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Boozing Britain suffers waste and recycling headache, research reveals

Britain’s boozers, already amongst the heaviest drinkers in Europe, are responsible for one of the alcohol industry’s biggest headaches – how to deal with the waste products of both production and consumption.

These are the findings of waste management firm BusinessWaste.co.uk, which says that alongside the bottle banks and tin recycling, brewers and distillers are also having to cope with an ever-growing mountain of by-products created during manufacture of their drinks.

While bottles and tins are easily and readily recycled, some brewers have traditionally just poured away their waste products, the company said.

“The consumer would be shocked if they knew of the waste behind their favourite tipple,” said Mark Hall, Business Waste spokesman, “but the truth is that they’re only just coming to grips with a centuries-old problem.”

According to official statistics, every year Britons get through:

  • 1.5 billion bottles of wine
  • 108 million bottles of vodka
  • 70 million bottles of Scotch
  • 30 million bottles of gin

Around 70 per cent of British people say they drink alcohol on a weekly basis, with larger numbers of younger people bucking the national trend which had previously shown a decline in adult drinkers.

“Aside from the obvious health risks, we can report that up to 50 per cent of alcohol containers aren’t recycled and end up in general waste bins,” Hall said. “As an environmental health check for the nation, that’s not particularly good.

“That means millions of tons of glass and aluminium not being recycled every year and that’s a terrible waste.”

Consumer recycling levels are a tangible marker for the environmental impact of Britain’s thirst, but waste issues are also of pressing concern at the start of the alcohol chain, at the early stages in the brewing and distilling trade.

Figures show that the Scotch whisky industry alone produces 500,000 tonnes of solid waste every year and 1.6bn litres of waste liquids. While the solid waste (called ‘draff’) is usually spread on agricultural land, the liquid (‘pot ale’) is often just poured down the drain.

There’s hope that chaff and pot ale can be turned into other products and a process was recently revealed that turns the two waste products into useful chemicals such as acetone and fuels like butanol and ethanol.

“That’s the kind of ‘out of the box’ thinking that could save the distilling industry thousands every year,” said Hall. “Not only in cutting their waste bills, but selling their by-products as a premium product.”

Using whisky waste as a biofuel is an idea already taking hold in Scotland, with several projects under way. One whisky maker is already supplying biofuels for vehicles.

BusinessWaste.co.uk says that other sectors of the drinks industry should take a look at their by-products to see if there is a viable alternative to waste.

“With raw commodities becoming more expensive every day, it means that the gap between waste and value is narrowing,” Hall said. “New processes could save the booze industry from a financial hangover, but they’ve got to invest first.”

BusinessWaste.co.uk focuses on recycling and waste disposal for businesses of all kinds, managing waste and recycling collections for companies. The company campaigns towards reducing wasteful landfill, increasing recycling targets, tighter laws to discourage littering and wasteful behaviour, and encourage wider recycling.

Most notably, the firm was among organisations calling upon authorities in England to follow the examples of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and introduce charges for supermarket carrier bags, to reduce the massive waste and environmental damage they cause.

E&T took a closer look at issues surrounding waste management and recycling recently, including sustainable fashion and recycled clothing; harnessing the power of poo, energy from excrement; how landfill sites are being transformed into wildlife habitats; the difficulties in recycling more of mankind’s waste; and genetically engineering slugs to chew through landfill.

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