The Pint of No Return

Gabrielle Klemt - 4B geological
Posted on: February 7, 2020

What is the environmental cost of all that drinking?
Here at Leafy Thoughts, I’m always curious about my effect on the planet. Here in Engineering, we live firmly by the creed “technically, alcohol is a solution”. What is the commonality between alcohol and the environment, you may wonder? Let me explain. This issue will be coming out the week after Disorientation Week, that time when the fourth years go a little nuts in the lead-up to getting ringed. No small amount of alcohol will be consumed during this week, and this got me thinking: what is the effect of all this drinking, not on our bodies or our wallets, but on the environment? Read on for a free FYDP idea.
Alright, let’s start with the oBREWvious: we use a lot of water in the process of making beer, wine, and other drinks that, when you get right down to it, are not strictly ~necessary~ for us to live. Some may choose to argue me on this, but I’m just giving you the facts.
What about energy though? If you’ve ever been to a brewery you’ve seen those big steel containers, some of them are heaters, some are coolers, either way, they use energy. It’s also energy-intensive to ship the products, as with any mass-produced thing, and there is a lot of plastic, metal, glass, and cardboard used in this process that does not get recycled. But hey, “shop local” doesn’t just need to apply to fruit and veg, reduce your carbon emissions by buying local brews! Of course, if you want to have tequila or scotch or a nice French wine, you’re going to have to consider the trip it made to get to you in Canada.
But aside from the obvious impact of delivery, what are the hidden environmental costs? Refrigeration might just be number one on the list! Number two? Glass. Most of us don’t think about it when we return bottles for collection, but recycling glass in many cases is not “rinse and repeat”. In the case of “standard” beer bottles (the dark brown ones) they go to a bottling plant where they’re washed and re-used, but some bottles are “one-time use” like Corona and Heineken. These bottles are specific to the company and since they’re imports, we don’t ship the bottles back to the manufacturer. As a result, these bottles go to a facility where they’re crushed down and re-melted into a new bottle – a highly energy-inefficient process.
What about cans? Writing this article, I was shocked that my mantra “at least aluminum is 100% recyclable” is false! Well, sorta. Aluminum is still recyclable, but no one wants to convert it back to sheet metal. Car and airplane manufacturers are not interested in using it to make vehicles because it’s a lower grade, so the plants that manufacture aluminum sheets make the good stuff that pays better, rather than can sheet. As a result, beer and pop companies here need to buy imported aluminum, while pop and beer cans pile up in scrap yards! The system is broken, folks. I don’t know how to fix this but if any lower-year systems or mechs or trons are reading this, you have my permission to use this for your FYDP, you’re welcome. Make recycling cans domestically more profitable!
I guess we should make a mention of farming as well, because no matter what you’re drinking, once upon a time it was something that had to be grown. Some of the base ingredients are only used for alcohol production: certain grapes aren’t actually edible as fruit, no one eats hops (and if you do, you’re a monster), the list goes on. Possibly the worst offender in the category of a bad crop is rum which is made from molasses and cane syrup. Sugar cane is terrible environmentally, which is ironic because how can plants be bad for the planet? The problem arises when you’re converting a lot of land to farming things that shouldn’t live there, in the case of sugar cane it completely disrupts the microorganism balance. So, only consume cider, a drink made of apples which are deliciously fresh and fermented (in cider, not on their own) and grown in places where they’re native!
In fact, there’s something to be said for drinking lower ABV drinks, because typically the lower the percent alcohol, the less of a carbon footprint it has. Beer first, wine second, and only drink the hard stuff if you really hate the planet – especially tequila, which produces a by-product that acidifies the soil and contaminates groundwater. At least chickens and cows can eat that stuff leftover form the beer-making process.
I HOP ALE this talk about the planet didn’t bum you out – try not to drink your coping mechanism if it did!

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