I have to confess that when it came to alcohol, I didn't think much about eco-friendliness beyond the best way to recycle the bottle. But as it turns out, one's beverage of choice can be pretty taxing on the environment.
From the growing of plants, through to the brewing or distillation process and the packaging, transport and distribution of products, there are a number of impactful processes involved in bringing a drink to your table. But there are ways to minimise the impact of your happy hour. For example, plain glass bottles, as opposed to frosted or cut glass, are better for the environment as they require less energy and chemicals to produce. Find out more below.
The biggest issue with wine is transportation. Wine, bottled in glass and shipped from Europe or New Zealand or even trucked across Australia carries a massive carbon footprint. Compared to other types of alcohol — especially spirits — wine has upsides, mainly because the production process is less energy intensive, requires less heating and uses far less water. The best option is buying locally produced wine requiring minimum transport in sustainable packaging. For example, cask wine in post-consumer recycled content cardboard packaging with a plastic bladder that can be recycled through REDcycle. Some wineries are even reusing wine bottles (after sterilising), which is a great way to cut down on their footprint.
Beer and cider
Beer has the accolade that, relative to its level of consumption, it produces the least carbon emissions of all alcohols. However, it isn't perfect. Its production requires significant amounts of water — both at the growing and distilling stage — and energy. It is estimated that to make one litre of beer, breweries consume anywhere between 20 and 60 litres of water. Then there is refrigeration, which is energy intensive.
On the plus side, beer is commonly sold in aluminium cans, which typically have a high level of recycled content and are lighter to transport. Buying from local breweries is key to keeping the carbon footprint from transport down as is recycling the container, regardless of whether it is in a can or bottle. There are also some great manufacturers doing good things to mitigate environmental impact, which we have written about in the past.
Cider is similar to beer in terms of its packaging but comes out in front due to its simple production process and less resource-intensive raw materials — it’s made from apples or pears grown in orchards. If you can snag a locally produced cider, in recycled aluminium, you are onto a winner.
Unfortunately, spirits are the least eco-friendly of all alcohol, with vodka, tequila and rum being the worst offenders. This is primarily due to the distillation process, which is incredibly water and energy intensive, but also how the raw ingredients — potato, grain, agave, sugar cane, etc. — are grown. The entire production process not only consumes large amounts of water and raw materials, but also create lots of waste water and waste product, especially tequila and rum. Spirits that undergo more complex distillation, like vodka and some whiskeys, double down on this. If your cocktail hour is compulsory, make sure to look for brands that work hard to mitigate their impact on the environment.
The upshot is that all alcohol, which is arguably a luxury item, comes with an environmental cost. We need to consider our consumption carefully, buy xproducts requiring minimum transportation and research manufacturers so that we can cause the least impact on the environment.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.