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‘It’s Crucial to Work With the Land’: How Mezcaleros Are Repurposing Waste

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Waste materials can help mezcaleros build their businesses. Bagazo, the fibrous solids left over from mezcal production, can be mixed with soil, water and compost to create adobe bricks to use for buildings, and to keep waste out of the Mexican state Oaxaca’s waterways.

“It is a method that our Maestro Mezcalero, Oscar Hernández, and his family learned from previous generations,” says Xaime Niembro, director at Gracias A Dios. After the adobe-bagazo bricks are made, the Gracias A Dios team also varnishes them to keep water out. It’s a time-consuming but worthwhile process, Niembro says. “Oaxaca is not an industrial or wealthy state in Mexico, so people are very creative when it comes to these sorts of projects.”

The Gracias a Dios team constructed their palenque, or mezcal distillery, from these bricks. The 9,000+-square-foot construction required 13,000 bricks. Later, they used them to build a new storage building and wall in their fermentation room.

As the mezcal industry balloons, so does its impact on the environment, and using up leftover bagazo is not the only problem to solve when it comes to securing a sustainable future for the spirit. For every bottle of mezcal produced, 10 times that volume of liquid waste is produced, according to Sombra Mezcal. This acidic waste, known as vinaza, sometimes finds its way into rivers and streams, reducing the oxygen levels and killing fish. The tequila industry also contends with this issue.

“There are still a lot of vinazas making their way into the Río Santiago, as any resident or frequent visitor to Tequila can attest,” says Clayton Szczech, founder and tour leader at Experience Agave.