World: Packaging is largest contributor to beer's carbon footprint

Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages account for 0.9 and 0.6% of the Global Warming Potential (GWP) impact category of total products respectively. As a result, the beverage sector has already started strategies to reduce this impact and examined the GWP of beer with regard to different factors.

The findings show that packaging is the largest contributor to beer's carbon footprint. 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the life cycle of beer come from packaging, 22% from raw materials, 18% from retail and home refrigeration, 9% from manufacturing, 7% from retail and 4% from waste disposal.In order to improve sustainability in beer production, breweries will therefore have to pay in future more attention to the packaging mix, according to a whitepaper published this week by Thielmann, according to their own statements “one of the world's leading manufacturers of stainless steel containers.”

The carbon footprint varies substantially depending on the packaging format, the most common being single-use glass bottles, aluminum cans, reusable bottles, or kegs. Unfortunately, the most often used packaging formats for beer in many countries are also those with the worst carbon footprint. Generally speaking, the environmental impact of common beer packaging decreases in this order: single-use glass bottles ≈ aluminum cans > steel cans > reused bottles > kegs.

“For example, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the use of single-use glass bottles are around 0.45kgCO2eq. per liter of product, whereas the use of returnable stainless steel kegs reduces this value into the range of 0.05kgCO2eq. per liter of product. This is nine times lower – making kegs the clear choice for sustainable brewing,” concludes Thielmann.

The low figure for stainless steel kegs can be attributed to the high reuse coefficient of kegs per se and steel in particular and the high product/packaging ratio (that is volume per unit).

The whitepaper also compares reusable stainless steel kegs with PET plastic keg for a single use. Against this background, three different areas were examined: First, production, second, cleaning of the containers, and third, transport.

While the heavy and massive steel kegs performed worse in all three areas at first glance, they were able to make up for their disadvantage over the life of the product. After just twelve fillings, stainless steel kegs are superior to single-use PET plastic kegs. If you consider the average service life of a refillable keg of 60 to 80 rotations, the ecological superiority of this type of packaging becomes clear.

Additionally and not directly addressed in the white paper, the recyclability of stainless steel kegs is superior to PET plastic kegs as stainless steel can be endlessly recycled, while PET can be often only poorly recycled, downcycled or thermally recycled, which is an euphemism for incinerating the waste.

Unfortunately, the whitepaper does not consider the newest developments in the keg market, as there are new hybrid forms between the known reusable stainless-steel kegs and the single-use PET plastic kegs. A few years ago, a new lightweight stainless steel kegs appeared in the market which combined the advantages of both worlds, the ecological and food-technical superiority of stainless steel with the desire of many consumers for disposable products that can also be transported and exported over longer distances. (, 29.7.2021)

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