Author: Kristelle Yau
ABSTRACT: The production stages of beer heavily contribute to its carbon footprint. From the moment its raw materials are grown to its final stage of consumption, its life cycle produces a great deal of greenhouse gases, relies on energy usage, and materials that are harmful to the environment. Reducing our own carbon footprint can be as easy as purchasing a locally crafted beer to not storing our beer in the fridge.
The first stage of crafting begins with the main ingredient found in most beers being malted barley. From the start, this ingredient already contributes to the carbon footprint of beer with 66% being created by its agricultural production. According to Heller, studies have shown that organic barley reduces the beer carbon footprint by 11%, whereas conventional barley decreases GHGEs by 6%, which results in the overall 9% increase of GHGEs. Not to mention that the malting process in itself produces 28% of GHGEs (Heller). The brewing process contributes 2 to 28% of GHGEs that make up for the beer’s overall carbon footprint. In addition to the waste generated as the final result of the product, the brewery itself also generates waste that is usually recyclable materials that include batteries, kegs, lightbulbs, etc. A typical brewery for a standard sized 6 pack of beers emits around 250g CO2e and its natural gas usage such as heating the brew kettles and boilers, accounts for 123g CO2e (Franics). An obvious solution for reducing its carbon footprint would be to improve energy efficiency, insulation and using basic heat recovery.
As far as packaging, the biggest issue to the environment is the waste that is later created from consumers of the product. The most common materials used are single use glass bottles, aluminum cans, steel cans, reused glass bottles and reusable kegs, with single use glass bottles being the worst packaging options and reusable kegs being the most environmentally friendly alternative. Reports analyzed by the Department of Environmental Quality, the production of aluminum uses more energy compared to steel cans, making emissions greater. If North America decided to switch from aluminum to steel cans, the carbon footprint would reduce by 29%.
When the beers are ready for consumer purchase, they are transported to retail stores which adds over 20% to an average beer’s carbon footprint (Heller), with most of that percentage accounting for the transportation from brewer to retail. Many more factors are used to determine the exact amount of waste it creates, a few being the location of the brewery, its final destination, its weight and distribution method. It’s estimated that a locally bottled beer has a carbon footprint of 500g CO2e versus an internally traveled beer measuring at 900g CO2e (Franics). An extra 28% of GHGEs come from the retail refrigeration and an additional 8.2% from at-home refrigeration. On average, a 6 pack remains in retail refrigeration for approximately one week and is stored for another 2 weeks at home refrigeration, therefore this equates to 2 to 15% of the beer’s total carbon footprint (Heller). After customers have purchased and consumed the drinks, the waste produced by a 6 pack of beer is what’s most harmful to the environment. The recyclability rate of the cardboard cartons used for the pack is 72% recyclable, glass bottles being 31% and paperboard carriers being only 16% recyclable (Francis). Other components of its packaging are sadly not recyclable, such as adhesives and papers used on the labels.
So, what can we do to help the environment? Here are a few things to note before going out to buy a pack of beers. Smaller breweries tend to run on a smaller budget meaning they most likely own less equipment and transportation which reduces energy use and pollution. Even if you decide to purchase from a large brewery, simply choosing one that is closer in proximity will reduce your carbon footprint. Another way to help would be to not store your beer in a fridge. This will greatly reduce your energy consumption. Beers can be left at room temperature unless needed for preservation. This also benefits the beer since different varieties are best served at a different temperature. Lastly, the go to motto, “reduce, reuse and recycle,” is the best way to help the environment.
“ZERO Carbon Footprint”. Carlsberg India, 2021, https://carlsbergindia.com/sustainability/our-ambitions/zero-carbon-footprin t/ Accessed 8 Mar 2021.
Francis, Liz. “The Carbon Footprint Of Beer – Sestra Systems”. Sestra Systems, 2017, https://www.sestrasystems.com/carbon-footprint-beer/ Accessed 8 Mar 2021.
Heller, Martin. Oregon.Gov, 2017, https://www.oregon.gov/deq/FilterDocs/PEF-Beer-FullReport.pdf Accessed 8 Mar 2021.
Kristelle Yau is a 3rd year New Media student at Ryerson University. She’s an aspiring graphic designer who loves video and photo editing. Her passions also consist of finding ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle.