Chicagoland Reuse and Recycling Co-op will rescue millions of plastic can carriers from the waste stream
PR / CHICAGO (May, 2022) – Dozens of Chicago-area craft breweries have joined together in an effort to eliminate plastic waste created by the millions of can carriers that cycle through the region every year.
The Chicagoland Can Carrier Reuse and Recycling Co-op aims to raise awareness in the craft beer community that the plastic carriers holding many of their favorite beverages often end up in landfill – even when they’re tossed in the recycling bin. As a result, participating breweries are encouraging consumers to bring them back to be reused or properly recycled.
“People think they’re doing the right thing when they drop them in their single-stream recycling bins, but because recycling centers have difficulty processing them, they might be doing more harm than good,” says Alex Parker, founder of Craft for Climate, a Chicago-based organization that’s coordinating the co-op effort. “We want breweries and consumers to know that there’s a better way.”
Despite being marketed as “100% recyclable” by manufacturers, most plastic can carriers end up in the waste stream after just one use. It’s an unfortunate reality that has frustrated the environmentally conscious craft brewing industry for some time, mostly because pitching them into curbside recycling bins is actually part of the problem. In the Chicago area alone, it’s estimated that more than 10 million can carriers are in circulation annually. Less than 10% of them end up getting reused or recycled.*
Like almost all plastic packaging, snap-on can carriers (sometimes called holders, handles or toppers) are incompatible with sorting equipment. As a result, they get rejected at material recovery facilities (MRFs) and sent to landfill, which has negative impacts on the environment.
So far, more than two dozen breweries and bottle shops in the Chicago area have joined the co-op, including Half Acre Beer, Temperance Brewing, Art History, Midwest Coast, Une Anne/Hubbard’s Cave, and Orange and Brew, pledging to collect and reuse the durable packaging. Participating locations are listed on an interactive map.
Half Acre (Chicago), Temperance (Evanston), Heartland Beverage (St. Charles) and recycling education organization SCARCE (Addison) will serve as collection hubs, where participating businesses can bring excess, damaged or otherwise unusable discards to be properly recycled. Additionally, distributor Heartland Beverage has agreed to provide logistical support by picking up and delivering collected carriers to destinations along their existing distribution routes. Craft for Climate has also partnered with Resource Center, a recycling pioneer in the city of Chicago for more than 45 years, to sidestep the troublesome single-stream sorting difficulty.
“What’s clear from discussions with breweries and other retailers is that businesses want a sustainable solution when it comes to packaging their products. Reusing can carriers over and over, which also saves businesses money, is one of the best ways to accomplish that,” says EcoFriendlyBeer.com founder Rob Vandenabeele. “The final piece of the puzzle is keeping them out of the waste stream at the end of their useful life through a separate-stream collection service.”
The co-op, which launches in conjunction with Illinois Craft Beer Week, is the result of months of planning and collaboration between Parker, sustainable candle entrepreneur Adam Dickens, and Vandenabeele, who has successfully organized similar efforts in New England.
Modeled on Vandenabeele’s recent efforts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, where hundreds of thousands of can carriers have been rescued and reused, the Chicagoland Co-op has the potential to prevent millions of the rigid plastic carriers from a wasteful single-use destiny.
“The Chicago craft beer community has always supported each other, and this is just another example of breweries coming together to address a common cause,” says Dickens.
Given the proliferation of plastic production, the importance of establishing successful reuse schemes to combat its negative environmental impacts has never been greater. The Chicagoland effort hopes to reduce the need for new carriers by allowing the ones already in circulation to be used over and over again. It’s difficult to calculate precisely, but creating a market for reusing them prevents unnecessary energy use to manufacture new ones, decreases greenhouse gas emissions associated with additional deliveries, and spares wildlife harm from entanglement or microplastic ingestion that can occur when plastic packaging isn’t properly disposed of.
“We think this program can really make a difference, and we think it’s replicable across Illinois and other places,” Parker says. “If you’re a brewery or bottle shop that wants to get involved than go ahead and start collecting carriers. It’s the first step toward addressing the problem.”
*Estimates for can carrier use, reuse and recycling were calculated using data collected during correspondences with several dozen breweries, officials from recycling groups, and several of the largest waste management companies.
This press release should not be mistaken as an endorsement of plastic can carriers, which manufacturers disingenuously promote as “100% recyclable.” While true in theory, such marketing claims are anything but true in reality. Because they are incompatible with curbside recycling programs in the U.S., billions of plastic can carriers end up in the waste stream annually. This fact is the motivation for the Can Carrier Reuse & Recycling Initiative, which recognizes the unsustainable nature of plastic packaging within the beverage industry and is trying to mitigate the environmental harm caused by it.
Craft for Climate is a coalition of beer snobs trying to make the world a better place through something we all love: beer. The group is committed to making a difference that can mitigate climate change and preserve this great planet for our children, grandchildren and beyond.
The EcoFriendlyBeer.com website was founded in early 2020 to spur discussion and share insights on how the craft brewing industry and its consumers can better protect our Earth, the only planet with craft beer. Its founder is currently enrolled in the Sustainability Studies program at Harvard Extension School and offers consulting for the craft beverage industry.
Adam Dickens founded Dickens Candles in 2016 by drawing inspiration from coffee, beer & Saturday Mornings. He set out to make a candle you can feel good about that was sustainable and handmade. Using his maker skills and creativity, he developed the concept of hand poured soy wax candles in upcycled beer bottles. Sustainability is built into every candle.