Will glass bottles be the next plastic straws?

In a world where drinking from a plastic straw is basically telling everyone you would happily club baby turtles to death, what will the next campaign be? My money is on packaged beers and ready to drinks (RTDs). Here’s why.

Plastic Straws are the Devil

Plastics in general have had a level of controversy for a number of years, made from essentially fossil fuels and taking an incredibly long time to break down. Remember the pictures of dolphins on Blue Peter with beer four packs around their noses (beaks?)? The image of a turtle  with a straw through its nostril did exactly what you would expect on social media and was passed around showing the consequence of something we’d never given a second thought.

As a result, at least in the UK the say no to the straw campaign has gathered pace and made mainstream news, convincing some of the bigger chains to switch to paper options. Good work everyone.

However, straws aren’t the full story by any stretch. They are simply the eye opener to just how wasteful the bar industry can be. While we talked about sustainability a while ago on the podcast, I don’t think we even touched on the volume of glass that bars throw out each and every week. How do we fix that?

Glass Bottles

The Impact of Glass Bottles

First, what is the impact? Well for starters, glass isn’t made from fossil fuels, its basically made from sand. We have a lot of sand, so that’s not much of a problem.

Even so, recycling glass into a new product takes energy, and in the past many beer bottles were used and returned to the brewery to refill. While this was pretty easy when most beer was brewed in the same country it was being served in, though with so many international brews these days, the extra fuel to return glass bottles may be counter productive.

Its thought that making glass from recycled bottles saves around 30% of the energy tied up in a new bottle. That’s not to be sniffed at, and could be enough to power a light bulb for 4 hours, a pretty good saving, but this isn’t the only energy involved.

Glass bottles themselves are pretty heavy. They have to be to a point in order to be durable enough to reach the consumer in one piece, and the returnable bottles of old were even thicker. All good, but that makes them take more fuel to transport, as well as there being a good amount of empty volume in a case of beer between bottles (especially towards the neck). While we’re on the case, that’s more cardboard waste that has to be processed and recycled in the best case scenario too.

Pouring a Beer

Alternatives to Non-Returnable Glass Bottles

Re-usable bottles: As mentioned above, glass bottles used to be returned to the breweries as a matter of routine to be cleaned and refilled. While this system worked, for local brews, the bottles quickly gained wear stripes from the re-processing and became ugly, as well as having additional time required to sort behind the bar.

Aluminium Cans: Many beers already have the canning lines set up for retail outlets and consumers are increasingly seeing craft beers in 330ml cans behind the bar. A number of producers like Red Stripe have been offering cans to bars for a while, and even tonic waters are now being offered in the format. Canned beers actually last better than bottles, being protected fully from light and other factors that could affect the product quality.

Aluminium can recycling is already in place in almost every city, they’re far lighter than bottles, less fragile and can be crushed easily so even the cans waiting to be recycled take up less space.

Kegged Beers: Of course, if the beer is packaged in bulk in a re-usable, returnable keg, this may be the most sustainable of all options. The service vessels, or glasses as they’re commonly known are cleaned and reused on site and the lorry already delivers to the venue and can easily return the empty kegs as it does now.

Breweries and beer companies are innovating in the keg space now with smaller kegs, new lighter recycled plastic KeyKegs are making it even easier for smaller breweries (and even wineries) to offer draft beer and wines.

Other systems like DraughtMaster and Heineken’s Blade mean that its easier than ever for bars to offer non-packaged beers.

None of these are the perfect solution, but until we get beer on a national system like water plumbed directly into our homes and businesses, I guess we’ll just have to make do.

We’re Just Scratching the Surface

All of this only scratches the surface on waste in bars. There are also spirit bottles, and while a few producers are now offering pouch refills, these are few and far between. Then there’s the disposable napkins, rolls of disposable cleaning wipe, chemicals, the list goes on and on.

We discussed a number of ideas that you can implement in your bar in our Sustainability podcast, but what else would you like us to talk about in future?

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