Alcohol and the environment – good or bad?

We all know that having a nice, cool beer on a sunny afternoon is completely harmless, or even a cheeky gin and tonic with your work colleagues on a Friday cannot possibly cause any damage.

Alcohol is a big part of the worlds culture and is what someone in America can have in common with someone in China. Alcohol is one of the largest industries in America and the same probably goes for Europe and Asia. It is universal.

However, we all know what happens when we start to abuse the substance; the hangovers, the aggression, the impacts on physical and mental health over time and of course, the Saturday night regrets.

But, do you understand the impacts it has not only on the human body, but on the planet?

Like other things humans consume – it requires a process – it doesn’t just magically appear on the counter shelf in your local shops, but that is strangely what some people tend to think.

*This disconnection from the products we consume is the same said for the food we eat, the clothes we buy and the gadgets we entertain ourselves with. In order to live in a greener world, we must make that connection between us and our materials.

Different types of alcohol consists of different types of ingredients, and each ingredient has to be grown. The most common ingredients to produce alcohol are; grains, rice, potatoes, botanicals, sugar cane and agave. Each of which require various amounts of water, fertilizer, land and use of machinery.

Think of the amount of alcohol you have drunk over your lifetime, you’d probably say you would need a whole farm just to support your habit! Joking apart – there is sure to be as much environmental impact from alcohol as there is from agriculture.

If we’re talking about human survival, starvation among the poor and good reasoning behind the waste of water, would you agree that alcohol is more important that these issues? Probably not.

The issue does not just come from the mothering of the ingredients, it also comes from the packaging and distribution. Imagine the number of bottles, cans, kegs, plastic and cardboard boxes that have been made to fuel humanity’s addiction!

Indeed, the majority of these resources are recyclable and reusable, but everyone has smashed a glass bottle before. Also, I doubt you’re going to be worried about recycling a glass bottle when you’re absolutely blasted.

In terms of distribution – think about this – the likes of tequila and scotch can only be made in their native country, how comes that if you were to go to almost any store in the world and both of them would most likely be available? God only knows how much carbon emission is behind each bottle of tequila.

* According to a recent piece featured in Mother Jones, each alcoholic beverage has environmental impacts that one might not think about.

* “In 2008, New Belgium Brewing Company commissioned an environmental analysis of its Fat Tire Amber Ale and found that refrigeration accounted for almost one-third of its overall greenhouse-gas emissions,” Keira Butler writes. “Glass production was second, contributing 22 percent.”

* According to a study by the Food Climate Research Network, “While beer accounts for 80.5 percent of alcohol consumption by volume, it emits only 62 percent of alcohol emissions. Wine’s volume share of alcohol consumption is 16 percent but its emissions contribute over 27 percent of the alcohol total. For spirits, the total volume of consumption is 3.5 percent while its share of emissions is 6.7 percent.”

The good news, as the evidence towards climate change is becoming more distinct day by day, it is important to praise companies who are doing their part to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Absolut Vodka

The Absolut distillery is carbon neutral certified, and one of the most energy-efficient in the world.

Their 1% waste to landfill policy is made possible by creatively reusing waste, such as ‘stillage’. This protein-rich bi-product from wheat-based vodka distillation is used to feed 290,000 pigs and cows at neighbouring farms in Ahus, Sweden, every day.

Adnams Whiskey

Have a ‘zero to landfill’ motto, sending the majority of their brewery and distillery waste to either feed cattle or to an anaerobic digester where it’s transformed into energy. They also use glass or 90% recycled aluminum for packaging and work with suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint every year – their carbon emissions down by 48% since 2008 – on their way!

In an ever changing society and planet, we must adjust our ways that have been embedded in human culture. This does not mean to abolish the food we love or the alcohol we enjoy, but to simply adjust the way in which its made, consumed and disposed to suit the planets needs, aswell as ours.

With technology exceeding human expectations, I think it is extremely possible to produce environmentally friendly alcohol across the globe.

Credit: William Wand – The Figure Head

Author: The Figure Head

Bringing you all the latest environmental news.

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