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Does alcohol consumption have an impact on climate change?

A Karhu Beer with Pasta Voutso Finland
A Karhu Beer with Pasta Voutso Finland

It is a great question, does alcohol consumption have an impact on climate change? I would argue that what you drink has an impact on climate change. That does not mean that you have to stop drinking, you can drink more or less climate-smart.


An alcohol shot makes less impression on the climate than organic wine, a Swedish study shows. Researchers Ulf Sonesson and Ellinor Hallström at the Research Institute of Sweden, RISE, in collaboration with Karolinska Institutet, have investigated how alcohol consumption affects the climate.

The Climate Impact of Alcohol Consumption report in Sweden is based on a database of 50,000 Swedes ‘diets in 1997–2009 and information on the participants’ possible illnesses. In the report, you can find out that:

  • Beer, wine and spirits generate 0.73–2.38 kg of CO2 equivalents per litre.
  • Alcohol intake generated 52 kg of CO2 equivalents per person and year.
  • Alcohol intake among men generates 90% higher GHG emissions than among women.
  • GHG emissions from alcohol intake decrease with increasing age.
  • Alcohol intake in Sweden is responsible for about 3% of dietary GHG emissions.

Up to 10 percent imprint

Food and drink make up about a third of our climate footprint. Men drink more than women and their alcoholic footprint is almost twice as large.

When it comes to the type of beverage, men are generally climate smarter than women because they drink beer to a greater extent. In terms of climate impact per litre of drink, wine and liquor have an almost three times higher impact than beer.

Liquor is the most climate-smart drink

You usually compare the consumption of alcoholic beverages in “units” of 12 g of pure alcohol. One unit of liquor (a shot of 4 cl) causes only one-third the size of the climate imprint as a unit of beer (a bottle) or wine (a glass).

Are you climate-conscious, do you choose to drink organically grown wine, and you think that a craft-produced quality wines cause a smaller climate impression than industrially produced wine – you are out of luck it is actually the opposite.

When it comes to wine, the biggest impact is not the wine, it is how the grapes are grown tp produce the wine, a lot of vineyards uses a large number of pesticides to spray the grapes growing this spraying has a big effect on the local ecosystems.

The Data facts about consumption

This is the part that I like to look at as I am so into getting information from data, and make an informative decision from data and not from other people’s opinions.

A bottle of wine = a day’s climate imprint

In order to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees, we would need to reduce the imprint from food and drink to less than 1 ton of CO2e per person per year. WWF recommends 0.6 tonnes or just under 1.65 kg CO2e per day. It corresponds roughly to the impression of a bottle of wine or four pints of beer.

(CO2e means carbon dioxide equivalents. Carbon dioxide is just one of the gases that affect the climate.

Utsläpp klimatgaser kg CO2e per liter

  • Beer 0.81 kg
  • Wine 2.16 kg
  • Liquor 2.07 kg

By comparison: Greenhouse gas emissions kg CO2e per kg edible plant / bone-free meat

  • Legumes 0.2–1.5 kg
  • Domestic pigs 5–7 kg
  • Chicken 2–8 kg
  • Fish, grown 4–9 kg
  • Swedish beef is meat 24–42 kg

If you want to get a buzz liquor is by far the best option if you look at per kg of emissions

totta

Climate imprint in kg CO2e of 1 unit of alcoholic beverage (12 g of pure alcohol)

  • 29 cl beer 5.2% = 0.235 kg
  • 13 cl wine 12% = 0.281 kg
  • 4 cl of liquor 40% = 0.083 kg

Men prefer beer – women wine

The 50,000 surveyed are mostly men and women who are 40-80 years old today. As older adults drink less than younger, the numbers may be at a low end.

Consumption, liters per year

men:

  • Beer 38 l
  • Wine 16 l
  • Liquor 2.0 l

Women:

  • Beer 6.8 l
  • Wine 14 l
  • Liquor 0.3 l

Men’s alcohol footprint is 90 percent larger than women’s

Climate imprint in kg CO2e per year of alcoholic beverage

  • Men and women 52 kg
  • Men 68 kg (of which wine 50% and beer 42%)
  • Women 36 kg (of which wine is 82 percent and beer 14%)

The tenth part with the highest consumption made a climate impression of an average of 202 kg CO2e per year.

Draft Beer = the climate beer

Climate imprint kg CO2e for different packages per litre of beverage

Beer:

  • Return bottle 0.10 kg
  • Disposable bottle 0.34 kg
  • Aluminum can 0.14 kg
  • Plastic bottle 0.14 kg
  • Draft 0.04 kg

Wine:

  • Plastic bottle 75 cl 0.24 kg
  • Glass bottle 75 cl 0.77 kg
  • 3 l box 0.14 kg
  • 1 l carton 0.13 kg

Spirits:

  • Glass bottle 75 cl 0.77 kg

(Source tables: Hallström and others: Climate impact of alcohol consumption in Sweden.)

Shipping and packaging the major climate factors

Transport in tankers on boats and bottling locally gives a smaller impression than the shipping of bottles in a truck or on a train. The packaging is the second major climate factor. Tetra, boxes, plastic bottles and aluminum cans give a smaller impression than lightweight bottles, which in turn gives a smaller impression than heavy bottles.

Low harvest yields usually give higher quality. But it is climate smarter to get as many grapes as possible per area.

Wineries have a responsibility

Wineries have a responsibility to lower their climate impact, an new organization has been set up Wineries for Climate Action with the mission to reduce the emissions by 80 percent by 2045. They currently working on reducing the weight of the bottles and incorporate solar panels in the wineries.

Wineries for Climate Action have also started a series of experiments to capture and reuse the carbon dioxide formed when the wine is fermenting. Using a machine from German Exytron they can convert the carbon dioxide into hydrogen and methane which then can be used as fuel in cars and trucks.

What can we do

I like my rum, my favourite is Mount Gay rum from Barbados, it comes in a heavy bottle, have to be transported to Amsterdam by ships, it’s not that climate-smart. Should I give up my rum or find something more climate-smart?

After some research I have given up on Mount Gay and switched to Tres Hombres Rum also from Barbados, Fairtransport is selling on their webshop Tres Hombres Rum, the rum is also available in various stores across Europe. Why is Fairtransport rum better from a climate impact than Mount Gay as both products are from Barbados and have to be transported. The only reason is that Fairtransport uses a sailing ship so they are carbon neutral transporting. The cool thing with Fairtransport is that you can sail along with them across the Atlantic.

If you do not like Rum

If you want to buy climate-smart, you should look at what type of packaging the product you are going to purchase is in, look for lightweight bottles, bag in box and tetra pack. Try to research the wine or beer or liquor you want to buy before you make the purchase, how is the wine transported does it come in bulk in a tanker and bottled locally.

Try to find how it transported from the producer to the distributor to the shop. The best option that you have is to buy locally produced products that would the most climate-smart option.

Water scarcity

Something that I want to bring up when you purchase wine, beer and liquor is water scarcity, as water has become a scarcity in some region around the world, it’s important to be up to date with where the scarcity exists and if there are products from an area with water scarcity.

I’m going to leave you with this thought I, is it not weird that I drinking wine from a country 1000s of km away from me that has a water scarcity and I’m consuming their water that is in the wine without even being in that country. Try to choose locally produced products when possible.

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