Empty 55-pound malting bags had started piling up at Mad Mole Brewing last spring.
Dano Ferons, the brewery’s operation manager, wanted to find a way to recycle the tough plastic, but he didn’t know quite where to start. The problem had been put on the backburner even as the pile continued to grow, Ferons said.
“They hold 55 pounds of grain and you can literally hold it by like one corner of the sack, and it won't tear,” he said about the bags. “They're really industrial.”
Mad Mole Brewing opened its doors in 2018 and is located at 6309 Boathouse Road in Wilmington. Known for its "brewed by the sun" tagline, the brewery uses solar panels on its roof to power its brewing operations.
Eventually, Ferons reached out to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington about hosting an intern to tackle the dilemma. There, he found success. Student Carmen Keene interned with Mad Mole Brewing that summer. After researching and talking with local recycling centers, Keene established a partnership with UNCW’s on-campus recycling depot.
They agreed to take the bags and sell them to a buyer who would shred them up or melt them down into a new use, Ferons said. The bag recycling is open to all local breweries.
Keene also established partnerships with environmental groups, including Cape Fear Riverwatch and the Plastic Ocean Project, to use the sturdy malting bags during collections of trash and recyclables.
“It just gives that bag another life,” Ferons said. “It can be used a little bit longer.”
Keene’s internship kicked off a string of collaborations between Mad Mole and UNCW students. The following fall semester, the brewery hosted Helia Schoenfeld, a student who focused on the brewery’s day-to-day operations.
Back in 2020, the brewery had started working with a local garden club and Airlie Gardens to compost trub, a byproduct of the brewing process, Ferons said. Before that partnership, the brewery had simply washed trub, which is high in nitrogen and phosphorus, down the drain.
Even with the composting partnerships, the brewery was producing more trub than could be used, so Schoenfeld took a stab at the problem. She helped form a partnership with the Wilmington Compost Company to compost the brewery’s trub on a larger scale.
Now, the brewery has barrels of trub picked up and composted on a weekly basis, Ferons said.
Schoenfeld also worked to spruce up the brewery’s taproom with wood panels that are recycled from pallets and from Legacy Architectural Salvage, a part of the Wilmington Historic Foundation, Ferons said.
The latest UNCW student intern Maddy Maranda helped the brewery expand its recycling of the hard plastic PakTech toppers that help secure the brewery’s six-packs and four–packs of beer. The brewery accepts used PakTech from any pack of beer.
“We’ll wash them all, rinse them, sanitize them and then we sort through them,” Ferons said.
Maranda helped improve the brewery’s system for sorting the PakTech, Ferons said. She also examined how the brewery handled its stormwater and runoff into the nearby Bradley Creek.
She ultimately formed a relationship with the N.C. Coastal Federation and applied for a grant to assist with stormwater mitigation. The grant successfully secured funding to install permeable pavers in Mad Mole’s parking lot to collect stormwater and allow it to flow into the ground instead of Bradley Creek.
Ferons said he’s grateful for the partnership with UNCW and the accomplishments of the past interns. “We wouldn't be where we are now without them,” he said.
The brewery plans to host another intern fro UNCW this fall.
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