In the Mexico town of Tequila, Jalisco, where the popular liquor is made, a little-known mess is being made of the land surrounding the distilleries.
For every liter of Tequila produced, ten liters of hot, liquid waste (called vinaza) and five to six kilograms of agave plant remnants (known as bagasse) are illegally disposed of. The agave plant is the main ingredient in Tequila.
While the government is supposed to monitor the disposal of the byproducts, a large amount is still dumped illegally, and it causing a lot of putrid damage to the environment.
José Hernández, a researcher with the University of Guadalajara and member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences said, “The vinazas are acidic, they have an oil that makes the soil impermeable, and are hot when they are dumped. The acid is not recommended for agriculture; it should be neutralized. The oil makes the soil hard so it is useless for farming. And where the ground cracks, the vinaza filters into underground water sources.”
As Tequila has now become Mexico’s top export, the land surrounding the distilleries has paid the price. Alejandro Viecco, however, saw a business opportunity in making the waste disposal an environmentally friendly process.
Viecco is the Director of Operations for Greenhouse Soluciones, and the company combines the bagasse and vinaza and turns it into compost to be sold to Mexican farmers who currently buy most of their compost from outside the country.
The larger producers have the resources to find environment-friendly ways of disposing of the waste, but about 50 percent of the tequila produces are small and medium sized businesses that do not have the money to abide by government rules and they choose to dispose of the leftovers illegally and harmfully.
Tequila Herradura, one of the largest producers turns the bagasse into mulch, and last year, built a water treatment facility for the liquid waste. The water is reportedly “so clean you could fish in it.”
But while Herradura and Viecco are trying to address the problem, with so many producers (146 in Jalisco), there is still a lot to be done.
Photo Credits: Truck unloading bagasse