Sustainability Dreams That Drive These Craft Breweries

In the March/April edition of Brewer, we dove into types of sustainable packaging that craft breweries across the country have transitioned into. Things like biodegradable rings and holders; zippered shrink-wrap labels and finding ways to get consumers to recycle more.

The list of possibilities seems endless and many brewery teams shared with Brewer other dreams that they have plans for. Some are on hold as the pandemic surged through the country in 2020 while others are closer to fruition.

Ryan Cottongim, the president of Witch’s Hat in South Lyon, Michigan said they are making strides to cut back on energy and water usage.

“There are some amazing things other breweries are doing that we would love to explore,” he said. “Right now, from an investment standpoint, these dreams will have to wait a little while. Until then, we will just get our hands dirty keeping our footprint as small as possible. Right now, we are the only distributing brewery using the E6PR (biodegradable rings) in Michigan. We hope more breweries go this route soon.

“I think that is something that we are doing that is different than most. Focusing on every waste station in our brewery and taproom and teaching our customers and staff how we can make it better.”

Aslan toyed with the idea of doing paper rings, but unfortunately, the options provided to the Bellingham, Washington brewery were poly-coated paper and Sustainability Manager Layne Carter said the county the brewery is located in doesn’t accept that for recycling.

“We also found out it produces microplastics which can be more harmful than say — a full six-pack holder — since it’s smaller and more easily absorbed by our friends in the sea, as well as less likely to be recycled (in places that accept that kind of paper),” Carter said, adding a large portion of what Aslan has chosen to produce goes into matte printed cans with no sticker labels so it makes them easier to recycle.

Locavore Beer Works co-owner Andy Nelson was frank and said the definition of sustainability for the Colorado brewery this year has been more about keeping the doors open.

“Packaging is a part of that, but only a small one for us,” he admitted. “While there was a time in March-June of last year that it was about the only part of our business still moving, canning at the seven-barrel level sometimes feels like more of a revenue labor of love. Obtaining aluminum may prove to be such an issue as to render the whole experiment moot.

“Having said all of that; biodegradable rings or snap caps with the strength of plastic would provide a warm fuzzy.”

Along with adding a peelable zipper to its shrink-wrapped cans, Horse & Dragon Brewing switched from printed cardboard boxes to PakTech ring holders. Co-founder Carol Cochran explained that although the holders aren’t recyclable in their municipality yet, they are reusable, they are made from recycled plastic.

“We actually are willing to take them back from our local customers who bring them in — we sanitize them and reuse, usually for self-selected “mix-6-packs,” but this is a tiny percentage of those that go out,” she said.

Cochran did explain how little things can add up by looking to work more locally. The brewery tries to use at least 10% of craft malt from local maltsters in their beers and taking in grain from a local company, like Troubadour Maltings, comes without a plastic film wrap in delivery.

“Small victories, but we’ll take ‘em,” she said. “The plastic film is a giant mess in our industry, as in many others. We’ve got to figure out a way to more sustainably ship elements of our supply chain, and work more with local producers to obviate the need for shipping altogether.”

She also noted that no matter how you slice it, packaging in bottles and cans as compared to kegs points, unfortunately, toward a fair amount of waste, in both landfill and energy.

“The recyclable options (and the compostable ones, if they work in your location) are helping,” she said. “In the long run, we still vote for growler fills everywhere, all the time!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *