How ‘Green’ is your pint?

As the planet moves towards record temperatures and greenhouse gases spiral, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has launched a new campaign; it is called “Drink Greener”. It began last year after a hard look at how the beer and cider industry impacts on the environment. It started during the lockdowns and restrictions and in the run up to the COP26 summit last November. As part of this review, CAMRA formed the “Environmental Working Group”, which consists of CAMRA members chosen for their knowledge and expertise in environmental issues. The Group has been analysing the practices within the ale and cider industry and its effects on our wider climate. I was asked to join the Group based on my pre-retirement occupation as the Head of Environment of a large national organisation.

Innovative industry solutions are already in place and are increasing, while others have been around for a long time. Brewers have long been donating their used, fermented grains to farmers to use as animal feed. Used yeast ends up as Marmite! Ways to use less water and heat in the brewing and fermenting process are also being adopted. All this is reducing their carbon footprint, but there is still some way to go before they can be truly carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative. So, for now, the emphasis is on the “er” in “Greener”, rather than drastic overnight changes.

One thing the Environmental Working Group wants to celebrate is the “green” practice of re-use already happening in bars and pubs everywhere. And it has been happening unnoticed for centuries! What is it that’s so special about the pub? Let’s compare buying a pint of beer or cider in the supermarket with buying a pint of beer or cider in the pub. If you buy a bottle of beer, you will pour it into a glass (probably), and pop the empty bottle, (hopefully) into the recycle bin. You’ve done your bit for the environment, right?

The statistics and logistics that surround recycling are complex and varying. It is difficult to understand how much glass is actually being recycled. Glass is infinitely recyclable, but according to British Glass only around 50% of household glass gets made back into useable form. The other half is recycled as aggregate, incinerated, or ends up in landfill.

Let’s imagine you are walking into your local pub, firstly you would be enjoying the pub’s warmth and light which is benefitting multiple people. Then if you were having a real ale or real cider, it will be served to you in a reusable vessel, (a glass), straight from the cask, cutting out the “middle bottle”. The empty casks are taken back to the brewery to be washed, sterilised and reused for the next batch of beer, which will find its way back to the pubs and clubs. The process starts all over again, creating a closed loop where the emphasis is on re-use rather than recycle. The pub’s waste bottles will almost definitely end up being recycled, as their recycling rubbish collection has a lower charge than their rubbish destined for landfill, so it makes sense for the pubs to sort their rubbish out properly.

Producers of real cider and perry have a lot to be proud about too, as those drinks are usually made in the time-honoured way. The process of cold pressing fruit such as apples and pears and letting the juice ferment naturally is centuries old and incredibly good for the environment. So good, in fact, that there is a government funded scheme to create and conserve community orchards. The benefits are tangible as humans maintaining them can enjoy the beauty of being outside connecting with nature, tradition and provenance while the birds, bees, butterflies and other insects revel in the flowers and fruit.

Current generations have found themselves living in a time where the planet is warming, and the potential consequences are dire. How we live our lives has changed dramatically in the past two or three decades; will we be able to halt the damage that we have caused? We have to believe that we can, and that the earth can heal, or we might as well all give up. Re-using to eliminate waste, rather than creating waste then justifying it by recycling it, has surely got to be the way. Remember the milkman? He was once buzzing around in an electric vehicle long before they became fashionable, and giving us milk in reusable bottles. Cost must have been the main reason for sacrificing convenience in favour of those plastic cartons, which are recyclable, but non-bio-degradable and not reusable in an industrial sense. The milkman hasn’t completely disappeared yet, you can still catch him, or her!

So, you see, you really can help save the planet just by going to the pub. How good is that? We love beer, we love cider, and we love our planet. It’s amazing. After all, as they say, it’s the only planet with beer on it (as far as we know!).