Dastardly Drinks Pile On The Carbon

carbon footprint of drinks

I have talked briefly before about how some foods have high carbon footprints and I have covered the carbon footprint of tea and coffee on more than one occasion but do you know just how polluting some other drinks can be?

If not, this post will hopefully pull the wool from your eyes and show you just how that glass, mug or can is pushing your own footprint ever higher. You can then act by reducing the number of times you drink those drinks that are carbon heavy.

Soft Drinks & Smoothies

I’m the first to admit that I used to enjoy a nice glass of fresh orange juice most evenings and beside the Tetrapak packaging, I didn’t think too much as to what impact orange growing and juicing has on the environment. Luckily for me, my brand of choice, Tropicana, released a statement informing me of exactly that.

PepsiCo, who owns the popular juice brand, worked with the Columbia Earth Institute to calculate that a 64-ounce carton of orange juice has a life-cycle carbon footprint of 1.7kg. Now, thanks to a bit of Google magic, I have worked out that 64-ounces is around 1.82 litres which means that my 500ml glass of orange juice every night had a carbon footprint of around 467g which is roughly the same as a 6 minutes in a typical electric shower. Over a year this equates to 170.5kg or 2.1% of my annual footprint.

It may not sound like a lot, but if the millions of orange juice drinkers across the country all cut down by 1 glass a week, they could save many hundreds of thousands of tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year.

You don’t have to give up that orange flavour altogether either. Tesco’s own carbon labelling tells us that that orange squash has a carbon footprint that is much lower than fresh orange juice. Using my same 500ml serving, it could be as low as 28g CO2 – a saving of 439g per glass.

Innocent smoothies are great for your health and are certainly an easy way of getting one of your 5-a-day but did you know that a 250ml bottle could have a carbon footprint of 241g. This gives it a higher global warming potential than fresh orange juice.

I’m Not Fruitist

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not telling you not to eat fruit; in fact I’m encouraging you to eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juice. Thanks to the additional processing, waste, packaging and transport that goes into a fruit drink, the carbon footprint is considerably higher than if you just ate the fruit in the first place.

A local, seasonal apple, for instance, could have a carbon footprint of just 10g although the average throughout the year is 80g. A banana also comes in at 80g CO2 and an orange is around 90g CO2 so you could get all the health benefits with a fraction of the greenhouse gases.

Fizzy Pop Not So Hot

I certainly don’t encourage the drinking of sugary, caffeinated drinks although I will admit to consuming them on the odd occasion. There are some people, however, for whom these well known soft drink brands are a large part of their daily drink consumption and hopefully this section might dissuade them from having so many.

Coca Cola worked with the Carbon Trust in the UK to calculate the carbon footprints of various different products. You can see the list on their site here but as a quick guide, a 330ml can of regular coke has a footprint of 170g CO2 while a 2 litre bottle comes in around 400g CO2. Obviously those small glass bottles you get come in quite a lot higher at 360g because of additional transport emissions. Diet Coke is marginally better than regular.

Now while these figures are considerably lower than the pure fruit juices and smoothies mentioned above, I certainly wouldn’t take that as a sign to drink more of them; at least you get some goodness out of fruit based drinks! The carbon footprint of cola and other pop drinks is almost entirely for pointless empty calories.

If you want to drink cola flavoured drinks then the best thing you can do is get one of the much improved SodaStream devices. We used to have one of these as a kid and they work well and are much cheaper than buying bottles in a supermarket. SodaStream also worked with the Carbon Trust and calculated the carbon footprint of their regular cola as 110g CO2 per litre. This is a little over half that of store bought branded cola but a lot less waste is produce too. This is also an estimate based on US consumption where they admit emissions are higher due to distribution distances – in the UK it could well be much lower.

Those Cheeky Pints Add Up

Most people, me included, like to let their hair down every so often and have a few alcoholic beverages but depending on what you drink and how you drink it, the carbon footprint can vary greatly.

Beer and lager are probably the most popular tipple and the minimum carbon footprint is likely to be 300g CO2 per pint for locally brewed cask ale served in a pub. As soon as bottles are involved, the footprint rises steeply with some foreign bottled beers coming in at 900g per pint.

I couldn’t find the details for cider but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were similar values.

If you are a wine drinker then the figures are not particularly clear. I have found sources stating 2kg CO2 kg of wine, 600g per litre for production alone and 140g per 125ml glass when shipped with the same country. I would hazard an educated guess, based on these 3 other figures, of around 1.5kg CO2 per litre at the point of consumption. A box of wine would have slight benefits over a bottle due to transport emissions. English wine would be the best in terms of distance and footprints.

This article on Mother Jones would suggest that spirits are not the greenest drinks in the world ounce for ounce but then you don’t drink a straight pint of vodka do you? Given the common mixers such as orange and cola are talked about above, I would say that the spirit itself plays a relatively small part in the carbon footprint of any mixed drinks. That is unless you are drinking something particularly heavy on the alcohol like a Long Island Ice Tea (damn! this happens to be one of my favourite drinks).

In Summary

I tend to drink water the majority of the time these days with the odd pint of cider or vodka mixer but I’m not going to stand here and tell people that this is the only way. Yes of course tap water has the lowest carbon footprint of any drink but many people find it a little bland.

I would suggest squash or cordial during the day or a black tea/coffee if you prefer hot drinks. When in a bar or pub, try and support your local or British beers and ales and if you have to drink wine, again local is best.

Instead of drinking pure fruit juice, eat the fruit itself and if you want a smoothie then make them at home and pour into a reusable bottle.

As with many of my posts, the ideas here are quite simple and the reductions in carbon footprint may seem small but I’m all about small changes taken collectively by large swathes of the population which can make a big difference overall.

If you have any other food or drink based thoughts then I’d love to see them in the comments section below.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

9 Responses to “Dastardly Drinks Pile On The Carbon”

  1. Maria
    June 22, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    Wow, I had no idea that drinking boxed fruit juice substantially added to my carbon footprint (especially those Innocent smoothies! I’m shocked!) I think I will be cutting down on them from now on. Though, I am one of the lucky ones who actually enjoys drinking water, so I’ll be reaching for that before I grab soda or fruit juice.

    People who don’t like water should try ways of making it more exciting, like squeezing some lemon and lime into it, it’s the only way I get my husband to drink it!

  2. Jaydee
    June 24, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    Well who would have thought an easy everyday activity such as drinking adds to our carbon footprint! Some certainly interesting figures there.

    This article is a real eye opener thanks for reporting! Luckily I am proud to say I am more of a water drinker anyway! Plus when I go out my favourite bar has locally brewn ales and ciders – straight from the barrel. Il commend the bar staff on their greeness next time! Thank you. Jay x

    • Steve
      June 25, 2012 at 8:50 AM

      It’s eye-opening when you get down to the figures isn’t it? Ha, yeah let you local bar know that they are doing a good job there :)

  3. olwen
    July 7, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    What an insightful article, this makes you realise how even the littlest of things increases your carbon footprint. Thanks for the advice regarding the soda stream, i recall having one as a child but would have no idea where to get one now, any ideas? That seems eco friendly and the right thing to do. Thanks, Olwen x

    • Steve
      July 7, 2012 at 5:23 PM

      You can get them from many of the big high street stores such as Currys and Argos or online at somewhere like Amazon

  4. July 26, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    I didn’t know all of these things…very informative article. I will try to just drink water especially when I am out.

  5. Rob
    March 29, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    This is an interesting read – I feel better about my SodaStream now (even though I read somewhere else that the carbon footprint of replacing the gas canisters is horrific?). I will drink more water, but now I’m curious to know whether the footprint from Brita Filter cartridges (which makes the tap water palatable) offsets against the benefits of drinking it?

    • March 29, 2013 at 10:58 AM

      Hi Rob – I don’t know what the carbon footprint of a Brita cartridge is. The tap water in London tastes fine to me so I’ve never had to use one. I wouldn’t imagine they’d be all that high. Maybe leave a message on Brita’s social media channels asking them about it and see whether they come back to you.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. May 22, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Water as mother nature intended & drinking with a clear conscious!

    Great read Steve, taking a look at your anual carbon footprint graphic lead me to the .gov site that you have used in your annual footprint post, it’s about one of the coolest calculators ive come accross. Thanks

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