Plastic seems like it’s been around forever, and most of us would find it difficult to imagine a world without it. We’ve become so dependent on the stuff that we produce a staggering amount of it—we introduce another 380 million metric tons into our environment each year.
That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of every living human being.
We use around a million plastic bottles per minute. It’s hard to imagine what that looks like, but it’s horrifying to contemplate the effect that much plastic has had—and will continue to have—on our environment.
Plastics have only been around since the 1950s, but we’ve produced 8.3 billion metric tons of them. Of that, less than 10% has been recycled. Approximately 12% has been incinerated, releasing toxic chemicals like dioxins, furans, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls directly into the atmosphere. The nearly 80% that remains sits in landfills or in our natural environment.
The plastic in landfills isn’t inert or contained. It breaks down into tiny particles contaminating our soil and waterways, eventually making their way into plants and animals—and ultimately into us. Scientists in the Netherlands recently discovered microplastic pollution in anonymous test subjects, 80% of whom had tiny particles of PET, polystyrene, or polyethylene in their blood.
Increasing awareness of the problem has resulted in pressure from consumers and environmental advocacy groups on lawmakers and manufacturers to curb the production of single-use plastics. Bans on plastic bags and straws are already common in urban areas around the US. Many feel it’s past time that the plastic rings used to hold 6-packs of aluminum cans be eliminated. These are not only a source of plastic pollution but can also entrap and kill wildlife.
Those of us in the brewing and beverage industry have an obligation to pursue sustainable canning and packaging policies, and addressing this issue now puts us slightly ahead of the curve—which is an excellent place to be. As public perception and our collective understanding of these issues grow, we must look for canning solutions that provide environmental benefits.
Sustainable Canning Solutions
Breweries and other beverage producers with an eye toward sustainable and ecologically responsible options do, thankfully, have some choices. New alternatives to the plastic six-pack yokes, which have been used since 1960, make it easy to transition to recyclable or renewable packaging. The development of can carrier tops made from recycled plastic and novel options for packaging and transporting four- and six-pack aluminum cans are welcome solutions.
One approach to the problem is as green as it gets—literally. Can carrier tops made from sugarcane and bamboo plants’ tough, woody fibers provide security and stability in transporting bundled aluminum cans. The fast-growing plants are renewable resources, providing a knock-on effect that furthers sustainability efforts.
Back to Nature
Using alternative raw materials for components that would have been constructed from paper products eliminates the need for matter derived from lumber. Up to 16% of the virgin tree fiber used in paper products comes from old-growth forests. This protects those forests and eliminates the need for the energy used to harvest and transport lumber.
Fiber can rings are currently only available in four-can, standard-size carriers. Still, these are an excellent option for beverage makers who use that format and want to transition to sustainable canning solutions. The fiber can ring carriers are designed to compost entirely within a two-to-four-month period in a standard commercial composting environment.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Other options include paperboard alternatives to plastic six-pack rings or plastic wrap. Available for use with both four- and six-packs of either 12- or 16-oz standard cans, these “clips” are made from single-ply paperboard produced from sustainable forest management sources. No adhesive or plastic components are used in this style of packaging, and cans packaged this way are secure yet easy to detach at the point of consumption.
Another option focuses on the “reduce, reuse, recycle” ethic and aims to use plastic already in the environment. PakTech handles are manufactured solely with 100% recycled HDPE sourced from plastic waste. Making use of material already present in the environment is an excellent “upcycle approach” to the problem.
Manufacturing the PakTech handles with recycled HDPE uses only 10% of the energy needed to produce conventional, virgin plastic—and none of the petroleum. The HDPE can carrier tops are 100% “indefinitely” recyclable. PakTech shows its commitment to sustainable canning by creating and maintaining a recycling program for its HDPE handles.
Brewers and beverage makers looking for eco-friendly canning solutions may also be interested in their Pak-to-Pak handles—made from recycled PakTech handles but otherwise identical to newly made can carrier tops.
Twinmonkeys, One Planet
We’re not just in the business of just selling canning machines. We strive to support our customers in all their efforts and work to provide custom-tailored pallet-to-pallet solutions that enable success. We’re also committed to sustainability and eco-friendly policies as a company and encourage our partners to make similar pledges within their communities.
We try to do more than talk about it, and we love the opportunity to support efforts toward sustainability whenever we can. We know many of our customers are already making strides to adopt sustainable canning practices. We applaud those efforts—and we’d like to contribute to them.
We’re pleased to be able to offer the Paktech Handle Applicator to our customers. It’s a simple, straightforward, small footprint machine that completely automates the application of 4- or 6-pack handles, freeing up your packout team for more important jobs. This machine uses the same 100% HDPE recycled material PakTech handles mentioned above. It is a fantastic way for a brewer or beverage maker to reduce their environmental impact.
We’re all in this together, and it’s our continued and shared responsibility to do what we can to reduce our impact on our environment and turn back climate change. If you’d like to talk more about sustainable canning solutions, get in touch—we’d love to chat.