Sri Lankan social media users share misleading claim about beer produced with waste water

·4 min read

A screenshot of a Sinhala-language newspaper article about beer supposedly produced using waste water has been shared thousands of times by Sri Lankan Facebook users who claim the article is referring to alcohol available within the crisis-hit country. However, the claim is misleading. The newspaper article refers to beer produced in Singapore using recycled water, not waste water. Beer manufacturers in Sri Lanka also told AFP that local breweries do not use recycled water.

"I dare you to drink now," reads in part the Sinhala-language caption of a Facebook post shared here on May 29, 2022.

It has since been shared more than 2,000 times.

The post features a screenshot of an article from local newspaper Maubima, with the headline "Beer produced off waste water now in markets".

The article was featured on a morning television programme on local station Derana that picks out daily newspaper highlights.

Text overlaid on the screenshot reads: "Beware of drinking beer. Beer produced from waste water now in markets."

Screenshot of the Facebook post, captured on June 1, 2022

The same screenshot with overlaid text was shared over 400 times elsewhere on Facebook here and here.

It circulated after local media reported in March that alcohol prices had been increased in crisis-hit Sri Lanka. The price of alcohol was raised even further on June 1 following a hike in local taxes.

Comments on the misleading posts indicated that users believed the newspaper article was referring to beer produced in Sri Lanka.

One comment read: "Foreign beer is unaffordable and now local manufacturers feed us crap. What a country we live in!"

Another commenter wrote: "Beer companies cost-cutting due to economic crisis?"

However, the claim is misleading.

Singaporean beer company

A keyword search found the Maubima article was published here on May 29.

The article refers to the beer production process employed by a company in Singapore, not Sri Lanka.

The article reads: "Beer is one of the most popular beverages in the world. A large volume of water is required in the beer production process and 90 percent of beer consists of water. Singapore, as a country that faces a water crisis, has found a wonderful solution to the issue. That is to produce beer using waste water that even contains sewage contents.

"This special new beer variety known as NEWBrew, produced by a Singaporean company, is produced using waste water. The water used in the production has been treated and filtered."

Brewerkz, which produces NEWBrew in Singapore, describes the beer as "possibly Singapore's greenest beer" since it only uses recycled water in its production process.

The company's website explains that its beer is made using NEWater, a brand of recycled water produced by Singapore's Public Utilities Board (PUB).

"Used water is treated at PUB’s water reclamation plants before undergoing further purification with advanced membrane technologies and ultraviolet disinfection," the website reads.

Waste water vs recycled water

The article uses the terms "waste water" and "recycled water" synonymously, however "waste water" refers to water than has been used and has not yet been treated.

Meththika Vithanage, a professor and senior lecturer at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, told AFP that: "Waste water is water that is discarded from homes, industrial plants etc. Recycled water is discarded water that is put through a treatment process in order to purify it to be safe for human consumption."

She explained that, in Singapore, all waste water is taken to a central treatment plant where it is treated using reverse osmosis -- the process of purifying water by forcing it through a membrane.

"Once the water is purified, the minerals and other nutrients are added into the treated water to ensure the nutritional value of water is retained," Vithanage added.

Local brewers dismiss claim

Currently there are only two beer producers in Sri Lanka: Lion Brewery (Ceylon) PLC and Heineken Lanka Limited.

Lion Brewery's head of corporate communications Keerthi Kanaheraarachchi told AFP that neither of the local breweries used recycled water in their production process.

"Lion Brewery does not use recycled water in our production. We ensure our production process maintains the highest standards, which are globally recognised," he explained.

Heineken Lanka's senior manager for corporate affairs Sean Henricus also refuted the claims.

"We would like to reassure our consumers that our brands are manufactured under stringent standards to ensure the superior quality of our products at all times in all Heineken breweries around the world, including Sri Lanka," he told AFP.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting