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From water to beer: helping pubs reopen after Covid-19

I joined Water UK just over a year ago after finishing a PhD carrying out research on public health policy, and I work on the broad range of environmental policy that affects the water industry. Although I’ve spent most of this year working on – you guessed it – water, over the last few weeks my focus has been on a different liquid altogether…beer!  

With the warm weather we’ve had recently, people have begun to yearn for the simple pleasure of a cold beer at their local pub. So, many will have celebrated the news that pubs will be able to reopen their doors on 4th July. 

For pubs to emerge after such a long period of hibernation is not without challenges. The link between water companies and pubs might not be immediately obvious, but we’ve been helping with one of the key challenges – what to do with the beer pubs couldn’t sell while they’ve been closed.  

Beer that would normally have been sipped on summer evenings by thirsty punters has been sitting in cellars gathering dust and, sadly, spoiling to the point it can no longer be sold. For most pubs disposing of this beer in the normal way, by returning it to suppliers, was virtually impossible. Many pubs have underground cellars and while getting casks and barrels down is easy enough, getting them out again is a different story! Add to that strict social distancing rules and it quickly becomes a non-starter. 

So, what’s the solution? By far the most environmentally friendly thing to do is to use the beer for something else – like as an additive to animal feed or to produce gas to help heat people’s homes. For many pubs though this isn’t an option and, sadly, the only way to dispose of waste beer and make way for new stock is to pour it down the drain. 

Pouring beer down the drain, while a shame, might seem like an easy solution – but it’s not so simple. Water companies are responsible for our sewers and also have a duty to protect the environment and pouring lots of beer down the drain without having proper controls in place can cause pollution and potentially flooding. 

Which is why water companies have been working with the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) to make it as easy as possible for pubs to get rid of beer down the drain, while also making sure those vital controls are in place. 

Normally pubs would need to fill in application forms and pay a fee to dispose of beer down the drain. To speed things up water companies have waived this fee and streamlined the steps they need to take to approve an application. 

They have also, through Water UK, teamed up with the BBPA to ask landlords to contact their water companies as soon as possible to ensure their requests can be dealt with as efficiently as possible.  

You might not immediately think of your local water company being part of pubs reopening but as we start to emerge from lockdown we will all need to work together to get our society up and running again. And I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to my local pubgreat little place overlooking the river just past Hammersmith Bridge!