The Beer Can Is an Unsustainable Tale of Convenience, Corporate Concentration, and Profit

Discussion in 'Beer News & Releases' started by Todd, Aug 12, 2022.

  1. Todd

    Todd Founder (6,699) Aug 23, 1996 California
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    In a recent BeerAdvocate Twitter poll, 69% of respondents preferred beer in cans versus bottles. And many consumers have cited convenience and recycling/sustainability as major factors for their preference, however, this piece in the Treehugger (a modern sustainability site) challenges the belief that aluminum beer cans are more sustainable than bottles.
    https://www.treehugger.com/beer-can-market-unsustainable-5682197
     
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  2. dcotom

    dcotom Poo-Bah (3,057) Aug 4, 2014 Iowa
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    Like I keep sayin': Seven-ounce brown glass refillable bottles. It's Time.™
     
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  3. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (3,679) May 30, 2005 Michigan
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    I'm not one to check facts to determine the legitimacy of those used in this article, but the opening paragraph has me quizzical. I'd have to hear from someone from Canada to determine if returnable bottles were still in great use there just 10 years ago.
     
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  4. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,754) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
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    I have always questioned/wondered about the recycling 'rate' of aluminum cans and after lengthy web surfing I never found an answer that I thought was from a universally accepted authority. In my opinion this value is an unknown.

    The other issues when a sustainability analysis is conducted:
    • What assumptions were made since all analyses incorporate assumptions?
    • How far does the analysis go? Is is complete throughout the entire chain?
    • etc.
    Personally I would love for returnable bottles to make a return since they are heavy duty and my preferred bottle for my homebrewing. In my opinion the only way returnable bottles would return is via a government action (e.g., government subsidies and/or regulations) since breweries made a decision a number of years ago that the returnable bottle system was too expensive for them.

    Cheers!
     
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  5. snaotheus

    snaotheus Poo-Bah (6,491) Oct 6, 2008 Washington
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    @Coronaeus, my favorite beery Canadian, might have a thought
     
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  6. QuakeAttack

    QuakeAttack Crusader (745) Mar 19, 2012 California

    I personally don't have a preference.

    With respect to recycling, I did some detailed research over the past year after reading/hearing some information in one my Sierra Club Meetings. Sadly, the California recycle industry is not in good shape, and in general, the US has not provided the support structure which should be required for recycling, Most of the the reasons revolve around cost and convenience. It was less costly and far easier to send to China. Well, Covid screwed that up and the current political and future doesn't look good.

    I think the US and World is finally waking up that we don't live in a world of unlimited resources. It's either less people or a cost that we will have to bear moving forward. My opinion of course and "your" mileage may vary.
     
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  7. Coronaeus

    Coronaeus Poo-Bah (1,964) Apr 21, 2014 Canada (ON)
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    I’m no expert, and I rarely if ever buy Molson or Labatt beers, but as far as I know, all of their bottled product still comes in the reusable twist-off 341ml bottles. Some of the legacy craft brewers still use them too I believe (Dieu du Ciel! for sure and McAuslan as well I believe).

    Cans are far more plentiful than ever in all areas of beer here, but those reusable bottles are, I’m almost certain, still widely available for the macros. You can always tell when you have one that has been used more than a few times as there are rough rings around the top and bottom of the wider section of the bottle from the many trips down the bottling line.

    Back before the industry adopted a standard long neck bottle in the early 90s, you’d occasionally get a Molson Export in a Labatt branded bottle or vice versa. I always felt a little special when that happened.


    In Ontario, these bottles have a 10 cent deposit and are returned to the not-quite-a-monopoly The Beer Store. In Quebec you have the same deposit, but bottles are returned to the corner store or grocery stores that usually have a dedicated area for this. The move to the industry standard long neck 341ml twist-off bottles made it easier for merchants as they didn’t have to sort the bottles anymore. Non refillable craft bottles are returned in the same way with the same deposits.
     
  8. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,754) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
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    I learned about California & recycling last month and started this thread:

    https://www.beeradvocate.com/commun...ng-system-is-making-them-hard-to-find.667911/
    It is my understanding that for the aluminum industry there is a very strong demand for used cans since producing aluminum from raw materials is very energy intensive. The 'trick' is getting everybody to recycle the cans (I am 100% compliant here) and once they enter the recycle stream those used cans make it to the recycling industry. All that I know with certitude is that my used cans make it into the recycling bin which is picked up by trash company. I have zero insight into how those cans are handled/managed afterwards. I would like to believe that every one of the cans I place into my recycling bin gets recycled into new cans (or whatever).

    Cheers!
     
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  9. Urk1127

    Urk1127 Poo-Bah (2,083) Jul 2, 2014 Pennsylvania
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  10. Coronaeus

    Coronaeus Poo-Bah (1,964) Apr 21, 2014 Canada (ON)
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    This is a decade old, but I don’t think anything has changed other than cans making up a greater portion of their packaging than in ‘13.

    https://torontoist.com/2013/04/what-happens-to-beer-bottles-when-you-return-them-to-the-beer-store/
     
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  11. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,160) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    Reusable beverage bottles are a no-brainer solution to one of our major waste issues that has been the norm throughout human history.

    Unfortunately, we've chosen to prioritize short term convenience and profit over responsible resource management as a society. The only chance I see of reusable bottles returning is if the collection and cleaning of said bottles is operated or heavily subsidized by the government or if there are tax structures put in place to ensure that the cost of managing packaging waste is borne by the company that selling the packaged product.

    From where I sit, there doesn't seem to be much appetite for these kinds of large collective solutions or for additional taxes, so I wouldn't hold my breath on this situation changing any time soon.

    If we choose to depend on "the market" we are going to have to wait until we experience some real shortages in packaging options and the correspondent price increases to brewers.
     
  12. moodenba

    moodenba Defender (614) Feb 2, 2015 New York

    Here's a story from Toronto Star in 2013 that discussed bottle recycling at the Ontario beer store.
    https://www.thestar.com/life/food_w...n_its_environmentallyfriendly_life_cycle.html
    I've occasionally shopped for beer in Ontario and am not surprised at all about the statement. Other provinces may not have been as successful in reusing bottles.
     
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  13. BigIronH

    BigIronH Poo-Bah (1,831) Oct 31, 2019 Michigan
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    Let me put this delicately: If it makes my beer drinking experience favorable, I want it. If someone feels like something makes their experience favorable, they should have it. Life requires too many sacrifices to worry about it with regard to this subject. Cheers.
     
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  14. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,532) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Here's a graph, adapted from several issues over seven decades of the annual Beer Almanac published by what is now The Beer Institute (formerly the United States Brewers Association). Throw-away bottles only began outselling refillables in the early 1970s.
    [​IMG]

    Also, note that returning, cleaning and refilling bottles is not "recycling", which, by definition means (US EPA):


    But one has to also examine the effect that creating a new system of refillable bottles would have on other current problems like readily available clean water, energy, labor shortages and pollution, both air and water.
     
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  15. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,160) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    Would returnable bottles be any worse on any of those factors than the existing system of largely disposable packaging?
     
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  16. BigIronH

    BigIronH Poo-Bah (1,831) Oct 31, 2019 Michigan
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    “Michigan returned more than 90% of its deposit bottles and cans for recycling every year until 2018, when the number dipped to 89%. Total refunds in Michigan have ranged from $346 million to $425 million per year since 2000, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.”

    I’ll leave this here courtesy of the Detroit Free Press for all the Treehuggers. Michigan knows how to do it. Why can’t super “green” California figure it out?
     
  17. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (14,833) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
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  18. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,160) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    California, foolishly, tried a "market based approach" to their recycling system. Why they chose to privatize that particular industry when they provide state sponsorship to so many other aspects of modern society is beyond me but that's the choice they made. Recycling is not a viable industry within the framework of capitalism unless manufacturers are legally obligated to take financial responsibility for the waste they produce even after its been sold to consumers.

    Why every state hasn't copied Michigan's extremely successful bottle deposit bill is another mystery that I can't explain.
     
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  19. moodenba

    moodenba Defender (614) Feb 2, 2015 New York

    The beverage industry and, to some extent retailers, lobby state legislators, discouraging bottle bills. Michigan's success is the relatively high (at the time) 10c deposit. Oregon has fiddled with its long-standing law somewhat, by maybe not too successfully. You characterize California as being highly regulated, but CA could probably use some additional regulation in the area of water extraction and consumption (subsidence and dry wells in the Central Valley, for example).
     
  20. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,160) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    As far as I know there is a regulation in place requiring agriculture in the states water sheds to get their allocations in line with the actual amount of water available. Some areas are expected to lose 40% of their agricultural land
     
  21. BigIronH

    BigIronH Poo-Bah (1,831) Oct 31, 2019 Michigan
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    Lol seriously?
     
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  22. detgfrsh

    detgfrsh Savant (995) Jun 20, 2014 Texas

    In my area, cans are accepted for recycling but glass isn't. While I like glass bottles, there's no way for me to recycle them so all else equal I'd rather buy cans.

    Coca-Cola still uses returnable glass bottles in Mexico, but Mexican coke on this side of the border is single-use glass. The returnable bottles seem like a good system for restaurants. Not too hard for them to collect all the bottles as they're clearing tables.
     
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  23. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,105) Mar 12, 2009 New York
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    lol

    People are free to do their own reading and make their own decisions about what they read, but even if every aluminum can is recycled, no matter how you slice it, you can't reach more than 50% of the demand for aluminum. The cost to our environment is not zero, and it goes up by whatever metric you want to use or statistic you want to quote. My own lifestyle has adapted to zero purchase of aluminum, and zero disposal/recycling of plastic
     
  24. elNopalero

    elNopalero Poo-Bah (4,712) Oct 14, 2009 California
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    Michigan to Texas to California-person here. I realized I took for granted the bottle deposit once I moved away. Even in ‘environmentally conscious’ Califas, I am still surprised to see how difficult it is to receive the deposit upon recycling cans and bottles. It’s not like I can take my empties to Safeway or Trader Joe’s, but every Meijers in the state has a bottle return (with at least one machine that’s out of order).
     
  25. Reidrover

    Reidrover Poo-Bah (4,751) Jan 14, 2003 Oregon
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    The Refillable Beer Bottle Is Making A Comeback In Oregon - OPB
    This article is 4 years old, but it has not really taken off as envisioned. Only a handful of craft brewers use these bottles. and they are smaller ones.
    But Oregon has a great return thing of 10 cents a can/bottle and i can tell you Salem is scoured clean by the homeless of any thing that can get that money. I have seen old beat up pick ups piled high with black trash bags filled with can at the Bottle Drop centers
     
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  26. Reidrover

    Reidrover Poo-Bah (4,751) Jan 14, 2003 Oregon
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    The best reusable is the growler. But its gone out of fashion
     
  27. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,160) Mar 12, 2013 California
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    Last I heard their planned bottle cleaning facility for Oregon was delayed so everything was going to Montana. Do you know if that is still the case and if there's been any movement on the Oregon based facility?
     
  28. LesDewitt4beer

    LesDewitt4beer Meyvn (1,420) Jan 25, 2021 Minnesota
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    Here's an angle: A balanced variety of cans & bottles of different sizes. Why not just all aluminum? Make an analogy to the American Ash tree. Decades ago they were planted, without other species of trees, all over cities and towns. Everyone said: "This is the way to go." Ash Ash Ash. Every park, boulevard & street. Then the invasive borer arrived and killed almost all of them. Many urban forests simply disappeared with few other species of trees to maintain any canopy. There was no plan B when the trees were planted. Decades pass with much fewer trees. Trying to be a better environmental custodian isn't always easy. We can't foresee everything. So if we use mostly aluminum cans and all the sudden a major kink happens in that industry, it would create a large scope of problems. I think we've already seen some writing on the wall. We shouldn't lean on or be dependent on one type of packaging or be bullied into doing so by corporate profiteers and if we can be more kind to our planet, let's do that. The MI 10cent btl dep is brilliant. More reusable bottles please! I really want a beer now. Cheers!
     
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  29. ZebulonXZogg

    ZebulonXZogg Meyvn (1,165) May 5, 2015 Illinois
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    I prefer cans because "I think" the are environmentally better than glass, but I would prefer bottles if they were refillable. My dad used to buy beer by the case in those old waxed boxes, I'd put them in my little red wagon and drag them back to the store.
     
  30. crazyspicychef

    crazyspicychef Devotee (452) Sep 27, 2012 Pennsylvania

    I'll take the 16oz returnables any day over cans. Not a big fan of the can unless I'm going fishing.
     
  31. crazyspicychef

    crazyspicychef Devotee (452) Sep 27, 2012 Pennsylvania

    I still keep one in the car's trunk, just in case. I'd rather use that than get crowlers any day.
     
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  32. Reidrover

    Reidrover Poo-Bah (4,751) Jan 14, 2003 Oregon
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    I like the idea of the waxed cardboard box..but those things are almost impossible to recycle.
     
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  33. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,532) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Well, they weren't really "waxed" - Union Camp's cases were "Plastic-Coated"
    [​IMG]
    while Container Corp. of America called theirs by the brand name
    "CONCORA - XTRA STRENGTH Bottle Carrier" and they feel/look the same, as did those from manufacturers like Crown Zellerbach's Gaylord Div. At least the ones manufactured by the 1950-60s.

    But, more to the point, they weren't recycled, they were reused over and over. I was still buying Ballantine Ale refillable bottles in those cases into the late 1980s brewed in Falstaff's Ft. Wayne brewery marked "P. Ballantine & Sons, Newark, NJ" - a brewery closed in 1972. Heck, I still use the several dozen I own in my cellar or to hold my ale bottle collection and some of my brewery paperwork.

    Almost bought a Schaefer steinie bottle case yesterday at a antique show - but the dude wanted $20. :grimacing: No thanks. (Sometimes I get them pretty cheap - "Hey, I'm not interested in this Rheingold box of old socks and ties but how much do you want just for the box? You can keep the socks and ties.")
     
  34. dajjorg

    dajjorg Initiate (33) Jan 13, 2019 Spain
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    Seems like there’s one other consideration for carbon footprint of glass vs cans that wasn’t/hasn’t been covered by either the article nor the comments in this thread. A glass bottle weighs significantly more than an aluminum can. Transporting ‘x’ amount of liquid (let’s say one thousand 12 oz beverages) in glass is going to be heavier, and therefore require more fuel, than transporting those same thousand beverages in cans. Plus there is a lot more empty space when stacking bottles than cans. A truly holistic study would also have to calculate shipping cost differences (with cans being the obvious winner here).

    And actually, this would make a difference on the recycling end too. Especially once all that liquid is gone, the ratio in the difference in weight between one thousand empty cans and one thousand empty bottles is only going to grow exponentially. Transporting them back to their respective recycling plants is going to require (significantly?) more fuel for the bottles than the cans.

    Anyways, any true calculation of carbon footprint would also have to factor in this too.
     
  35. LesDewitt4beer

    LesDewitt4beer Meyvn (1,420) Jan 25, 2021 Minnesota
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    Those flip top returnable cases made for some damn good furniture in my college days. Cheers!
     
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  36. moodenba

    moodenba Defender (614) Feb 2, 2015 New York

    When we bought returnable/refillables in the 70s and 80s, most of the bottles had a year in the mold. We would check them, assuming that was the year of production, to figure out how old the bottle was. I did give an old Ballantine Ale quart, with label, to a nearby (Bellport) Beer Store to add to their small collection.
     
  37. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,532) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Yeah, for T/A bottles, the 2-digit year embossed in the bottle's base* was one way to --- very roughly --- figure a beer's age before date codes were common or just un-decipherable. Of course, had to figure that even in January breweries were probably still using the previous year's bottles. But, yeah, kinda worthless for refillable bottles.**

    Example of a bottle made in 1964:
    [​IMG]
    * Most US bottles still have a manufacturer's date, now embossed around the bottom edge these days, much smaller and harder to read. Works OK for beers w/o dates in one's cellar.

    ** I guess you could have played the same sort game (year vs. location, tho') as folks used to do with Coca-Cola bottles that had the city embossed on the base. Everybody bought a bottle out of the machine, check the city and the person with the further away city "won" - and the others had to pay for his Coke. 10¢! Or maybe he lost and had to pay for everyone else's Coke? I forget...

    HINT- When playing, always check the city or year BEFORE removing the crown!:astonished:
     
  38. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,754) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
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    Yup, as I discussed above in post #4:

    "How far does the analysis go? Is it complete throughout the entire chain?"

    Cheers!
     
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  39. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,754) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
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    Why recycle when reuse is 'better'?

    Those cardboard boxes are very useful for containing homebrewed beer (along with the reusable bottles). A photo of my cellar:

    [​IMG]

    Cheers!
     
  40. moodenba

    moodenba Defender (614) Feb 2, 2015 New York

    (I assume you use brown export bottles.) I settled on the short Molson green bottles from the 70s. They took up less space and it was easier to monitor the fill level than with brown.