Down the drain

Zero Waste Scotland is tapping into drinks waste

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While we should continue petitioning corporations to play their part in tackling climate change, we need to reflect, individually, on the fact that 70% of food waste in the UK comes from households. Food waste is responsible for 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year – that’s more than what’s produced by air travel and equates to a bigger carbon impact than plastic – all of which could be prevented by more conscious consumption of food and drinks.

In the run up to Christmas last year, Love Food Hate Waste Scotland – a consumer-facing campaign delivered by Zero Waste Scotland to raise awareness of the need to reduce food waste – decided to raise awareness of its cause by calculating the carbon emissions of a single (wasted) portion of Christmas dinner. The results provided real food for thought.

Using the expertise of a group of analysts, they were horrified to discover that the emissions produced by growing, processing, packaging, and shipping the component parts of a single serving had the same carbon cost of keeping Christmas tree lights on for the entire month of December. What's more, 11% of those emissions come from drink waste, of which beer, wine and spirits make up a considerable amount. 

I catch up with Jamie Fleming of Zero Waste Scotland, one of Love Food Hate Waste Scotland’s Communications Partners and a not-for-profit environmental organisation funded by the Scottish Government. He tells me that working to tackle that 11% through a new and more drink waste specific campaign called Down the Drain, has led to some unexpected findings. 


“When we first ask people about their wastage of drinks, particularly alcohol, they jovially claim they don’t waste a drop,” says Jamie, “But when we challenge that, asking if they finished the bottle of wine they opened midweek, or if there was anything left in glasses the morning after a dinner party, we almost universally found that people realised they did, in fact, waste drinks. When you add all those little bits up, it amounts to quite a lot of liquid going down the drain”.

“Everything we buy, produce, eat, and drink has a carbon cost coming from how produce is grown, transported, and packaged, just to reach you. When you waste food and drink, all those emissions are for nothing. Compounding that, when it comes to wine and craft beer, you’re not just wasting the carbon, you’re also wasting the time, energy, and skill that goes into making that product.”

That’s not to say you should force down the last gulp if you’ve had enough, or that you should crack into cans that are approaching their BBE if you’re not in the mood – far from it. Reducing alcoholic drinks waste is easier than you’d think, and engaging consciously with the consumption of beer actually fosters and supports the ethos and ideals that craft holds dear. 

To support the Down the Drain campaign, we’re adapting some of Love Food Hate Waste’s best food-saving suggestions to help guide conscious craft beer consumption. First on our list? Proper storage. With American hops taking centre stage in many of craft beer’s most popular styles, popping your beers in the fridge as soon as you get them will prevent the degradation of the tropical, juicy, and very volatile compounds that make your IPA so lip-smackingly delicious.


Adjacent to this, only 50% of people know their fridge should be below 5°C. Checking your fridge temperature will not only ensure your food stays safe and tasty, but your beers will stay fresher for longer and you can enjoy them until well after their BBE date. This leads us to our next point… 

We can all agree a fresh pour is the best, and consuming craft beers within a month or two of purchase is ideal, but beyond that familiarising yourself with food date labels might make you realise you have longer to enjoy your beers than you think. A beer’s BBE (best quality before) is different to its Use By (safe to consume until) or Display Until date (this is for retailers only), with the former only acting as a guideline as to how long your beer will remain in optimal condition if stored correctly. 

Many craft beers now don’t feature a use by date, only a best before, so trusting your senses and consulting a beer’s rating or tasting notes is the best way to be sure a beer is still going to hit the spot. Out of date beers are very rarely unsafe, just rather nasty.

Our final suggestion? Host a bottle share with friends. Splitting every can you open not only means you can compare notes and try more beers, but it also means you don’t overpour, and find yourself with more DIPA or imperial stout in your glass than you can manage. 

Such simple steps as these can ensure you get the best and most environmentally friendly serve; doing what we can to save our planet is a cause we’ll raise our glass to. 

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