Scientists have been warning us about the dire consequences of our dependence on disposable plastic for years. There’s already an island of the stuff three times the size of France bobbing in the Pacific and if we don’t shape up, there may be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Human civilization will be long gone by the time most of those plastics fully break down and, in the meantime, we’ll be digesting the microplastics that have crept into our food and water supplies. The brewing industry is hardly exempt. Even though federal law demands that six-pack rings be photodegradable, they can still be lethal to marine life.
While it’s easy to wallow in the sense of impending doom, there is a slim silver lining here. A number of breweries are stepping up and devising innovative ways to reduce their plastic usage. One of the more recent of these is Corona, which came up with a way to ditch the six-pack rings all together by stacking the cans snugly on top of one another. The prototype, known as the Fit Pack, is the creation of Leo Burnett Mexico.
“The beverage industry generates 17 million tons of plastic worldwide per year—that’s only the packaging,” Federico Russi, chief creative officer for Leo Burnett Mexico, said in an interview on the agency’s website. “Many beer brands have tried to substitute this harmful packaging, but most efforts are not cost-effective when trying to produce on a mass scale.”
For the first time we felt we had a real solution that was not only scalable, but also financially feasible to eliminate plastic from the packaging of our products forever.”
In contrast, the Fit Pack is almost absurdly simple. Screwing 10 cans together into a vertical tower requires little in the way of additional resources or capital. The concept scooped up a nod on the 2019 Cannes Innovation Lions shortlist.
“Everyone in the room immediately knew we had a revolutionary idea in our hand,” Russi continued. “For the first time we felt we had a real solution that was not only scalable, but also financially feasible—and a definitive solution to eliminate plastic from the packaging of our products forever.”
Corona isn’t the only beer brand thinking of green solutions. In 2016, Florida's Saltwater Brewery made a move to protect its home state’s endangered sea turtles by introducing edible six-pack rings. Over in the U.K., Scottish biotech firm CuanTec has teamed up with Jaw Brew with the intent to launch fully biodegradable rings made of shellfish remnants by 2020.
As is often the case, however, macrobreweries are the ones who currently do the most environmental damage and have the power to make the greatest difference. That’s why it matters so much that Diageo has announced that it will invest £16 million ($20.96 million) to switch from plastic to biodegradable cardboard packaging for multipacks of Guinness and other beers.
Carlsberg has introduced a system called “Snap Packs” that could slash its plastic consumption by up to 75 percent. In lieu of the conventional rings, the Danish company plans to use glue to attach cans to one another. After three years of development, scientists are confident that the glue will hold up to the rigors of shipping. Environmental activists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are already praising the initiative.
“It's a little bit of magic," Simon Boas Hoffmeyer, head of sustainability at Carlsberg, announced in an interview with the Telegraph. "It's glued together so you can't actually see the packaging. It's almost not there, and that is what is extremely exciting from a sustainability perspective."
All of these are substantial steps in the right direction. If we’ve learned nothing else from the campaign against plastic straws, seemingly small changes can add up quickly.