Want some plastic particles with that cold German beer?

beer sampler
CC BY 2.0 Quinn Dombrowski

Researchers filtered 24 brands of German beer for contaminants and found some things that really shouldn't be there.

Germany loves its beer and is famous for it. Ever since a ‘beer purity law’ was established in 1516 to ensure standardized production methods and to protect consumers from contamination, German beer has continued to maintain a high standard in which “the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be barley, hops, and water” (The Guardian).

The results of a recent study, however, are bound to horrify the Germans, and all devoted beer-drinkers, for that matter.

Researchers took 24 brands of beer, 10 of which are currently the most popular in Germany, and filtered them in order to detect contaminants. In all cases, they found microplastics, which are defined by the researchers as “fibres, films, fragments or granular particles smaller than 5 mm in size and made of synthetic polymers.” Microplastics in fragment form were the most abundant.

The researchers also found an almost complete insect, sand grains, and, in three samples, glass shards. While the sand can be due to the use of spring water, which is something that some brewers claim to use, the other contaminants are “considered to be a sign of inadequate product handling and storage” and could be helped by improved hygienic industrial design.

The ubiquity of microplastics, however, is the greatest concern. Although the amounts found in these beers are not considered dangerous to human health, they are a harsh and important reminder of the extent to which microplastics have now infiltrated our entire world. The researchers state in their conclusion:

“Their occurrence in a beverage as common as beer indicates that the human environment is contaminated by micro-sized synthetic polymers to a far-reaching extent.”

How does this happen? When plastic disappears into the environment, it does not break down, but rather ‘photodegrades’, which Grist describes as “disintegrating into a million little pieces when exposed to light.” Those little pieces drift around the planet, filling up the oceans and human water supply and making their way into the food chain.

While there is no easy way to clean up the plastic mess we’ve created, we can help to slow it down by reducing our plastic use greatly. It requires some tough consumer choices and alternative ways of shopping (see my post about zero-waste grocery shopping), but these changes need to be made. It’s time to say “no more” to plastic.

It will be interesting to see how German brewers and beer drinkers react to this study. Are you going to think twice before grabbing a cold one from the fridge?

Tags: Beer | Drinks | Germany | Plastics

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