Are beer cans more environmentally friendly than beer bottles?
Over the past two decades, packaging has become a source of many disputes, most commonly regarding the ethical and long-term implications of using plastic and other materials that take eons to decompose. So, when applying our litter disputes to alcoholic drinks, some may relax a tad, as our bottles and cans are recyclable and far healthier for the planet... But are they?
Recycling Glass Bottles
Recycling isn't as simple as throwing the glass in a bin and calling it a day. There are rules and regulations in place so beer bottles and cans can be easily reused and repurposed, but if we discard the containers incorrectly, you might as well be throwing that bottle straight into the ocean.
What do I mean when I say "incorrectly"? Well, it comes down to the grit of beer bottles; they're effortless to break, which becomes a problem for recycling companies.
Any recycling company will tell you it's challenging to sort other recyclables if there are glass shards crowding everything. Thus, a broken bottle has ended its recycling journey.1 So you can recycle beer bottles, but their bottle-esque integrity must remain intact.
Another challenge of the bottle is its cap. You're likely wondering how such a small piece of metal could be a problem, but alas, it does.
Some caps are screwed off, and the little ring of rubber on the inside prevents its recycling, and typical caps are too small for the machines and thus clog everything up. Luckily for us, C.E.F. Recycling has our tinny troubles covered (pun intended).
"All you have to do is get a small aluminum tin and begin to save your beer bottle caps. Once it is full, you can cover it by cramping the tin. You can then place the full tin in the recycling bin."2 You can recycle bottle caps but remember there's safety in numbers, and the caps must lack rubber to be treated as recyclable.
Does it matter what color the bottle is?
A beer bottle can also come in many colors, namely green and brown. This is because color prevents sunlight from spoiling the treat inside. Any beer connoisseur knows light, heat, and oxygen are a beer's worst friend, but can colored bottles be recycled afterward?
An LRS Waste Management contributor clarifies that "this type of glass can be recycled."3 Green beer bottles are helpful guardians of our beloved beverage and never at the cost of the planet. If only everyone had a green thumb like this bottle! The same can be said for brown bottles; chemical makeup isn't an issue.
Many readers have likely scolded me in their heads, stating that cans are superior on all fronts in this issue. They're easy to recycle and have far better integrity, thus preventing the anxiety of releasing bottles into the wild world.
Well, my beer-loving reader, I shall prove that bottles aren't all that bad.
Beer Cans vs Beer Bottles
Let the battle of canned beer vs. bottled beer begin! First of all, let's look at the pros of the can. Sprecher Brewing Company starts with the big picture, "All in all, cans have many advantages over bottles when it comes to packaging; beer cans preserve taste better than bottles, they are more convenient, and they are easy to recycle over and over."4 The can is simple in design and use, but what about protecting the beer? The package is irrelevant if we open one up and find the inside is vile and acidic.
Does beer last longer in bottles or cans?
According to Kasteel USA, "A can of beer cools much faster in the fridge than a glass bottle – this saves energy. An empty can of beer is completely recyclable: on average, it will be refilled and back on the store shelves after 60 days. Cans stack easily and weigh less than glass bottles; more can be transported in a single journey… and fewer journeys mean fewer emissions."5
But are beer cans all they're cracked up to be? Let's open the cold hard truth. It all comes down to what's on the outside. Beer Writer Kate Bernot serves up the cold reality that some companies use plastic vinyl labels because they're cheaper than printing directly on the can; those said labels are non-aluminum material, ruining the recycling process, and plastic labels cause emission spikes when the cans are melted down.6 So, much like bottles, there are some steps that we as consumers need to fulfill to help recycling plants maintain their machines' integrity and to support the planet.
So, are bottles or cans better for the environment?
I want to emphasize that there is no clear winner. We waste a lot of resources with packaging choices, and nobody wants to waste time on removing a label or collecting caps. It's thoughtless to toss the bottle in the bin and not have to think about where it goes and what it does. However, all you and I need to remember is that these small acts of sorting trash do add up quickly!
In the end, it isn't a question of which is better for the environment; beer bottles and cans both require some energy. Bernot tells it better than I ever could:
"The more effort people put into recycling on the front end, the better it will be for the process. We find ourselves on a teeter-totter where we don't want to ask people to do too much and discourage them from recycling," Walters says. "But if you're willing to tear that label off, it's better for the whole process."7
Don't bother with the package preference, and pick the method that you prefer organizing and deposing. There is no competition of whether beer is better in a bottle or can, but if you're a true earth enthusiast who can spare a few moments to sort and organize the used packaging, we often take it for granted.
Here at The Original Craft Beer Club, we feature a variety of bottles and cans, depending on the beer producer and style. We strive to do all that we can to promote environmental efficiency in our processes, and we encourage all of our members to practice a green approach as they dispose of their empties. Just remember, the longer we can keep the Earth healthy, the more time we have to drink our favorite beers! Cheers!
1. NA (2022). Are Beer Bottles Recyclable? (And Ways to Dispose of). Conserve Energy Future. https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/are-beer-bottles-recyclable.php#:~:text=Yes%2C%20you%20can%20recycle%20beer,the%20things%20considered%20recyclable%20materials.
3. Meaghan. (2017, Oct, 15). Key Things To Know About Recycling Glass. LRS.
4. Corbett, J. (2021, Dec, 29). Is Beer Better in Bottles or Cans. Sprecher. https://sprecherbrewery.com/blogs/blog/is-beer-better-in-bottles-or-cans
5. NA.(2021, April, 29). Nitro beer in cans: the benefits at a glance. KASTEEL USA. https://kasteelusa.com/blog-en/nitro-beer-in-cans-the-benefits-at-a-glance/#:~:text=It's%20not%20just%20the%20flavor,store%20shelves%20after%2060%20days
6. Bernot, K. (2019, Jan, 27). Ask Kate About Beer: Are Shrink-Wrapped beer cans recyclable?. The TAKEOUT. https://thetakeout.com/are-shrink-wrapped-beer-cans-recyclable-1832063063