Okay, so the German beer purity law is five hundred years old–it was time for a review anyway. A recent study of twenty-four of the most popular German beers found contaminants in all of them. The one most troubling is not the bugs or dead skin–it’s plastic.
Where did PLASTIC come from? The simple answer: it’s everywhere. Plastic doesn’t naturally decompose, although it will break into smithereens when exposed over time to light. Those little particles can become airborne; ground into the earth; and get transported here, there, and everywhere on anything that moves by attaching itself.
You can expect pieces of your bottled water or Saran wrap to linger for oh, five hundred years or so (an estimate). In time for a new beer purity law, perhaps.
Implications for Us and Everything Else on the Planet
As a result of its hardiness and portability, plastic eventually makes its way into oceans, rivers, and lakes; soil and–apparently–beer. What’s the significance? According to the researchers:
“The small numbers of microplastic items in beer in themselves may not be alarming, but 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.”
The study reported finding synthetic fibers in honey–with implications that plastic is on and in everything outdoors, regardless of where we dump it. Fish are dying from ingesting it, birds get tangled in it, molecules from dishes and containers leach into food and water–plastic is virtually impossible to avoid. There is increasing evidence that ingesting plastic–even at the molecular level–is disruptive to our endocrine systems.
According to Plastics Europe, plastic is an “organic product”. Much like genetically-modified life forms are “natural”. If dinosaurs took millions of years to degrade, then what’s a mere five hundred for plastics?
Plastic is the result of the distillation of crude petroleum oil. Would you take a swig out of the bottle of motor oil you put in your car? Or use it to fry up some potatoes? Probably not. If nothing else, with a desire to move away from fossil fuels, we can reduce the amount of new plastics we buy.
While we can’t safely get rid of what’s already been produced, we can certainly limit future use. Use glass, stainless steel, and ceramics at home, opt for products that reduce packaging, wear natural fibers (cotton, silk, hemp, linen), and recycle whenever possible.
We love our beer. It’s even good for us, in moderation. Germans are very serious about beer; if it’s in theirs, it’s probably a safe assumption that it can be found in ours. If that last bastion of certified purity is gone, it may be time to clean up our act–we can’t wait another five hundred years. After all, some things are sacrosanct and worth saving. Like beer.