Believe it or not, drinking alcohol contributes in its own small way to our carbon footprint. A vast majority of the damage for the bottles and cans bought in store comes from transportation and packaging. Since water is heavy, the further away the source of the beer, the higher the footprint.
Thanks to the explosion of American craft beer, there are almost an unending amount local options to that can help, but they often cost more and make an afternoon of drinking an expensive habit. It's a classic case of paying more to go green or spending less for lower quality and higher overall emissions. Luckily, in this case, there is an option that is both cheaper and better for the environment: making your own beer and cider at home!
Depending on where you live and what your pick of poison is, beers and ciders will cost you roughly $1-2/bottle. If you're drinking domestics, you might bring that down to $0.75. What we're considering cost effective is bringing that cost down as low as $0.50/12oz.
So here's what you do!
There's something about drinking beer that you've made that's just...cool. Just know this: You'll need to invest about $100-125 for complete set of standard 5-gallon equipment. Here's a good place to start. Depending on the brewing kits you buy after that, you'll start really saving money after the third or fourth batch. Kits generally run from $25-40 and make the equivalence of just over 50 12oz bottles.
As you reuse your equipment, you're eliminating bottle/can waste, energy required for recycling, and reducing your transportation impact by over 80% per 5-gallon batch.
Sidenote: You're welcome to pick up a smaller kit like the 2-gallon Mr. Beer keg, but those kits average around $17-25. The “savings” feel marginal and they don't leave as much room for adding your own twist.
The beautiful thing about making hard cider is just how wonderful simple it is. Brewing only requires two ingredients: preservative-free apple juice and yeast. Add in the fact that you can ferment in basically any container, including juice bottles themselves, and you've got one of the easiest home booze processes around. The buy-in cost here is much lower. For around $20 you can buy the yeast, cleaner, and carboys to get going.
Apple juice tends to be one of the most locally sourced fruits, which helps keep transportation costs lower than pineapple, orange, or any other citrus juice. It's certainly better than buying anything imported. By brewing yourself, you remove the majority of the bottling and packing that comes with individual 12oz containers. Apple orchards themselves are less water-intensive than many other fruits, hops, and grains, which makes cider the most environmentally friendly alcohol you can drink.
Either Way, You’re Reducing Your Impact
For all the nuance of this and that, the amount of 12oz bottles and cans NOT being made, transported, and melted down will help make a difference. Feel good about reducing the amount of carbon that has to go into production, save a few dollars, and gain a new hobby.
It's a win-win-win situation.