Beer & Cider: environmental and social impacts
The environmental impacts of beer and cider range from the agricultural aspect of growing grain (barley, wheat, or sometimes rice), hops, apples and other fruit, as well as the water use, wastewater, waste and energy involved in brewing. It also includes the packaging types used, the transportation of the products and finally, the energy used to refrigerate the products.
Firstly, the traditional growing method for barley includes repeat tilling of land as well as the use of fertilisers and pesticides. One report, which carried out a literature review of 15 studies, found that 22% of the carbon footprint of beer is attributed to raw material production. The use of water in brewing from cleaning to cooling (as well as for the cultivation of raw ingredients), along with wastewater and solid waste disposal, are major contributors to beer’s environmental impact. The energy used in brewing, and for the refrigeration of products (at home or in bars), contributes significantly to the products’ carbon footprint. The same report has found that packaging accounts for 40% of the carbon footprint. The beer packaging with the highest environmental impact is glass bottles and aluminium cans. The impact decreases with steel cans, reusable glass bottles and kegs. Other issues with packaging include the plastic rings surrounding 6 packs, much at the forefront of consumers’ minds.
Interestingly, there are many innovations in brewing such as the reuse of wastewater, the use of alternative inputs to virgin wheat such as surplus bread, the repurposing of solid waste from brewing into pig feed, and the use of alternative packaging materials such as paper bottles and biodegradable 6 pack rings.
The social impact of beer is less defined by the working conditions in the supply chain and is more focused on the alcoholic content of the beverages. The Drinkaware Trust, which provides science based facts and advice about drinking, cites a myriad of long and short term health effects attributed to alcohol consumption. These effects range from diseases, mental health impacts, fertility reduction, age and gender-specific issues to alcohol poisoning and dependency. In 2014, the World Health Organisation stated that annually 3.3 million deaths worldwide were caused by harmful alcohol consumption. As a result, many alcohol companies, including beer and cider producers, have made corporate responsibility engagements that help reduce alcohol abuse. For instance, one study found that these initiatives focus on reducing harmful drinking, education and information provision, as well as drunk driving prevention.