PLANET EARTH – Worldwide, well over 100 breweries have now switched from industry-standard plastic can carriers to eco-friendlier ones. Among the most cited reasons are that single-use plastic packaging has proven surprisingly difficult to recycle, and the resulting build up of micro plastics in the world’s oceans is increasingly harmful to marine life. The trend is welcome news to environmentally focussed consumers and animal welfare groups, especially with the celebration of Endangered Species Day on May 15th, and the ongoing observation of American Wetlands Month.
Up until recently, plastic can carriers have been popular because of their functionality, convenience for retail sales, and cheap price tag. Their unsustainable nature, however, has made consumers and some brewery owners uneasy. As a result, breweries around the globe are reducing their reliance on them, often choosing instead the 100% plant-based and certified compostable Eco Rings from startup company E6PR. First made popular by Salt Water Brewery in Florida, the truly biodegradable Eco Rings have since been adopted by a growing number of other environmentally conscious breweries. Among them are Bell’s Beach Brewing in Australia, Hey Joe Brewing in South Africa, Iceland’s Seagull 67, Argentina’s La Paloma, Mexico’s Monzon, Canada’s Big Spruce, and more than 100 other brewers in the U.S. and elsewhere. See a full list of companies currently using them below.
Made from agricultural by-product waste and additional organic materials, E6PR’s Eco Rings biodegrade naturally and won’t cause harm to wildlife in case of ingestion. Surf City’s Salty Turtle Beer Co. became the first brewery in North Carolina to start using them for that very reason. Proud partners of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, they’ve donated a portion of their beer sales to the organization since opening.
After initial growing pains, E6PR refined its design, added a 4-pack version of its Eco Rings, and began ramping up production to meed demand in mid 2019. Breweries too, especially environmentally conscious ones, have embraced them after some initial apprehension. Among the misconceptions were concerns regarding the durability, expense, and application of the product. A bit less pliable than plastic, they require a different application method than plastic snap-ons, which you can see in the video below (high speed applicators, including automated machinery, is available now for faster canning lines).
Though most breweries have experienced a brief learning curve with application, reviews have primarily been positive after they’ve made the switch to Eco Rings. “We ran them through their paces and they hold up great,” said North Carolina’s Asheville Brewing in a press release announcing its adoption of them last month. “The difference in cost worked out to something like eight cents per four-pack,” said Jay Sullivan, co-founder of Honest Weight Artisinal Beer in Massachusetts. His brewery was among the first of several dozen in New England that have switched to them. “We think it’s worth it when you consider the environmental benefit they offer.”
Communicating what those benefits are to brewery owners and consumers has been another hurdle for E6PR, largely due to misinformation, or what might be argued as disingenuous marketing claims by some of its competitors. Manufacturers like PakTech and Roberts PolyPro market their carriers as “100% recyclable” by stamping the chasing arrows symbol on them, but their products are typically anything but in reality. Among the issues that render them unrecyclable for the vast majority of curbside collections are their shape (they get tangled in machinery), size (too small & flat), and color (black is undetectable) – all of which pose problems for processors. The flimsy plastic film rings made by Hi-Cone and others aren’t much better. Photodegradable to decrease the likelihood of life-threatening entanglement for wildlife, the plastic degrades into particles that are often consumed by marine life, and they aren’t accepted in municipal curbside recycling bins either.
A Twitter poll from January of this year revealed that many U.S. craft beer consumers weren’t aware of such recycling limitations regarding plastic can carriers. Fortunately, more and more breweries are moving away from them, including some of the world’s largest brands. European brewer Carlsberg has been phasing in its new Snap Packs, which use a small speck of recyclable glue to hold cans together, Mexico’s Corona introduced a new can design it calls the Fit Pack which uses no packaging materials at all, and Australia’s Carlton & United Breweries (CUB), a collection of brands now owned by Asahi Breweries, announced plans last March to scrap its use of plastic six-pack rings in favor of cardboard packaging.
Marcus Cox, who worked in the Australian brewing industry for two decades before relocating to the U.S. to take the lead brewer role at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania’s Mindful Brewing, assumes that breweries around the world will continue moving away from plastic packaging. “The Eco Rings were an obvious match with our brand identity,” he said. “Our name kind of says it all.” Primarily a taproom focussed business that uses a mobile canner for distribution beer about six times a year, the Mindful Brewing staff applies the E6PR carriers with a custom-built hand-operated machine. Cox says the extra cost, which works out to less than $1,000 annually, is just considered part of their environmental commitment.
“Most consumers and brewery owners accept that there’s a slightly higher cost when you choose a more environmentally responsible package,” says Jonathan Cole, head of sales at Witch’s Hat Brewing just outside of Detroit, Michigan. Multiple studies back that up. The compostable packaging also stands out on liquor store shelves, claims Cole. “Consumers really seem to notice them,” he says. “They ask what material the rings are made of are all the time, it’s a great opportunity to broadcast our commitment to the environment.”
“We’re proud to offer our customers a functional, sustainable and attractive packaging, says Ryan Wagner, brand ambassador at Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Maryland, who also noted that E6PR’s unique appearance has provided an opportunity to chat with customers and colleagues about the importance of sustainability. “Our experience with the packaging has been overwhelmingly positive and we’ll continue to look for new and diverse ways to protect our local communities, as well as our global resources.”
Like Witch’s Hat, Ontario’s Creemore Springs Brewery strives to be a zero waste business and said using the E6PRs was a no-brainer for their team. “We were proud to be the first in Canada to implement the compostable Eco Rings,” said Kaileigh McMunagle, the brewery’s brand manager. Another first adopter was Queenstown’s Altitude Brewing, who announced on its Facebook page last May that it was excited to debut New Zealand’s first plastic-free and fully compostable six-pack rings. Adams Street Brewery in Chicago was among the first U.S. breweries to make the switch, a decision that followed its restaurant’s decision to go with biodegradable goods for its takeaway business. After comparing the environmental benefits of plastic carriers to compostable ones they decided to work with E6PR, explained Brand Manager Colleen Silk.
E6PR says that when disposed of properly, Eco Rings find their way to a commercial composting facility and degrade in a matter of days. A representative from the company confirmed that they also breakdown through home composting but results vary, especially the length of time it takes them to break down (I’m currently testing one in my own compost bin and will report the results in a future post). Tossing them into curbside paper/cardboard recycling collections is also an option. If they end up in a waterway, the rings break apart and degrade more slowly, but aren’t likely to be harmful to wildlife or the environment the way plastic carriers are. “Marine species often get tangled in ocean debris, from fishing nets to six pack rings,” says Ocean Today. And according to B.A.N. List 2.0, six-pack rings are the 19th most commonly found form of ocean pollution.
Unlike many of the so-called compostable products currently made from bioplastics, Eco Rings are formulated from 100% plant-based and organic ingredients. They are sometimes erroneously reported to be made from spent grains, but E6PR officials have made clear that while that’s likely feasible in the future, it hasn’t happened yet. Also worth noting is that early on the product was marketed as an “edible six-pack ring that feeds animals instead of killing them,” a claim the company quickly distanced itself from but continues to be reported by some media outlets. The truth is that littered and leaked packaging of any kind, though especially plastic, is a major threat to marine life, 150 of which are currently on the endangered species list. As Ocean Today and dozens of other wildlife groups have explained, “many animals mistake plastic debris for food, and eat it, which fills their stomachs with junk they can’t digest.”
Of course the ultimate solution is to eliminate single-use packaging of all sorts and require consumers to bring their own reusable bags, portable coolers. Don’t laugh, Pure Project Brewing in San Diego does just that. Its customers have embraced the responsibility of transporting their taproom takeaway purchases without single-use packaging. For distribution to liquor stores, Pure Project uses Eco Rings or cardboard flats. The result is zero plastic packaging waste associated with retail sales of their beer.
Note: the environmental impacts of various beer packaging options is currently the topic of a white paper that Eco-Friendly Beer Drinker is working on and hopes to release this summer.
Breweries and other beverage companies currently using E6PR’s compostable Eco Rings for some or all of the products: Akumal Cerveceria, Alfur Beer, Altitude Brewing, Amalga Distillery, Altruist Brewing, Asheville Brewing, Axe And Arrow Brewing, AZW Beer, Bad Lab Beer, Barkerville Brewing, Beach Juice Rose, Bells Beach Brewing, Berghoff Restaurant, Big Grove Brewing, Big Spruce Brewing, Bone Up Brewing, Bradley Brewing, Brasserie Knowltown, Broke Brewing, Brown Truck Brewing, C. Colorado (Zx Ventures ABI), Cavok Brewing, Cayman Spirits, Cerveceria Cyprez, Cerveceria de Puerto Rico, Cerveceria El Gardenia, Cerveceria Morenos, Cevins SA, Chapel & Main, Copper Bottom Brewing, Corner Point Brewing, Crazy Peak Brewing, Creemore Springs, Dead Lizzard Brewing, Devil’s Peak Beer, DIAGEO, Draught Works, Drink Maple Inc., Drink Fitzer, Duntroon Cyder, Earth Eagle Brewings, East Coast Kombucha, East Regiment Brewing, Easy Partners, Escape Brewing, Falling Piano Brewing, Final Gravity Brewing, Foco Ventures, Forest Road Brewing, Geo Ciders, Gentile Brewing, Ghost Hawk Brewing, Gotahold Brewing, Great Basin Coffee, Greener Solutions, Grupo Modelo, Guggman Haus Brewing, Guinness Open Gate Brewery, Hargreaves, Heart Water, Helia Brewing, Hidden Water, HighGrain Brewing, Hogback Mountain Brewing, Holyoke Brewing, Honest Weight Artisinal Beer, Humble Sea, Inne Beczki, Irwin Brewing, Island Dog Brewing, Jenrey, Karl Strauss Brewing, Kraemer & Kin Brewing, La Paloma Brewing,La Shop Brasserie, La Souche, Life Water,Loaded Question Brewing, Mammuth Canning, Marhs Brau, McFleshman, Mindful Brewing, Moon Hill Brewing, Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub, Nine Locks Brewing, Nita Beer, Northam Beverages, NU Brewery, Oak Flat Vineyards, Odd Brothers Cider, Ollie Branding, Oyster Creek Brewing, Perra Hermosa Coastal Brewery, Peakview Brewing, Peoria Artisan Brewing, Phillips Brewing, Pivo To Go, Provisions Wine, Pump House Brewing, Pure Project Brewing, Rapscallion Soda, Redemption Rock Brewing, Reid Mortimer (Monzon Brewing), Rightwater Inc., Rockport Brewing, Rosebank Brewing, Ruhstaller Beer, Rustic Roots, Salt Water Brewery, Salty Turtle Brewing, Sideward Brewing, Societe Brewing, SolBrew, Somerset Brewing, Soundview Brewing, State 64 Mobile Canning, Sunna Ehf. (Segull 67), SWB, Tealixir, The Brew Kettle, The Scurvy, Thornbury Cider, Tilton Brothers Brewing, To Share Brewing, Tox Brewing, Transport Brewing, Trinity Forest Brewing, UpSlope Brewing, Urban Alley Brewing, West LA Brewing, Witch’s Hat Brewing, Worthy Brewing.
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