Life cycle environmental impacts and costs of beer production and consumption in the UK
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- Amienyo, D. & Azapagic, A. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2016) 21: 492. doi:10.1007/s11367-016-1028-6
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Global beer consumption is growing steadily and has recently reached 187.37 billion litres per year. The UK ranked 8th in the world, with 4.5 billion litres of beer produced annually. This paper considers life cycle environmental impacts and costs of beer production and consumption in the UK which are currently unknown. The analysis is carried out for two functional units: (i) production and consumption of 1 l of beer at home and (ii) annual production and consumption of beer in the UK. The system boundary is from cradle to grave.
Life cycle impacts have been estimated following the guidelines in ISO 14040/44; the methodology for life cycle costing is congruent with the LCA approach. Primary data have been obtained from a beer manufacturer; secondary data are sourced from the CCaLC, Ecoinvent and GaBi databases. GaBi 4.3 has been used for LCA modelling and the environmental impacts have been estimated according to the CML 2001 method.
Results and discussion
Depending on the type of packaging (glass bottles, aluminium and steel cans), 1 l of beer requires for example 10.3–17.5 MJ of primary energy and 41.2–41.8 l of water, emits 510–842 g of CO2 eq. and has the life cycle costs of 12.72–14.37 pence. Extrapolating the results to the annual consumption of beer in the UK translates to a primary energy demand of over 49,600 TJ (0.56 % of UK primary energy consumption), water consumption of 1.85 bn hl (5.3 % of UK demand), emissions of 2.16 mt CO2 eq. (0.85 % of UK emissions) and the life cycle costs of £553 million (3.2 % of UK beer market value). Production of raw materials is the main hotspot, contributing from 47 to 63 % to the impacts and 67 % to the life cycle costs. The packaging adds 19 to 46 % to the impacts and 13 % to the costs.
Beer in steel cans has the lowest impacts for five out of 12 impact categories considered: primary energy demand, depletion of abiotic resources, acidification, marine and freshwater toxicity. Bottled beer is the worst option for nine impact categories, including global warming and primary energy demand, but it has the lowest human toxicity potential. Beer in aluminium cans is the best option for ozone layer depletion and photochemical smog but has the highest human and marine toxicity potentials.
KeywordsBeer Climate change Environmental impacts Life cycle assessment Life cycle costs Packaging
There are several studies of life cycle environmental impacts of beer produced in different countries, including Australia (Narayanaswamy et al. 2004), Greece (Koroneos et al. 2005), Italy (Cordella et al. 2008), Spain (Hospido et al. 2005), Japan (Takamoto et al. 2004) and USA (Climate Conservancy 2008). Some studies considered beer production in whole regions, including the Nordic countries (Talve 2001), Europe and North America (BIER 2012). The assumptions and system boundaries in the studies vary widely, leading to significant differences in the impacts. For example, according to Talve (2001), the agricultural production of beer ingredients contributes almost 80 % to the (weighted) environmental impacts, followed by transport (8 %) and production of auxiliary materials (6 %) and beer (5 %). On the other hand, Koroneos et al. (2005) found that the bottle production was the highest contributor (up to 94 %) to the impacts while Hospido et al. (2005) reported that the production of packaging as well as the cultivation of ingredients and transport were responsible for the largest portion of impacts. The inclusion of different environmental impacts and the methods used to estimate them also varies across the studies, which makes cross-comparisons difficult. Unsurprisingly, the global warming potential (GWP) is considered in all studies but the results range widely, not only across different studies but also within a study. For example, BIER (2012) estimated the GWP of beer in Europe at 139.6 g CO2 eq./33 cl bottle and of that in North America at 319.4 g CO2 eq./35.5 cl aluminium can, more than a factor of two difference. The study found that for the European beer barley malt contributed 39 % to the GWP, followed by beer production (25 %), glass bottle and transport (13 % each). In North America, the aluminium can comprised 41 % of the total impact, followed by the malt (33 %), beer production (12 %) and transportation (8 %). The GWP across all the studies ranged from 400–1475 g CO2 eq./l of beer.
As far as we are aware, there are no studies of environmental impacts of beer production and consumption in the UK. The only information that exists is that in 2003/2004 the UK beer sector contributed 0.96 % to the UK GHG emissions (Garnett 2007) and around 470,000 tonnes1 of household packaging waste (Jenkin 2010). The other impacts remain largely unknown. Therefore, this paper sets out to estimate the life cycle environmental impacts of beer production and consumption in the UK. In addition to the impacts, the study also considers life cycle costs (LCC) in the beer supply chain. To our knowledge, this is the first study of LCC for beer globally.
The next section details the methodology and data used. This is followed in section 3 by discussion of the results, including comparisons with some of the aforementioned studies and possible improvement opportunities. The conclusions are summarised in section 4.
LCCBeer life cycle costs of producing 1 l of beer (£/l)
CRM costs of raw materials (£/l)
CPR costs of beer production (£/l)
CP costs of packaging (£/l)
CT transportation costs for raw materials, packaging, beer to retailer and post-consumer waste (£/l)
CW costs of post-consumer waste disposal (£/l)
2.1 Goal and scope definition
The goal of the study is the estimation of life cycle environmental impacts and costs of beer produced and consumed in the UK. The study is divided into two parts: first, the impacts and costs are estimated at the consumer level with the aim of providing information to the consumer on the environmental impacts and costs of beer consumption. For these purposes, the functional unit is defined as the production and consumption of 1 l of beer at home. The second part of the study considers the impacts and costs for the annual consumption of beer in the UK, aiming to inform the industry and policy makers on the total contribution of beer to the UK economy and environmental impacts. For this part of the analysis, the functional unit is defined as annual production and consumption of beer in the UK.
The study at the consumer level is related to the off-trade consumption while the sectoral study considers both on-trade and off-trade markets. We first focus on the functional unit at the consumer level; the assumptions and results for the sectoral analysis are discussed in Section 3.6.
raw materials: cultivation of barley and hops, production of barley malt, manufacture of sodium hydroxide, sulphuric acid, carbon dioxide and other auxiliary materials;
manufacturing: electricity and material inputs for the beer production including grist preparation and milling, fermentation, carbonation, storage, filtration and filling;
packaging: material and energy inputs for the manufacture of glass bottles (with steel bottle tops and multi-pack cardboard crates in which bottled beer is typical sold), aluminium and steel cans;
retail and consumption: refrigerated storage of beer at retailer (only as part of sensitivity analysis) and post-consumer waste generated after consumption;
waste management: treatment of wastewater from the beer production process, recycling and disposal of in-process and post-consumer waste streams; and
transport: all transport of packaging materials, beer and waste.
production of secondary and tertiary packaging for the cans owing to a lack of data; furthermore, their contribution to the total GWP of beer was found to be insignificant (<1 %) in a study by the beer industry (BIER 2012) so that it is assumed that their contribution to other impacts would also be small;
consumer transport to retailer because of uncertainties associated with allocation of impacts to beer relative to other items purchased at the same time; this is also congruent with the PAS 2050 standard (BSI 2011);
refrigeration of beer at home, assuming that beer is consumed shortly after the purchase; even if refrigeration was considered, the effect on the results would be negligible as there is no refrigerant leakage from domestic refrigerators and the electricity consumed per litre of beer during the assumed short-term refrigeration would be small; and
glasses or other containers from which the consumer may drink the beer as these will also be used for other purposes.
2.2 Data and assumptions
Primary production data have been obtained from a beer manufacturer. This includes the materials and energy used for the production of beer as well as transport modes and distances along the supply chain. Background data have been sourced from the CCaLC (2013), Ecoinvent (2010), ILCD (2010) and GaBi (PE International 2010) databases. Where relevant, the data have been adapted to reflect the UK energy mix. Costs have been obtained from various sources, including the literature and market analyses. More details on the inventory data and their sources for each life cycle stage are provided in the next sections.
2.2.1 Raw materials
Inventory data for raw materials and packaging
Amount per litre of beer
Cost per litre of beer (£ pence/l)
Raw materials and auxiliariesa
5 × 10−2
Sodium hydroxide (50 %)
Phosphoric acid (50 %)
Sulphuric acid (63 %)
3.43 × 10−2
Carbon dioxide (liquid)
Light fuel oilb
Glass bottles (0.33 l)
Bottle (85 % recycled content)c
Bottle top (steel)d
Multi-pack crate (cardboard)a
2.44 × 10−3
Aluminium cans (0.44 l)
Can body (48 % recycled content)c
Can ends (100 % virgin aluminium alloy)c
Steel cans (0.44 l)
Can body (62 % recycled content)c
Can end (100 % virgin aluminium alloy)c
The costs of the raw materials given in Table 1 have been obtained from a number of sources, including DECC (2013), the UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (HGCA 2013), Global Water Intelligence (2011) and commodity market analysis.
2.2.2 Beer production and filling
Electricity and other utilities used for beer production and filling
Amount per litre of beer
Cost per litre of beer (£ pence/l)
The packaging materials are summarised in Table 1. Beer in the UK is mainly sold in three packaging types and sizes: 0.33 l glass bottles and 0.44 l aluminium and steel cans. The glass bottles normally retail in multi-pack cardboard crates. The bottles are assumed to contain 85 % recycled glass based on the UK situation for coloured container glass (British Glass 2007). Different percentages of recycled glass are also considered later in the paper to examine the effect of this parameter on the environmental impacts. The bottle tops are made from steel. The aluminium and steel cans are assumed to contain 48 and 62 % of recycled metal, respectively (EAA 2008; Defra 2009). Allocation of impacts for material recycling has been carried out according to the recycled content approach. This means that only the impacts from the virgin materials have been taken into account while the impacts from the recycled material are impact-free. This is appropriate, as the recycled content in the material and their respective recycling rates are the same in this case. However, the impacts from the recycling process are considered and are added to the total impacts from packaging. Cost data for the packaging materials have been estimated based on recovered cullet, metal and cardboard prices sourced from WRAP (2014). The packaging costs do not include the costs of the manufacture of the bottles and cans because of a lack of data.
2.2.4 Retail refrigeration
the refrigerant is R404 with the GWP of 3860 kg CO2 eq./kg (IPPC/TEAP 2005);
the total display area of the refrigeration unit is 4.489 m2 (BSI 2005);
the drink is stored in the refrigeration unit for 24 h before it is sold;
the GWP of UK electricity is 0.604 kg CO2 eq./kWh (Ecoinvent 2010); and
the cost of electricity is £0.077 per kWh (DECC 2014a).
Electricity consumption during retail refrigeration
Display cabinet typea
Electricity consumptionb (kWh/m2.day)
Electricity consumption (kWh/m2.h)
Quantity of drinkc (l/m2 TDAd)
Electricity consumption per litre of beere (Wh/l.h)
GWP (g CO2 eq./l.day)
Refrigerant leakage during retail refrigeration
Volume of beer chilleda (l/year)
Refrigerant lossesb (kg/year)
Refrigerant losses per litre of beerc (mg/l.day)
GWPd per litre of beer (g/l)
Glass (0.33 l)
Aluminium (0.44 l)
Steel (0.44 l)
2.2.5 Waste management
Waste management option
Amount per litre of beer (g/l)
Cost per litre of beer (£ pence/l)
85 % recycled, 15 % landfilled
Steel bottle tops
100 % landfilled
100 % landfilled
Aluminium can (body)
48 % recycled, 52 % landfilled
Aluminium can (ends)
100 % landfilled
Steel can (body)
62 % recycled, 38 % landfilled
Steel can (ends)
100 % landfilled
Effluents from brewery
Transport modes and distances along the supply chaina
Cost per litre of beer (£ pence/l)
Raw and auxiliary materials
Truck (40 t)
Truck (32 t)
Beer (to retailers)
Truck (32 t)
Truck (32 t)
2.2.7 Data quality and uncertainty
To assess the uncertainty in the data and results, a data quality assessment has been carried out following the CCaLC (2014) methodology, which is described in detail in Section S1 in the Electronic Supplementary Material. Based on the five criteria considered (data age, geographical origin, source, completeness and reproducibility, reliability and consistency), the LCA data quality is estimated to be high and the LCC data quality is medium. Therefore, the LCA results can be considered to have high and LCC findings medium certainty. For full details on the data quality assessment, see Section S2 in the Electronic Supplementary Material.
3 Results and discussion
GaBi 4.3 LCA software (PE International 2010) has been used to model the system and the CML 2001 (Guinée et al. 2001) impact assessment method has been followed to estimate environmental impacts. The following impact categories are considered: GWP, abiotic depletion potential (ADP), acidification potential (AP), eutrophication potential (EP), human toxicity potential (HTP), marine aquatic ecotoxicity potential (MAETP), freshwater aquatic ecotoxicity potential (FAETP), terrestrial ecotoxicity potential (TETP), ozone depletion potential (ODP), photochemical oxidants creation potential (POCP). In addition to the CML impact categories, the primary energy and water demand have also been estimated. These results are discussed below. They are presented first for the functional unit of 1 l of beer, starting with the GWP in the next section and followed by the other environmental impacts in section 3.2. These results are compared with other studies in section 3.3. Possibilities for reducing the impacts are explored in section 3.4 and the life cycle costs are discussed in section 3.5. Following this, the sectoral results based on the annual production of beer in the UK are discussed in Section 3.6.
3.1 Global warming potential
As also indicated in Fig. 3, beer production causes between 9 % (bottle) and 14 % (steel can) of the GWP, mainly because of electricity used in the process. Note that the biogenic carbon dioxide released during the fermentation of beer is not considered. The rest of the GWP is due to waste management (9–10 %) and transport (2–3 %).
3.1.1 Effect of refrigerated storage on the GWP
As mentioned earlier, in the base case we assume that beer is not refrigerated at retailer. However, a certain proportion of beer is always refrigerated at UK retailers for consumer convenience. Therefore, this section considers the effect of refrigerated storage at retailer. The focus is on the GWP as this impact is likely to be affected most, mainly because of electricity consumption during refrigeration and refrigerant leakage. Since beer bottles are typically refrigerated as single bottles without the secondary packaging (cardboard crate), this packaging is excluded from consideration in this case.
3.2 Other environmental impacts
The results for the other environmental impacts are shown in Fig. 6. As mentioned earlier, the impacts of secondary packaging have not been assessed for the aluminium and steel cans (multi-pack plastic rings) because of a lack of data. Therefore, in order to compare the impacts of beer in different packaging on an equivalent basis, the impacts from beer in glass bottles are shown for two cases: with and without the secondary packaging (multi-pack cardboard crate). For completeness, the results are also shown for the GWP.
As can be observed from Fig. 6, beer packaged in the steel can has the lowest impacts for five out of 12 impact categories: PED, ADP, AP, MAETP and FAETP. Beer in the aluminium can is the best option for ODP and POCP but it also has the highest HTP and MAETP. The latter two are five and three times higher, respectively, than for the next best option, beer in the steel can. HTP is due to emissions of polyaromatic hydrocarbons from manufacturing of aluminium cans, while MAETP is mainly from hydrogen fluoride emissions, also from the can manufacturing process. The glass bottle, on the other hand, is the best option for the HTP but least favourable for eight impact categories (in addition to the GWP): PED, ADP, AP, EP, FAETP, TETP, ODP and POCP. This is regardless of whether the secondary packaging is considered or not. The impacts from bottled beer without the secondary packaging are lower by between 1 % (depletion of elements) and 14 % (GWP). There is little difference between the packaging options with respect to water demand as the vast majority of water is used for beer rather than production of packaging.
3.3 Comparison of impacts with other studies
As discussed in the “Introduction”, a number of studies have been considered life cycle environmental impacts of beer produced in different parts of the world. Some of these are compared to the impacts estimated in current study. However, the comparison is only possible for a limited number of studies because of different life cycle impact methods used by different authors.
3.4 Improvement opportunities
The results from this study suggest that the main hotspots in the life cycle of beer are the raw materials and packaging. The greatest contributor to the impacts from the former is malted barley and from the latter, the glass bottle. Therefore, they should be targeted for enable greatest improvements in the supply chain.
There are many technological options that could be implemented to increase the efficiency of producing barley, including precision-farming to reduce the use of fertilisers and increased energy efficiency of drying the malted barley. The latter can be achieved by using a greater proportion of renewable energy, displacing fossil fuels in the barley drying process. However, because of a lack of disaggregated data on barley, it is not possible to quantify the effect of this on the environmental impacts. Instead, we turn our attention to improvement options related to glass bottles.
One of these would be to introduce returnable bottles in the UK. A study of returnable beer bottles in Portugal found that the reduction in impacts is dependent on the percentage of bottles returned and the number of times the bottle can be reused (Mata and Costa 2001). For example, at 50 % reuse and up to six reuse cycles, the returnable bottle had lower impacts for most categories considered, except for eutrophication and ozone layer depletion. At 85 % reuse, the contribution of returnable bottles was larger than that of non-returnable for all the environmental impacts. Another study based in the UK (Amienyo et al. 2013) considered reuse of glass bottles for carbonated soft drinks (CSD) and found that by reusing the bottle only once, the GWP of the CSD would be reduced by about 40 %. Further savings in the GWP could be achieved by increasing the number of reuses, although the benefits are not as significant after the second reuse and they gradually level off after about eight reuses. The results from that study also suggested that if the glass bottles were reused three times, the GWP of the drink packaged in glass bottles would be comparable to that packaged in aluminium cans. The study concluded that there was a clear case for reusing bottles between one and five times, depending on the economics. However, introducing reusable beer (or any other) bottles in the UK would require a completely new infrastructure, financial incentives and behavioural change, all of which are non-trivial. Currently, there are no plans to make this change in the UK.
In addition to returnable bottles, increasing the share of canned beer could be considered as a measure to reduce the impacts of beer, particularly steel cans, as they have lower impacts than glass bottles and aluminium packaging (see Fig. 6). The use of steel cans would lead to a reduction in most impacts, ranging from 12 % for the EP and POCP to 54 % for the FAETP; the GWP would be lower by 39 %. However, the HTP would increase by 41 % and, if aluminium cans were used, by 88 %, also with the MAETP being 48 % higher. Consumer perception is also a factor that must be taken into account when considering a possible change of packaging, as many believe that bottled beer has better quality (Wilcox et al. 2013) while some believe that cans, particularly aluminium, may change the taste of beer or pose a health risk (Blanco et al. 2010). Furthermore, the economic and social impacts on the glass packaging industry would have to be weighed against the environmental benefits.
Therefore, we consider below the following two options which currently may be more feasible: increased recycled glass content and light-weighting of bottles.
3.4.1 Recycled glass content
3.4.2 Bottle light-weighting
In addition to increasing the recycled content, light-weighting of glass bottles is another key focus area for the beverage packaging sector (Cakebread 2011) and several multinational brewing companies, including AB InBev and Heineken, have reportedly achieved bottle weight reductions from 7 to 25 % (WRAP 2011).
3.5 Life cycle costs
The main contributor to the LCC are the raw materials, adding between 63 % (glass bottle and aluminium can) and 72 % (steel can) to the total. This is mainly due to the costs of barley, hops, process water and light fuel oil which account for 86 % of the costs of raw materials. The next largest cost contributor is packaging, ranging from 8 % for steel cans, to 13 % for glass bottles to 19 % for aluminium cans. This is in agreement with the contribution to the environmental impacts, which are also largely due to the raw materials and the packaging (see section 3.2). The remaining costs are due to waste management (9–12 %), followed by beer production (6–7 %) and transport (3 %).
3.6 Environmental impacts and costs of beer production and consumption in the UK
In this section, we discuss the environmental impacts and costs of beer produced and consumed in the UK. The impacts and costs have been estimated by scaling up the results for 1 l of beer to the annual UK production.
As mentioned in the Introduction, around 4.5 bn litres of beer were produced in 2014 in the UK of which 14.6 % was exported (Key Note 2014). In addition to the beer produced in the UK, 19.7 % of beer was imported, with the overall import-export balance of around 5 %. Therefore, for simplicity, we consider all the beer produced in the UK to be consumed in the country, excluding both the imports and exports.
Out of the total volume of beer produced, around 2.26 bn litres were sold in the UK off-trade market and 2.24 bn litres in the on-trade outlets (BBPA 2015). The majority of off-trade beer (around 72 %) is packaged in cans and the rest in glass bottles (Key Note 2010). There are no specific data on the market share between aluminium and steel cans used for beer but, according to Alupro (2015), 90 % of drink cans in the UK are made of aluminium; therefore, this percentage is assumed here, with 10 % of cans being made of steel.
For the on-trade beer, there are no figures on the volume sold as draft (from casks or kegs), bottled or canned. The only data available are related to the value of different types of on-trade beer which indicate that around 90 % is sold as draft and the remaining 10 % as bottled and canned beer (AB InBev and Bar-Expert, undated). Therefore, these percentages are assumed to correspond roughly to the volume of draft and packaged beer, respectively, for the on-trade market estimates. The casks or kegs used for the draft beer are not considered as they are reused many times. Beer refrigeration at on-trade outlets is also excluded because of a lack of data. Furthermore, there are no data on the share of bottled and canned beer in the on-trade market so that the same percentage is assumed as for the off-trade market (73 % canned and 27 % bottled). For the canned beer, the same assumption is made with respect to the market share between the aluminium and steel cans as for the off-trade market (90 and 10 %, respectively).
Regarding the environmental impacts, water consumption is estimated at 1.853 bn hl, or 5.3 % of the actual amount of water consumed in the UK annually (3.51 trillion litres at 150 l per day per capita (Defra 2008)). For further context, this is equivalent to 74,120 Olympic-size swimming pools or 60 % of the volume of Windermere, the largest lake in England. Primary energy consumption is equivalent to 0.56 % of UK PED consumption of 8.62 million TJ (DECC 2104b). The total GWP amounts to 2.16 million tonnes of CO2 eq./year, contributing 0.85 % to GHGs generated from consumption of UK-produced goods and services, estimated at 255 mt CO2 eq. (Defra 2013a). These findings are congruent with Garnett (2007) who estimated that beer contributed 0.96 % to UK GHG emissions of 179 mt CO2 eq. in 2003/2004.
It can also be seen in Fig. 13 that the off-trade beer market is the main contributor to most impacts, including the HTP (86 %), MAETP (79 %) and GWP (67 %). It also contributes 58 % to the life cycle costs. This is largely due to the packaging used in the off-trade sector, particularly aluminium cans which contribute 48–93 % of the impacts from off-trade beer. Bottled beer is the second largest contributor to the off-trade beer impacts. In the on-trade sector, draft beer is the main contributor to most impacts (62-91 %), largely because of its high market share. The only exception is the HTP for which beer in aluminium cans is the main hotspot, contributing 58 %. As mentioned earlier, this is due to the emissions of polyaromatic hydrocarbons in the production of cans.
These results can provide useful evidence which could serve as a basis for the beer industry and government-led sustainability initiatives. An example of the latter is found for the carbonated soft drinks industry, with the Defra initiative aimed at gathering evidence for the development of a sustainability roadmap for the sector (Defra 2013b), which motivated our previous work on the impacts from that sector (Amienyo et al. 2013).
This paper has presented and discussed the life cycle environmental impacts and costs of beer production and consumption in the UK. The results have been estimated for two functional units: 1 l of beer and the annual consumption of 4.5 bn litres. For example, it has been estimated that 1 l of beer packaged in glass bottles consumes 17.5 MJ of primary energy and generates 842 g of CO2 eq. emissions. By comparison, the beer in aluminium cans requires 11.3 MJ of primary energy and emits 574 g of CO2 eq. while that in steel cans uses 10.3 MJ of primary energy and produces 510 g of CO2 eq. Extrapolating these results to the annual consumption of beer in the UK gives the primary energy demand of over 49,600 TJ and the global warming potential of 2.16 million tonnes of CO2 eq. The former contributes 0.56 % of the total UK energy demand and the latter 0.85 % of GHG emissions from consumption of UK-produced goods and services.
The life cycle costs of beer in glass bottles and aluminium cans are close, estimated at 14.12 and 14.37 pence/l, respectively; for the beer in steel cans, the LCC are equivalent to 12.72 pence/l. Extrapolated to the annual beer consumption, the life cycle costs amount to around £553 million per year, or 3.2 % of the total beer market value based on the retail selling price.
The results suggest that production of raw materials is the main hot spot in the life cycle of beer, contributing on average 47 % (glass) to 63 % (steel) to the total life cycle environmental impacts. For the life cycle costs, this contribution is estimated on average at 67 % for the beer in all three types of packaging. Production of packaging is the next most significant contributor to the environmental impacts, adding on average 19 % (steel) to 46 % (glass) to the impacts. For the life cycle costs, production of packaging is also the second most significant contributor, accounting on average for 13 %, while waste management and beer production account for 10 and 7 %, respectively.
The findings also indicate that increasing the recycling and reducing the weight of glass bottles would lead to environmental benefits. For example, every 10 % increase in the amount of recycled glass would reduce the GWP by about 3 %. This amounts to a saving of 24 g CO2 eq./l or around 16,700 tonnes of CO2 eq. annually. The savings for the other impacts range from 0.5 % (EP) to 2 % (ADP). Similarly, a 10 % reduction in the weight of glass bottles would result in a 5 % saving of GHG emissions (40 g CO2 eq./l or around 27,800 tonnes annually). Savings in other impact categories range from 1 % (EP) to 7 % (MAETP).
Further reductions in the impacts and costs could also be achieved by reducing consumption of beer. Currently, the UK consumes around 70 l of beer per capita per year. A 10 % decrease in the annual consumption, or 12 pints fewer per person, would lead to a 10 % saving in environmental impacts and life cycle costs. For example, the GWP would be reduced by 22,000 t CO2 eq., primary energy demand by around 5000 TJ/year and life cycle costs by £55 million. However, reducing consumption of alcohol (or anything else) is a complex issue as it requires a behavioural and cultural change. Nevertheless, in an attempt to limit alcohol intake for health reasons, the government recommends a maximum limit of 2–3 units of alcohol a day for women and 3–4 units for men. There is little evidence that these recommendations are being followed, but with a particular reference to beer, its consumption has gone down by 23 % over the past 10 years. There could be many reasons for this, including a switch to other alcoholic drinks, but the implication of this is that the environmental impacts from beer consumption have also been reduced by a similar percentage over the past decade. However, they could have simply been transferred elsewhere owing to the rebound effect, either through increased consumption of other beverages or other compensatory activities. These are complex and interrelated issues for which there are no simple solutions—instead, they should be addressed as a part of an overall strategy to reduce consumption in all areas. While such a strategy will be difficult to sell to the consumer, and more critically to the political voter, it is difficult to see how the UK can reach its ambitious target of reducing the GHG emissions by 80 % by 2050, not to mention other environmental impacts, unless we address the issue of not only what we consume but also how much.
This estimate includes cider.
This work has been funded by UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, EPSRC (grants no. EP/F003501/1 and EP/K011820/1). This funding is gratefully acknowledged. The authors are also grateful to Dr Harish Jeswani at the University of Manchester for his help with some data collection and interpretation.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.