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Breweries are grappling with sustainable packaging

Brewers are increasingly focused on sustainability, finding the most sustainable option for their business can be difficult.

With plastic being increasingly thought of as a problem that must be resolved Brewers have been praising the use of handle for cans made of sugar cane pulp obtained from suppliers like Biopak. When they've shifted towards more sustainable alternatives, they've had to contend with the challenges and realities of dealing with such an innovative and constantly evolving product.

Brouhaha announced its decision to switch to BioCane handles by 2020. the company said it made the choice in order to ensure that as a planet, "we have produced more plastic in the past 10 years than we did in the entire last century".

In a U-turn recently, the brewery announced that it was working with packaging company Ecogrip to use an "environmentally-friendly" 100 per cent Australian recycled plastic can carrier to address the impact of single-use consumer goods in Australia.

"There's the misconception that when we buy an item that is recycled, we're buying into a more green and more sustainable concept, however, we're missing the whole image," explained Brouhaha's Matt Jancauskas.

"By taking recycled plastics from other countries we're not making use of the excess of our own trash that we've put to good make use of, nor are we taking action to reduce the amount of waste and contribute to landfills and the impact of environmental impact."

Brouhaha's media release states that Australians consume 130kg of plastic per year. Therefore, avoiding the use of new materials like newly manufactured aluminum and plastic could be beneficial particularly when recycling rates rise currently at 18 per cent recycling levels in Australia.

But, according to some estimates, plastic rings from six packs can take 400 years to decay.

This is a reminder of the difficult decisions for breweries that must choose between sustainability, function as well as price when it comes to this as well as other aspects of packaging.

Are you considering a return to plastic?

There are many reasons why Brouhaha decided to change back to plastic an official explained.

"There were some problems regarding some of the Biopak recycled sugarcane holders, since Brouhaha realized that it was in its early stages and is not suitable at the moment as of now," they said.

"They often stopped using can holders in order to improve the design , but they were also inconsistent with regards to quality size, thickness, and shape. This resulted in problems with application and durability.

"While Brouhaha believe this is an excellent product idea but at the moment it's far from useful in the real world.

"When Brouhaha found out about Ecogrip they considered it a means to fix the problems we had with Biopack and to continue contributing to the decrease of single-use and non-recyclable plastics within Australia."

Burnley Brewing also tried out the BioCane packs in preparation for the release of a limited edition beer however, they was required to balance practical needs while incorporating green alternatives.

"One of our objectives is to be as eco sustainable as we can," explained Burnley co-founder Chloe Hoiberg.

"We considered that, and then used the cardboard containers because it was logical on paper to be more eco sustainable, however when it came to packing you required an extra hand and even though our packing crew can be on the move for an extended period of period of time without pain, the cardboard left their hands in pain and was significantly slow. When we revamped the canning line , they did not work."

Burnley has 90 percent returns rate on plastic clips within the brewery and taproom however, wholesale is another issue. Some in the industry have noticed the issue and are working to tackle the issue using recycling programs like Endeavour Group and the Independent Brewers Association's Paktech recycling program.

"Beer is difficult, as packaging has to be more sturdy than you're expecting and it must be temperature stable. It's not going to soften in humid or warm temperatures or something like that," Hoiberg explained.

"But that's the problem It has to be practical, but since we're a small company, we cannot afford to bet our money on something that won't work.

"I would do every conceivable thing I could, however, we also contract with brewers and we can't afford a lower quality product being sold under other people's names. However, we're always willing to test something new."

However, although compostable can clips may not be the best option for all One brewery that decided to switch to BioCane and has remained to it Rocky Ridge Brewing Co. located in WA.

"For us we have made the change as it was the best thing to do, and while there wasn't a lot of demand from our customers and suppliers, we are actively eliminating all plastics from the supply chain in each step. We believe that reducing the amount of plastic waste going in landfills should be the obligation of all manufacturers," according to Hamish Coates of Rocky Ridge.

Rocky Ridge uses around 750,000 four-pack cans per year, according to the company's CEO.

"We are in love with the concept of these four packs. They fit our sustainable brand and ethos to a tee. We're excited to see the widespread use of these products and we hope to see them implemented all over Australia and around the world."

Find out more about Rocky Ridge Brewing Co. and its sustainable journey in the podcast Beer Is Conversation podcast.

BioPak as well as sustainable packaging

According to Biopak it provides 150,000 BioCane can handles each month. Gary Smith, CEO of Biopak has told Brews News that Biopak was ready to pursue any solution needed to promote the utilization of more sustainable alternatives.

"We need to work on our designs in the area of packaging for further development, like of branding or barcodes.

"We're working on solutions that are industrial-designers who are focused on innovation. We would like to show the world that we have the ability to create products which fossil fuel products have previously were available, but we require an investment from the market too.

"We will put in the money we can to find an answer, and get it 100. We're prepared to invest into the skills and cash needed to achieve it, but we'll require partners."

BioPak has previously modified their can holders according to meet the demands of brewers. explained.

"We conducted a variety of tests, they wanted an barcode, for instance. there were other issues, and we made the improvements.

"I could only imagine that it's a cost issue in the event that it's 5 cents for plastic and 10 cents to compostable."

Smith also said that the can handles are appropriate for heavy usage for humid conditions or for long distance travel.

"They do not break down, in the absence of some element introduced such as composting. As the temperature increases in composting and the surrounding environment it is possible to break them down within several weeks. It's not possible to break them down until it's implemented."

Smith explained that no matter if recycled or new plastic is utilized in the process, it's still a linear process, in contrast to products such as BioCane handles for cans, which tend to be more circular.

"If we're stealing anything from earth,, we would like it to come made from natural substances that are quickly replenishable.

"[At Biopak] we're replacing resources in a matter of months, so they're incredibly renewable. Even the time you use them for just five minutes, it's back to the earth. That's the message we're trying to spread. Recycling plastics could be introduced but that would go against our beliefs.

"With reused plastic fibres become weaker. It's not a sustainable option. Even if you utilize it again after a couple of times, that's still a linear solution rather than circular."

Pressures for alternative packaging

Brewers are also faced with additional issues, especially when dealing with retailers with stipulations on packaging that ensure durability and safety during the transport process and in carrying out stocking.

Endeavour Group, owners of BWS and Dan Murphy's, stipulates that packaging must be sturdy and also safe for both customers and teams For instance, when wraps or clips break, they could cause cans or bottles to drop. This was previously an issue with sugar cane handle handles for cans as well as cardboard wrappings.

Endeavour is also required to have barcodes, which means any alternative packaging options will require a spot for multiple barcodes in order to ensure they are in line with the diverse requirements.

Biodegradable and compostable plastics pose challenges. the University of Technology Sydney actually has welcomed the elimination of biodegradable plastics as part of the federal Government's National Plastics Plan 2021.

"A significant issue in the field of "biodegradable" plastics is absence of any regulations or guidelines on the way in which this term is employed," it explained in an announcement at the time.

"Many plastics that are marketed as biodegradable are in fact fossil-fuel plastics that can be degraded (as all plastics are) or "oxo-degradable" (which is in which case chemical additives transform the fossil fuel plastic fragments into microplastics.

"The fragments are generally tiny enough to be invisible for the untrained eye however, they remain in our soils and waterways."

Even compostable plastics can be difficult to compost, but it's a good idea. While there are standards for certification for compostable plastics. However, the majority of certified compostable plastics are used designed for industrial composting that demands extreme temperatures.

In addition, Hawke's Brewing Co, that recently launched its first brewery, makes use of the cardboard wrappings to make its four and six packs as well as has invested in an WestRock clusterpak system.

"Hawke's at first started with Paktechs,"" explained Hawke's head of brewing Brodie French.

"But once the volume grew in the early days , they began to adopt"cluster wraps."

Although sustainability could be the driving factor in the past, particularly with regard to the brewery's relationship in partnership with Landcare, Hawke's looked at packaging's economics too.

"It's quite an expense to install the machine at our location We did the necessary research in terms of the amount this machine would contribute to the cost of a container, and what's the return at the final. This was all completed during the first few days and it all came back to the recycling of our materials and the use of paper instead of plastic. It sufficed to keep using cardboard, which is recyclable and is made of recycled materials" French said.

"The entire transportation part of packaging is a little similar to glass and cans as cans tend to be a lighter, which is identical to wrap the wrap of Paktech. The wraps are 24,000 in one pallet, which is a lot of tiny tinnies. If I were to try to achieve the same thing using Paktechs, it'd take a few pallets.

Additionally to that, it is worth noting that the ClusterPak technology is six times more efficient than the amount Hawke's canning line produces, but there are some issues that could make it unsuitable for other breweries.

"It's expensive and large It's around 1.5m in length and width and is 5 meters wide. So if you don't have room for it , you'll be unable to squeeze it into. This is why the smaller guys turn to Biopak holders, however there are certain integrity issues, and they've chosen the path of least resistance because it's environmentally sustainable."

It also offers greater capabilities in other areas, such as the ability to interchange between six-packs and four-packs and also that they can be folded without glue. Lockers can help ensure that the cans are held in their place.

"You could shake the thing and simply drop it, and it will not come out which is a bonus since we don't need to glue these thingsdown," said French.

In the final analysis, it's all about picking the most sustainable choices that work best for your business.

"These challenges aren't easy, however, you must accept these challenges head on. We're in an energy-intensive business that is already a challenge and everybody has to be as responsible as they can to protect the environment."

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