Tin Men


…not really, but Aluminum Men doesn’t have the same ring. If you’ve ever wondered why some breweries pick aluminum over glass (and vice versa), here comes the SCIENCE! 

DC Brau, 21st Amendment Brewery, Tallgrass Brewing, and Triangle Brewing are among the 80 US craft breweries that have made the switch from glass to alumnium. This move is not a simple bucking of an industry trend in the name of aesthetics, but a calculated move towards “Greener” brewing. Though aluminum DOES make beer colder quicker and for longer, that’s for another day.

DC Brau’s DC focus extends beyond the aesthetics of the beer’s packaging. There’s also a civic side to it, too. Brandon and Jeff will can their beer, a break from industry norms, because cans are more recyclable than bottles and will significantly reduce the brewery’s carbon foot-print. They’re also distributing used barley to local farms to be used as a cattle feed or fertilizer. We Love DC, 7/29/10

Right off the bat we must take into consideration a contradiction to the previous paragraph: the production of glass bottles requires half the energy per unit needed compared to aluminum cans…..when both are made from virgin material. The vast majority of glass and aluminum beverage containers are not composed of 100% virgin matierial.

We must start with the minerals responsible for bottle and can manufacturing. Aluminum’s primary component is bauxite, a mineral that requires significant engergy investment and results in substantial land-scarring. Silica is the main ingredient in glass and is the most abundant mineral on the earth’s crust. How abundant? Go to the beach and look at the sand. That’s silica. The energy output to manufacture each mineral into their prospective final forms come out to 2.07 kilowatt hours of electricity for the can vs. 1.09 kilowatt hours for the bottle (this and many other statistics found here). Now that we have that out of the way, we can take a look at how cans DO help breweries go gree.

(Tallgrass) Founder Jeff Gill has created a “canifesto.” The Tallgrass Canifesto outlines the reasoning behind the switch. Environmental impact and convenience are two of the issues that factored into the decision, but something else, that is often forgotten, is the fact that the can is better for the beer. Cans completely block out light and offer a better seal. “Think of them as little recyclable kegs that fit into a backpack”, says Gill.

The average beer bottle contains 20-30% recycled glass while the beer can contains 40% recycled aluminum. Sounds great, but that doesn’t mean much. The energy needed to create these containers drops a staggering 96% per unit for the aluminum can and a still respectable 26% for that glass bottle. A thorough (long, but worthwhile) breakdown of the reduction of vehicle emissions when comparing glass versus aluminum transport can be found in this Triple Pundit article. The calculations include containers ranging from virgin matieral to fully recycled.

All that is great data and information, but what to do about it? The general response has been to drink local. Locally crafted beers could/should/hopefully take advantage of city recycling programs, and do not require excessive amounts of fuel for transport.

But what’s the GREENEST way to drink beer? Draught, since kegs can last 15-20 years and use less material by volume than the equivalent bottle or can. And, it’s draught!

Not all breweries can harness the wind like Brooklyn, but cans may be the greenest part of the future.


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