There are many reasons why you might want to cut down on your alcohol consumption, whether it’s to improve your health, save money or stop making regrettable choices. Whilst these are all valid reasons for giving up drinking, what a lot of people don’t know is that cutting down on your alcohol consumption is also a great way to help the environment.
Despite being one of the biggest industries in the US, alcohol production is damaging to the world around us. Enjoying an alcoholic drink or two when out with friends or alongside a nice meal might seem harmless, but producing alcohol requires a huge amount of water and natural resources. Meanwhile, there are people around the world who struggle to find clean water every day.
Because drinking alcohol is so common in our society, it’s easy for us to ignore the problematic nature of mass-producing alcoholic drinks. However, it’s important that we understand exactly what it takes to bring a glass of wine or a pint of beer to our table so we can manage our consumption better.
How is Alcohol Made?
There are many types of alcohol in chemistry, but the type that we drink is called ethanol. Ethanol is made by putting various fruits, grains or vegetables through the process of fermentation. During fermentation, the sugars in these products react with yeast or bacteria which breaks the sugars down, producing by-products of ethanol and carbon dioxide. The longer the product is left to ferment, the higher the alcohol quantity in the ethanol produced.
The Effect on the Environment
Because alcohol consumption is high in our society, the natural resources used during the process of fermentation such as grapes, hops or barley have to be mass-produced. Growing these crops on a mass-scale uses a huge amount of water and pesticides. In fact, agriculture is the biggest contributor to water consumption and is responsible for 69% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals.
On top of this, the mass-production of crops encourages deforestation to make room for more agricultural land. Cutting down trees is terrible for the environment since they’re essential for absorbing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases. It also destroys the habitats of many different types of wildlife. On average, 18 million acres of forest are destroyed every year, which is scary considering 80% of the planet’s wildlife lives in forest land.
On average, manufacturing factories use 95.1 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 536,500 Btu of natural gas per square foot annually. Not only do large factories that use large amounts of energy cause air pollution, but they also pollute the freshwater that surrounds them.
It’s not just the production process of alcohol that is harmful to the environment. Alcoholic drinks typically come in either glass bottles or aluminium cans, which are not always easy to recycle. In fact, 50 billion cans go un-recycled each year in the US whilst 70% of wine bottles end up in landfills. In the UK, 50% of alcohol containers aren’t recycled and are thrown into general waste bins.
Water is our most valuable resource; it’s vital for our survival and for the survival of our planet and its animals. However, because it comes instantaneously through the taps in our homes, we often take it for granted. Unfortunately, it’s not an infinite resource. Many people around the world struggle to find clean water every day and water scarcity is rising in many regions as the population increases to the point where unsafe water now kills 200 children every hour. This horrible statistic is only made worse when we consider how much water we waste every day.
Whilst many people around the world struggle to find clean drinking water, a huge amount of water is required to produce all different types of alcohol; producing one 500ml bottle of beer uses around 148 litres of water and one 125ml glass of wine uses 110 litres. To put this into perspective, an average person will use around 142 litres of water per day and the amount of water needed to produce just one alcoholic drink is almost the same.
There are many ways that alcoholic products have a negative impact on the environment. Alcohol production:
- Uses a huge amount of water
- Requires natural resources that need a lot of land and water to grow
- Occurs in factories that use a lot of energy
- Produces packaging that contributes to landfills
Not only is alcohol detrimental to the environment, but it also has a serious effect on the brain and body. All things considered, moderating your alcohol consumption is very important, especially considering that the number of drinkers in the US is currently at an all-time high.