In Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) South Africa, hundreds of beds of spinach are ripe for the picking. It’s an unusual sight in an area plagued by drought and a water crisis, and perhaps just as unexpected is its location - at South African Breweries (Pty) Ltd (SAB).

The SAB site in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) is home to an innovative artificial wetland that treats the local brewery effluent and uses the water and nutrients to irrigate a sustainable crop of spinach for the local community.

The spinach crop is one outcome of several long-term water stewardship projects led by SAB, along with Rhodes University, The Nature Resource Management Programme and other partners. Altogether the effort is providing leafy greens and much more to the local community:  additional food security, new agricultural jobs and two million ZAR (South African rand) of value to the Gqeberha economy.

The project began 13 years ago when SAB paired up with Rhodes University, University of KwaZulu Natal and the Water Research Commission on a project to develop a fully green biological treatment solution for wastewater and other leftovers from the beer brewing process. The resulting system uses sustainable ponding and artificial wetland technologies to convert brewing byproducts into nutrient-rich water.

Aquaculture, hydroponics and more are among the many inventive technologies used by SAB in Gqeberha, South Africa for its new wetland that converts brewery wastewater into reusable, nutrient-rich water.

Now SAB is taking its commitment to water stewardship one step further, with the development of a 2,000 m2 commercial drip system for a local grower of spinach. The new crops are irrigated using the wastewater, which has enough nutrients to eliminate the need for additional fertilizers and water usage. What’s more, the spinach beds reduce the nutrient concentration enough that about 90% of the water can be recovered and reused in the brewery.

“What began as a project to treat our water has become so much more,” says Josh Hammann, SAB Director of Agricultural Development. “This is not only a first-of-its kind green biological treatment system for a brewery in Africa, but we were also able to double our impact to reduce our internal water consumption, and can now provide a source of food and income to our local community.”

Green impact: The SAB water stewardship projects aim to reduce water consumption at the site by 350,000 liters per day. Additionally, 100% of purchased electricity is expected to come from renewable sources with a 25% reduction in carbon emissions across the value chain.

The spinach growing project is part of several agricultural capital investments being made by SAB in partnership with local start-up business TaylorMade Water Solutions (TMWS). In the first year SAB has constructed a 2,000 m2 of raised beds and offering technical and business coaching assistance through its Supplier Development Program to prepare TMWS to become self-sufficient.

“These projects get us closer to achieving our sustainability goal to improve water availability and quality in high-stress areas,” says Josh Hammann. “We have proven our commitment to the environment and our local communities, as we all seek to build a stronger and more sustainable South Africa.”