From beer to plants; using a green wall to help filter wastewater at RIT

Local News

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — Brewing beer and making wine requires a lot of labor and material and that means a lot of waste product. Since the industry falls under agriculture, it is allowed to send wastewater to treatment plants instead of having to treat the water onsite. This means that a large amount of wastewater that could be used in other ways is simply being sent to be treated elsewhere and could potentially cause damage to the environment. 

A team of scientists at RIT are working to fix this with plants. They have designed a horizontal wall that could hold plants fed by wastewater from the brewing process. “The plants can grab the water as they need,” said Josh Goldowitz, a Professor of environmental sustainability at RIT. Some of his work has been with using plants to decontaminate soil. This is a version of that with a green wall.  

“The wastewater that they have from producing wine and beer and cleaning the system also has nitrogen, phosphorus in it, and that can get down into the Finger Lakes, and lead to some of the algal blooms we’ve had as problems recently,” said Goldowitz. 

This may have been fine with just a few wineries and breweries, but as the number goes up, the problem goes up. Scott Wolcott is a civil engineering and technology professor at RIT and helped design the structure. “A lot of wineries and small craft brewers discharge that wastewater to their septic system, and it’s bad for the septic system because it’ll clog it up,” said Wolcott. 

It uses recycled glass as a medium for the plants to grow. The wastewater is then run through this and collects at the bottom of the wall. “The plants uptake nitrogen and some phosphorus, but mostly it’s the bacteria and the yeast that do the breaking down of the organic matter and also transformation of the nitrogen.” 

The team is working to find a location and a willing brewery to start a pilot site within the next six months. 

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