Earths Alcohol Issue

 

Beer production is littered with environmental issues.   From the glass that is used to bottle to the grain that is used to produce the beer.  The main environmental concerns from the ground to your table are energy and water consumption.  The energy consumption is proportional to the carbon emissions and the water consumption is largely due to the barley farming and beer production.  We can easily find where these environmental impacts can be reduced by splitting the process into three stages.

  1. Production and shipping of raw materials
  2. Brewing process
  3. Delivery and refrigeration of the finished product

Packaging, barley, and the malting of barley account for most of the environmental impact in the first stage. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without quality loss.  In countries where bottle recycling is mandated, the impact of the container is considerably decreased.  The energy necessary to make aluminum cans is more than that for glass but its weight is less for transportation.  An option that is friendly to the environment is reusable containers such as growlers and kegs.

It takes 3.4 barrels of water to produce one barrel of beer and 2.38 barrels of that water are used during the farming of barley. The malting, drying and roasting of the barley consumes the largest portion of energy in the process.  The brewing of the beer itself accounts for less than 20% of the overall environmental impact and this percentage can be decreased significantly by being environmentally committed.

The environmental cost of beer during the transportation stage is increased when shipped by truck due to the weight of beer. Beer is best served cold and because of that 25% of the environmental footprint comes from refrigeration of the produced beer.

Reducing the water consumption looks to be the first area that could have significant positive effects on the brewing process.   How would you suggest reducing water consumption?  What area do you believe can be looked at to reduce the footprint?   How would you compare the environmental footprint of craft brewing to large brewing?  Should we all just get kegs?

Sources and More Information:

 

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “Earths Alcohol Issue

  1. Its hard to narrow down the best possible alternative to the beer production process. People like their beer how it is, and changing the grain type, formula, or any method for its manufacture will change the taste. I think the best method to reduce the environmental impact of beer would be to focus on the farming method used to grow the grain. Maybe there are alternative methods that reduce water consumption and can increase the efficiency of the farming process. The question that remains is cost. Are we willing to pay maybe 15 cents (just a guess) per can of beer? Another area that can be looked into is the bottling process used to make the beer. The left over barley could be used as fuel in a biomass production facility, or could be repurposed for other needs. While not necessarily reducing the footprint of the beer industry, it would be more beneficial to the environment. I don’t drink enough beer to have/ need a keg, plus cracking open a cold one just never gets old.

    Like

  2. The only way I can see reducing the water consumption is to find a more efficient way of watering the crop. I am not sure of how its done or how wasteful it is, but people aren’t going to want their beer to taste any different than it already does. If that means increasing the price per beer a little, I don’t think the average consumer is going to notice the difference unless they are an avid drinker. I do think that it is going to be a challenge to figure out, but since we consume enough beer as a country, it is something that needs to be figure out. I don’t think the solution is for everyone to get a keg, but a growler is more doable for most consumers. If more stores used reusable containers, the beer could be shipped in kegs to avoid the canning issue.

    Like

  3. I think it is safe to say that beer is not going anywhere. I would argue that rather than focusing on water consumption and recyclable product containers, it would be necessary to target sustainable farming practices of the grain products used, along with using electricity that is not generated from a coal-fired power plant during the brewing and refrigeration processes. After taking the Life Cycle Assessment course offered in our department and not only performing my own life cycle analysis, but also observing others’, it was apparent that environmental inefficiencies were most prevalent in the agricultural and transportation phases of production. To address more environmentally friendly farming practices, I feel that it would be necessary to promote regulations locally and internationally. I would also argue that while glass is considered 100% recyclable, it is much harder to clean and recover than aluminum is. Switching to all aluminum product containers could also save costs on shipping, considering that it is lighter than glass.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There definitely needs to be some kind of push policy-wise to change methods surrounding the growing of the grain. Although I can see the uproar in my head that would transpire across news networks with headlines like “Liberals want to tax your beer” or “Prohibition 2.0.” Americans love their alcohol. So, while it may be easy for someone who doesn’t drink to say go ahead and tax transports by distance or tax glass bottles, someone who consumes the beer may find those notions to be repulsive. Another big factor (as mentioned by others) is the effect that packaging and type of processing/transport have on the taste of the beer. Some consumers will refuse to switch from their glass bottles and may jump to a different brand of beer if such a change were to occur. An ideal world would have market forces play out to result in a societal shift to growlers or kegs, but those dreams may not pan out for a long while (if at all) so maybe we need to subsidize or tax certain aspects of beer production to move the industry toward a more environmentally friendly position.

    Like

  5. One thing to think about for the packaging portion of the problem is that the growlers and kegs take up a lot of resources/ energy to use as well. It’s a similar problem with plastic bags vs. reusable bags that are used for shopping. Let’s say you purchase a growler than can be used for a lifetime and the production of the growler takes 30 times more aluminum and energy to create than an aluminum can. This would mean that unless you use it 30+ times before you either lose it or get a new one, then you are doing more harm than good. It is the same with personal kegs (however, these are normally rented – greatly increasing the number of uses and decreasing the impact) and reusable shopping bags. Because of this issue, unless we can change the culture of lifetime container consumers (people who purchase permanent containers such as growlers instead of buying one time use containers), I don’t believe changing the medium of storage will help the problem. I believe sustainable farming or water consumption practices would be more effective to mitigate impact from the beer industry.

    Like

  6. Thanks for this post! As a craft-beer lover, this was a great reminder of the environmental impacts of the beer industry. I concur with other comments that reducing water consumption at the agricultural level would have an enormous impact on the water use within the beer industry. Like many other environmental issues though, that would require fundamental changes both within industry and agricultural practices, as well as policy changes and initiatives within governmental entities. That said, I think the monumental increase of craft breweries over the past few years has and will have a great impact on the environmental responsibility of the industry. Craft brewers are very typically involved within their communities (think Terrapin or Creature Comforts!), and are more likely to seek out innovative practices as new and creative ways of doing things is often a source of pride for craft brewers. Additionally, these brewers are often small businesses, so determining the most efficient approaches to brewing, refrigerating, recovering materials, etc. is a major money-saver. Further, the production volume of a brewery typically dictates where their product is sold, so the vast majority of craft brewers only distribute their beer locally or regionally, reducing transportation costs. I don’t think craft breweries will make the industry more sustainable alone, but they are certainly playing an increasingly valuable role in implementing more sustainable practice and innovations. Cheers!!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I think the beer industry simply knows who their target market is. They know that the average beer drinker is typically a middle-class male who more than likely doesn’t even know how he’s getting home from the bar after five drinks. You see this targeting in their commercials with the deep-voiced guy saying he doesn’t drink much, but when he does, he drinks a certain beer (surrounded by half-naked women). For the most part, the Most Interesting Man in the World is not conserving energy by recycling or promoting the conservation of water. He’s wrestling a bear or committing arson. I think that the beer industry needs to make changes among larger beer companies as far as promotion and influencing public opinion. I think if the beer industry used their environmentally-friendly efforts as a promotion, they will actually succeed in sustainability effort.

    Like

  8. In answer to your question “Should we all just get kegs?”: yes. But actually though, that raises another environmental concern in terms of food waste. Beer does go bad, so unless you’re drinking with your buddies, you could end up wasting a lot if you’re just trying to have a casual beer with your pizza on a Tuesday – and then all the energy and environmental costs discussed in this post were all for nothing. As a craft beer fan myself, I loved Amy’s comment about local craft beer being more in tune to the local community and therefore more likely to engage in innovation and sustainability issues. For Georgia specifically though, I have to mention our strange laws on how we sell beer at craft breweries, the whole “tour + glass” thing – I would love to know how many glasses Terrapin and Creature go through in a given week. Based on the lines at Creature on a Friday, it has to be a significant amount. In most other states, breweries just reuse their glasses like a normal bar!! Granted the breweries in one state don’t even begin to compare to the environmental impact of the beer industry as a whole, but it’s a very specific example of how poorly designed policy can inadvertently have big environmental impacts.

    Like

  9. Kegs are great for a group party or if many people throw in to save money and get the most bang for your buck. As others have said this does not account for someone just wanting a casual beer at dinner without the intention of throwing down. Personally, I am a big fan of craft beer so I agree that we should lean towards that with the hope of reducing the environmental costs associated with transportation. Craft beer is the REAL beer, and people need to understand this, not only for the exceptionally better taste, but for the ENVIRONMENT!!

    Like

  10. I agree with the comments above that people like their beer how it is now, and any change in that would likely result in unhappy customers and a dip in sales. With that being said, I think the focus needs to be on more sustainable farming and watering processes. Updating the irrigation systems with the most recent technology could make the watering process more efficient and reduce water use. Regarding transportation of the beer once it has been brewed, I think the growth of local, craft breweries could help reduce the environmental impact. From my experience, the local breweries are typically not shipping their beer across the country, it seems to stay in the state or region for the most part. There will always be Budweiser, Coors, Miller Lite and all of the big brands shipping beer across the country, but if a “buy local” movement on beer could get momentum, I think that would help.

    Like

  11. Most individuals who drink a lot of beer are unlikely to accept change in taste/bottling or canning/price, as it has been a constant for quite some time. While I personally enjoy craft beers like a few others do, there are many beer drinkers that enjoy the good ole fashion American Breweries(Anheuser Busch, MillerCoors) and the price and consistency they offer. On the other hand, I like the idea of better farming practices, but I feel like that is something that farmers and professionals have already sought out and currently use. Farmers make more money if they use the most efficient amount of water possible while also growing the crop fast enough. I think the best option we have in reducing environmental impact is the mandated reuse of glass bottles. While bumping up the price of beer across the country due to collection costs and cleaning costs, we could also provide some sort of alcohol tax reduction based on how many glass bottles were returned.

    Like

  12. Beer is definitely a very popular product in the US and the world. Consumers drink it for many events and some even drink it every minute of every day. I can see where it can have an environmental impact, however, we can say that about almost any product. The LCA of every product will have some sort of a negative environmental impact. The key is to reduce and reuse like you have mentioned in order to minimize those effects and I believe the best ways to go about that are to bring attention of these concerns to the public and further technological advancements. If the public develops an awareness for these concerns, that will further promote recycling, and reducing material usage. As for water consumption, we will need improved technology to increase the efficiency of the water usage.

    Like

  13. While I would like to be able to buy a keg of beer at a time, I don’t think I could get myself to drop $250 or more to buy one. However, if my favorite beers were on tap at liquor stores, I would be willing to bring in a growler or two to fill up, instead of buying a 6 pack. There might be many people in Athens willing to do that as well, but I don’t know how that would scale across the country. I am also curious about the difference in the carbon footprint of transporting bottles versus cans. Even though bottles may require less energy to make, are they still making a larger negative impact on the environment in the big picture?

    Like

  14. I enjoyed reading this, you don’t typically hear someone talk about how environmental unfriendly brewing beer can be. It makes sense though since it requires a variety of ingredients, equipment, and time. As you mentioned, water consumption seems to the main area of concern and I believe that can be addressed by reusing whatever water can be reused.

    Like

  15. Interesting read, I think that Chase has a great point about the growler/keg situation. Without using the growler numerous times, you are doing more harm than good when it comes to container choice. With that being said, I understand why there is a market for glass containers intended for single use. I can’t put my finger on it, but I prefer glass bottled beer than from a can.

    Like

  16. Your blog post was very eye catching to me as a college student who enjoys beer. I hadn’t thought about its environmental impact other than in pervious classes when we discussed how Athens bars don’t recycle and how big of a difference it would be to change this. I’m not positive but I think that also Athens as a city doesn’t take glass as a recyclable. Why this is I’m not sure.. maybe the energy required to recycle it here surpasses the energy it would save if recycled. Bars and restaurants having more beers on draft in comparison to beers for purchase could help this problem some. I think that farming in general needs a more efficient way of watering as well.

    Like

  17. This is definitely an article I was intrigued to read. I’ve heard mention of the water and resources it takes to make a soda merely in passing and was astounded by the numbers and impacts it had. I would definitely be interested to see the comparison between soda and beer in terms of their environmental impacts in regards to both direct resources (containers and packaging, the actual product, etc..) and indirect resources (water and electricity used in the production, shipping expenses, and whatever else has to be used to make the product). Not only do these highly processed beverages undergo an energy intensive process but so does a beverage as simple as water. Again, I really appreciated how this blog was relative and relatable!

    Like

  18. Intersting post! I wasn’t aware of the environmental impact involved with brewing and packaging beer. While I think that it would be difficult to try to change the process of how beer is brewed, I think the easiest thing to do that would make the greatest environmental impact would be to change the materials that are used in the packaging of beer and other alcohols. I have seen numerous breweries, including Creatures Comforts, using a more environmental friendly version of the 6-pack plastic rings. The newer material that they use are not only reusable, but they use easily recyclable material that are biodegradable. I believe changing things such as this would be easier than changing how the beer is brewed. I believe that would be a more difficult task due to the very specific process that is involved in creating what the brewery is believed to be the perfect taste.

    Like

  19. Reading this post just made me think of how crucial reducing the impact of electricity production in regards to environmental problems. The beer making process doesn’t seem to have as many opportunities for improving its efficiency other than its source of energy.

    Like

  20. This a interesting perspective on the industry. How do beer companies compare to the production of sodas? If soda’s have better environmental friendly production rate, can the beer industry adopt some of those habits since they have similar packaging styles?

    Like

  21. I personally do not think that beer poses much of an environmental threat. The only problems relating to beer that can affect the environment are not exclusive to the production/distribution of beer. Rather they are larger problems that already have a pretty big focus on them such as more efficient farming practices and recycling. Until these more important issues are solved I don’t see anything changing in the beer process.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s