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Can Dry January help the environment?

Millions of people will be cutting down on alcohol this month as part as part of “Dry January”.

While those giving the booze the boot for a few weeks may want to improve their health, wellbeing or bank balance, or be driven by simple curiousity, they will also be changing a behaviour that – like many others – impacts the climate.

A pint of beer in the pub or a glass of wine at home will have its own environmental footprint, from its production, packaging and transportation.

  1. How does alcohol affect the environment?

    Each stage of alcohol production carries its own environmental impact, as Ian Hamilton noted in a piece for The Independent last year.

    As demand drives production, it can take away the availabilty of scarce land and water resources from local communities.

    “One 500ml bottle of beer uses 148 litres of water – and a single 125ml glass of wine, 110 litres. Alcohol is a thirsty product,” he wrote.

    Transporting alcohol also comes with its own environmental costs, including pollution. Some drinks are only produced in certain areas – including Tequila in Mexico and Champagne in France – meaning they travel far and wide to reach their- global consumers.

    And there is the waste that comes from the drink bottles and cans. While recycling can be an option, 50 per cent of aluminium cans and glass bottles in the UK end up in landfill sites, Hamilton said.

  2. What is the extent of its environmental impact?

    The Food Climate Research Network has previously estimated just under 1.5 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were down to alcohol.

    “Nearly 0.6 per cent of this can be attributed to the actual consumption stage, be it in pubs, restaurants, clubs or, to a lesser extent, at home,” said researcher Tara Garnett.

    But this research is more than a decade old, and there is little comprehensive research on alcohol’s impact on the environment.

    In Sweden, a study published in 2018 estimated three per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from diet were down to alcohol intake. Consuming alcohol generated an average of 52kg of carbon dioxide per person per year, researchers found.

    If you are a beer or wine drinker, you can also use a BBC tool to estimate emissions caused by your yearly intake.

  3. Will Dry January month help?

    It may appear obvious, but cutting back in the longer term would have a a greater impact. But you would still be removing something that does contribute to your carbon footprint.

    It could even have a long-lasting impact. Alcohol Concern, which runs the Dry January, found the campaign can change behaviour for good.

    However, it worth keeping in mind that alternatives, such as soft drinks and bottled water, are not without their own environmental impact. Research has found total refrigeration greenhouse gases in the UK’s soft drink supply chain are 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

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