

Journeying from the Potty to the Pint Glass

Forget turning water into wine: an Alberta team is showing off how wastewater-turned-beer can be good for taste buds and the planet.


Fancy a beer? What if it was made with wastewater?

It might sound gross, but climate change, dwindling groundwater supplies and urbanization are fuelling water scarcity around the globe. As a result, there is growing pressure to find alternative water sources.

One option is treating and reusing wastewater. This water comes from flushing toilets, doing laundry and pretty much anything else that sends ‘used’ water down the drain.

Generally, wastewater is treated and discharged into rivers and waterways, where it is diluted and dispersed. Scientifically there is no problem re-using wastewater after it’s been treated, but it can still be hard to get over the yuck factor.

To showcase the value of wastewater, University of Calgary researchers partnered with a local brewery and a global water technology company to produce Alberta’s first wastewater beer.

“It started as a bit of a joke,” explains Christine O’Grady, program co-ordinator at the University of Calgary’s Advancing Canadian Water Assets research group. Could we actually do this? Would anyone voluntarily drink it?

Together with Village Brewery and Xylem Inc., the research group set about creating their wastewater beer.

The municipal wastewater went through an advanced treatment system to ensure it could meet Canadian Water Drinking Guidelines. First up, the conventional wastewater treatment process removed solids, organic matter and microorganisms.

After this, the water got advanced treatment: ultrafiltration, oxidation and ultraviolet disinfection, which can remove 99.9999% of viruses and pathogens. Finally, reverse osmosis removed any remaining organic compounds and microorganisms. These added treatment stages go above and beyond what is normally used in standard processing.

Before it got anywhere near the brewery, the water was tested to make sure it met the highest water quality standards. Once given the all clear, the brewers got to work producing a limited batch of Village Blonde Ale. The small batch of 1,600 cans sold old in just two weeks.

“There’s a mental hurdle to get over of how inherently gross this could be,” says Jeremy McLaughlin, head brewer at Village Brewery. “But we know that this water is safe, we know that this beer is safe, and we stand by our process.”

This is by no means the first time reclaimed water has been reused for drinking. In Singapore, ‘NEWater’ meets up to 40% of the current water demand, a number that is expected to grow to 55% by 2060. But this beer is a reminder that we can get over the yuck factor.

“Proper stewardship of water resources is critical to the planet’s sustainability, and water reuse can reduce the amount of freshwater required by some applications and decrease diversion from sensitive ecosystems,” says O’Grady. “This beer shows that water reuse can be a safe and important part of our sustainable future.”

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Amy Noise is a science communicator who is fascinated by how and why the world works. Always learning, she is passionate about science and sharing it with the world to improve and protect our health, society and environment. Amy earned her BSc (biology and science communication) at the University of Manchester, and MSc (nutrition science and policy) at King’s College London, UK. She tweets sporadically @any_noise