Aluminum keeps craft beer fresh, portable and aids recycling

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 20, 2014 

Beer in Whatcom County is changing. Not only are there a remarkable number of new breweries in town, many of them are choosing to can instead of bottle. In fact, in Washington and Oregon alone there are nearly 50 craft breweries canning their beers, many of them to the exclusion of glass entirely.

Once the packaging choice exclusively of the mass-produced beer brands, canning craft beer in aluminum has begun to make sense for breweries such as Boundary Bay; breweries that are committed to quality and to greater sustainability. While we want to be sure to recognize that the most sustainable way to enjoy beer is either in a taproom or from a refillable glass growler, aluminum turns out to be a more sustainable choice when beer is packaged for convenience.

For many, thinking of cheap canned beer leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Until recently, craft brewers have bottled partly to avoid being associated with the memories of your father's metallic-tasting can of Rainier or Bud. But now, due to an epoxy coating inside each can, beer never touches the aluminum. While this coating does contain trace amounts of BPA, which the FDA assures us is safe for adults, craft brewers are pushing for alternatives, likely adopting them as soon as they become approved.

Light and oxygen intrusion, two factors that will degrade the quality of beer over time, are virtually eliminated with canning, allowing beer to taste as fresh as the day it was sealed. And while a can of beer cools much quicker in that high-mountain stream, it will also warm up quicker, so drink fast!

"Pack it in, pack it out" is a motto we live by here in the Northwest and anyone who has packed in heavy, clanking bottles and packed out glass shards in a beer-soaked day pack can appreciate why cans are becoming a favorite with hikers, bikers and kayakers. The convenience and portability of lighter weight cans, greater space savings in small packs and coolers, and the ability to take beer where glass is not allowed, has made this a selling point for the switch to aluminum.

Quality and convenience are all fine and well, but from RE Sources' point of view, if beer must be packaged, we need to do so in the most environmentally friendly way possible. If we can increase recycling rates dramatically, light-weight aluminum saves energy and carbon both in shipping and manufacture.

While producing aluminum the first time has an enormous environmental impact, it is 100 percent recyclable forever and doing so saves 95 percent of the energy, water and emissions each time it's recycled. However, it is an unfortunate fact that recycling rates for aluminum are only 58 percent nationwide. It's even more sobering to note that Americans throw away enough aluminum every three months to rebuild our entire airline fleet.

Fortunately, market rates for recycled aluminum are excellent and provide incentives to keep aluminum out of the waste stream. In fact, as a commodity, recycled glass is worth much less and in some parts of the country ends up in the landfill. By contrast, aluminum is worth $1,500 per ton, and is one of the most profitable recycled materials.

As the founder of curbside recycling and recycling education in Whatcom County, RE Sources is partnering with local businesses to highlight the beneficial qualities of canning in aluminum and significantly increasing our recycling rates. To do so we are celebrating the new trend by throwing Yes, We CAN!, the Northwest's first canned craft beer festival, this 4th of July.

A benefit for RE Sources, and our work to protect the people and ecosystems of northwestern Washington, this street festival outside Elizabeth Station (West Holly and J Street) in Bellingham, will feature 30 Northwest breweries, meaderies and cideries, most of whom are canning their product.

Yes, We CAN! is family friendly and will feature yard games, food trucks and Boundary Bay-Mallards root beer floats. Live music will be performed on a center stage.

The festival will end just as the Bellingham fireworks show begins - with some of the best vantage points for viewing right across Holly Street.

In answer to the question, "Can we recycle 100 percent of our aluminum?", both Boundary Bay Brewery and RE Sources for Sustainable Communities answer with a resounding, "Yes, we can!"

ABOUT THE EVENT

Tickets can be purchased online at yeswecan.bpt.me, at the door, or in-person before July 3, at Boundary Bay Brewery, Village Books, Community Food Co-ops, Kulshan Brewery, Elizabeth Station, or The RE Store. VIP ticket holders get in at 5 p.m. to enjoy a full hour before the official start time. Tickets are $35 VIP advance purchase only, $20 general admission advanced, $25 general admission at the door. Kids ages 14 and under free.

For more information and volunteer opportunities can be found at re-sources.org/events/yes-we-can.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Crina Hoyer is executive director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and Janet Lightner is general manager at Boundary Bay Brewery, both in Bellingham.

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