May 9, 2023

Can Carriers and Sustainability

Can Carriers and Sustainability

Reducing plastic waste: Sustainable Alternatives to plastic Can Carriers

Its estimated that less than 5% of plastic gets recycled with the remaining being sent to landfills, incinerated, exported, or polluting our land and sea. Thankfully, there is a growing movement among craft brewers to reduce plastic waste.

Plastic carriers and the sustainability problem

Plastic can carriers are the most commonly used carriers for craft beer makers. PakTech, the leading plastic can carrier brand, makes their rings from 100% recycled HDPE, a common type of plastic. While being made from recycled plastic is a better alternative than using plastic made from raw materials, a major problem is that very few of the plastic carriers make it back into circulation. As a nation, we are bad at recycling. And even if we do recycle, many of our recycling centers are unable to efficiently recycle what can be recycled. This has led to massive increases in the volume of plastic in our landfills and oceans.

Plastic alternatives exist.

If you’re looking for ways to reduce your plastic waste production, there are several options. The two most common options are either wood fiber based (paper) or fiber from other plants such as straw. There are advantages and disadvantages of both which we’ll explore below.

Paper Based Carriers

A cheap way to enter the "use less plastic" space

Paper based options include a variety of options from companies like Westrock, Fishbone, and the commonly used boxes/wraps. The paper based carriers from Westrock and Fishbone are light, relatively inexpensive compared to boxes/wraps and are sometimes recyclable. One advantage compared to straw fiber pulp carriers is the ability to do full color printing on the entire carrier. While this does provide an additional surface to print marketing material, it's important to ask your supplier how the ink used impacts your sustainability goals. Some inks render the paper unrecyclable or may contain toxic heavy metals that remain present after paper degradation. Additionally, from a sustainability perspective, it's important to understand where the wood fiber is sourced from. While some paper manufacturers are making an effort to support responsible, sustainable wood harvesting, the paper industry is still a major contributor to global deforestation.  

Paperboard boxes/wraps offer a nice way to provide additional “billboard” space on a shelf, however they also require about 8x more paperboard material compared to the carriers listed above and are typically significantly higher cost. Manual box assembly is possible with the automated devices costing close to $100,000 or more.

Plant Fiber Based Carriers

Yes, we know trees are plants too. The plant fibers we're referring to here are non-wood plants such as wheat and barley.

Plant fiber based products such as eco rings from E6PR and World Centric are, in our opinion, the most sustainable option available. (Bias Alert! We sell eco rings from E6PR, because, well, we believe in the product.)  The advantages of using eco rings is that they are made from by-products of the agricultural industry. Straw fiber (straw is what is left after taking the grain such as barley out of the plant) is the by-product that is repurposed into a pressed pulp and used to create the eco rings. No toxic additives are used and the plant fiber is pesticide free and certified biodegradable and compostable. This is what is known as a “circular” option because, when composted, the organic straw that is used to make the rings is converted back to soil. Additionally, because they are not paper based, they retain shape and holding strength better than the paper based products. The disadvantages of the pulp product are price and slower manual application when compared to plastic rings. Despite marketing data suggesting growing desire for sustainable packaging and a willingness by consumers to pay more for sustainable goods, paying a few pennies more per carrier is a legitimate challenge for many businesses. While there are a variety of options for automated application with the entry level machines being competitively priced (starting around 20k for 80 cans/minute speeds), manual application is slower compared to plastic rings. Lastly, there are currently limited options for printing on the carriers. Fortunately, this is likely to change in late 2023 as new printing methods and eco friendly inks are used. 

how to make the transition to plastic free carriers

We recommend doing a test run. Find samples at your local market or we’d be happy to send samples of the eco rings to you as well. Purchasing a small volume as an initial order is a great way to test the products with your production staff and patrons. Cheers!

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