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Its Not Easy Being Green: Bottles or Cans, Turns Out There’s No Clear Decision

Its not easy being Green, and it turns out Kermit was right.  Last week my brother Jim posted about the Green choice, bottles or cans.  While it is true that both have their plus and minuses, there is actually no clear choice as to which is better for the environment, and actually can be different for different people based upon a myriad of factors.   One person in the comments left a voice dubbed PowerPoint presentation by Sustainability Expert Joseph Vera.  That presentation is linked below.

When I viewed the presentation it was very interesting in how it came to the conclusion that Bottles were a more environmentally sound choice than cans.  However, and rightly so, I wasn’t real comfortable with some of the assumptions it was using like high rates of recycling, a strong local beer market, and a preference for the local brews.  So I wrote Mr. Vera with many of the questions I had.

He said that the example in the video is for a specific place, and that depending on local variables the result could change from cans to bottles and vice versa.  This goes back to the begining of his video where he looks at life cycle assessment, and the five variables that make that up.  These variables include Extraction, Production, Manufacture, Use, and Disposal.  Each step in the life cycle of a beer vessel can have great impact on whether or not Bottles or Cans are the more environmentally responsible choice.

Mr. Vera went onto say:

This is because any Life Cycle Assessment would depend on manufacturing location (e.g. China, Canada, etc.), manufacturing process, type of glass, type of aluminum, recovery rates, recycled content, weight of container, distances traveled, recycling process, reuse process, energy mix etc.
Consequently, there is no one answer that applies to all situations. However, a Life Cycle Assessment can be done for a specific location, such as a province or state using a specific type of can and bottle for a specific brand of beer.
The report we made was in the province of Ontario. In Ontario the recovery rate of beer bottles is 95%. Furthermore, Ontario has a thriving local beer industry, which means that there are relatively short transportation distances.
So there you have it, direct from the experts.  The correct answer to the question “which is the greener choice, Cans or Bottles?” is, it depends.  Mr. Vera runs the company Inkavera which has an interesting web site where they discuss all manner of sustainability from industrial processes to…well, what to drink your beer out of.    Check them out here!  Below is the video that got me thinking about all this.  So I say Drink what you like.  If you want to be green…reuse grocery bags!
-Don
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6 Comments on “Its Not Easy Being Green: Bottles or Cans, Turns Out There’s No Clear Decision”

  1. October 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    Agreed – too many assumptions here. I just started my first attempts at homebrewing and of course, when all is in my power, I can reuse the bottles. But when I purchase beer I recycle the bottles. Who knows how much actually makes it back to a product, and I understand there’s an incredible amount of energy consumed in recycling.

    • Don
      October 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

      Truth is we have delved into this topic because of our content, but I’ll bet everything that is supposed to “Save the planet” has externalities that make it less than optimal. One that comes to mind right off is Florescent light bulbs. True they burn less electricity, but there is mercury in them there swirly bulbs that make that choice less than ideal. Trade offs. The best way to have no impact on the planet is to kill yourself! 😦

  2. October 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Thanks for posting this Don;

    The conclusions are of a cloth with what I’ve read in the past.

    Unfortunately, there’s no good alternative to either container, such as the reusable shopping bag, not unless we go back to growlers. However, you can get a bit of an edge by buying bombers instead of sixers (more volume to surface), and yes, all other things being equal, a locally produced product is going to be more environmentally friendly than one that’s been carted halfway round the country (or world). Otherwise, its a toss-up in terms of ecological impact.

    Healthwise, the bottle may be superior as many cans are now lined with Bisphenol A (BPA), an estrogen mimic (i.e., it may make your penis shrink), and carcinogenic. Its use in baby bottles is outlawed in Canada and Europe.

    • Don
      October 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

      Not again with the Penis thing! Maybe I drank a lot of canned beverages as a child or something! 😉

  3. John King
    October 18, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    You can’t shotgun beer from a bottle though 😦

    • Don
      October 18, 2011 at 9:01 am #

      That is a great marketing idea for the BMCs of the world, a bottle with a plug on the bottom!

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