Distillery as an example of circular economy with a focus on bio-based streams.
In general, only 10 percent of the raw material entering a distillery turns into a liqueur or brandy. The majority of what is left is waste signifying substantial disposal issues. Functional and well-thought waste management system is key for efficient recycling and reuse of nutrients and resources.
The distillery in Jelšovce, Slovakia established a unique system leading to almost a zero-waste production. It is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, based on a modern method of distillation management using the latest knowledge in the burning process. Already the first step works as a waste prevention measure, since all fruits are manually picked up from trees and shrubs.The main process takes place in a single-boiler device with a rectification multi-storey column.
The first distillate containing methanol is toxic. It is used by a local producer of paints. The fruit ferment is used by local farmers as an effective fertilizer with no odour in comparison with liquid manure. It is available free of charge. For instance, the apricot seeds are taken gratis by a Swiss pharmaceutical company for further production. The fruit kernels are available free of charge for heating purposes as it was discovered that their caloric value is even higher than in wood.
This way, the environmental impacts of the distillery are minimized. Furthermore, valuable nutrients are returned back to nature and side-products are reused elsewhere following the principles of industrial symbiosis.
The distillery is a private company. It is operated by 3-4 employees (depending on season) including the professionals controlling whole process. The distillery receives the fees also from growers who have the option of producing the distillate from their own fruits.
Evidence of success
Currently, the distillery is well-known for the modern method of distillation management meeting the strictest EU rules and using the latest knowledge in the burning process. Local community likes to use the valuable side-streams (e.g. ferment or kernels) free of charge. In Slovak conditions, this case of industrial symbiosis, although small-scaled, is unique. Moreover, produced distillates ranks among the top quality and well-sold regional products.
Potential for learning or transfer
Production of fruit distillates is a traditional activity in Slovakia and in the region. In the surrounding region, there are tens of distilleries that are relatively evenly distributed. Most of them process plums, apples, apricots, pears, etc. The Jelšovce Distillery representing an interesting example of circular economy of bio-based streams that could be inspiration for other distilleries. This relates mainly to the waste management, since most of the distilleries do not explore the possibilities of such valuable use of side-streams as the one in Jelšovce.
The operation of all distilleries must be approved by authorities and is subject to several laws focused mainly on safety, quality of distillate, taxes, etc., but regulation on waste is generally weak. There are also cases of its illegal dumping.
This well functioning system can serve as a model for authorities to adopt more specific measures on distillery waste and thus contribute to closing the loop of biological streams.
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