Home' Brewers Guardian Digital Magazine : November 2012 Contents days. They agree, however, that acceptance of plastic con-
tainers varies according to industry segment and geography.
The US craft beer movement has been especially receptive
to the use of plastic containers, says PKA's Wheaton, while
VLB's Folz points out that Russia and certain other Eastern
European countries have latched on to the idea of beer in
PET much more readily than their counterparts elsewhere.
This, he explains, is because, historically, they have not had
strong beer markets, and therefore their market growth has
coincided with the arrival of PET, meaning that they have no
traditions to cling to.
Makers of plastic casks and kegs make much of the fact that
their products are recyclable. But are they being recycled? No
one seems to know -- apparently the rate of recycling is yet to
be measured. It also transpires that most of the products cur-
rently on the market are made of a range of plastics and need
to be dismantled before they can be fed into various recycling
streams. And as Petainer's Carter points out, "The product is
designed to be recycled where recycling facilities exist."
Plastics used for beer are virgin, food grade materials -- this
means, however, that once recycled they are no longer suitable
for food or drink. Potentially, they could end up in the industrial,
chemical or pharmaceutical packaging chains.
Re-usable kegs and casks do somewhat better in sustainabil-
ity terms. Global Polymer Solutions' containers are guaranteed
for 10 years, says sales director Greg Whitehorne, but this still
falls significantly short of the lifespan of the traditional stainless
steel kegs, which can last up to 30 years.
It's this longevity, coupled with their initial cost, that makes
stainless steel kegs an asset, points out Angélique Marie, who
is responsible for global sales at French stainless steel keg
maker Groupe Maisonneuve.
"A steel keg's value decreases slowly and even at the end of
its long life, the brewer can still get cash back, which is not the
case with some other raw materials, where you have to pay for
a final treatment", she says, adding that 70% of the steel used
in her company's kegs comes from the recycling chain.
How do brewers feel?
Brewers -- particularly those at the start-up stage -- will be
counting the pennies. Plastic casks and kegs clearly offer a
cheaper initial alternative to traditional containers. The benefits
of plastic containers, as laid out above, are evident. But despite
manufacturers' bullishness, there's no denying that the tragic
incident at Redhook has left at least some brewers reconsider-
ing their commitment to plastic.
Several US brewers, rather than convert to stainless steel,
have reviewed their safety provisions. Ghost River Brewing in
Memphis, Tennessee has installed a plexiglass shield -- a half
inch-thick Lexan blast shield -- around its keg washer, while,
following the explosion of a plastic keg at the end of the wash
cycle, Marble Brewery in New Mexico has begun washing all
kegs, whether metal or plastic, inside a steel cage.
To gauge the degree to which plastic will supersede stainless
steel, it is important to look more closely at the beer market
and how it is developing. VLB's Folz feels that brewers will stick
with stainless steel, but predicts that we will see the emergence
of new one way keg markets, driven both by micro-brewers and
by larger brewers in regions which have bypassed the use of
Some brewers, of course, will mix and match, depending on
where they are sending their beer and who the end user is.
At this stage, it looks very much as if both the stainless steel
and the plastic keg are here to stay. As Groupe Maisonneuve's
Marie says, "The plastic keg is an alternative to the metal keg
-- not a threat."
PET 20% / Metal
PET 50% / Metal
PET 80% / Metal
Do you think the PET keg will replace the metal keg
in the brewing industry within the next 10 years?
Source: VLB's LinkedIn Group
ONE WAY VERSUS RE-USUABLE
Re-usable plastic kegs could be viewed as a convenient
half-way point between stainless steel kegs and plastic one
way kegs. They tick the sustainability boxes and while more
expensive to buy than their one way counterparts, accord-
ing to PKA's Simon Wheaton, it takes one of his re-usable
plastic kegs just three trips to recoup the additional invest-
ment. His kegs, he says, cost brewers 55% less than their
steel equivalents, rising to 60% when stainless steel valves
-- rather than their plastic equivalent -- are used.
While the maker of the keg that exploded at Redhook
has not been named, it appears to be common knowledge
that the container in question was of the re-usable kind, an
injection-moulded keg that blew apart at the seams.
In this instance, the fault is clearly the brewery's, but has
the incident dented brewers' faith in re-usable plastic kegs?
PKA's Wheaton says that, while questions have been asked,
sales of his containers are holding up. "People have been
sensible about it", he says.
Global Polymer Solutions, like PKA, produces re-usable
containers, but blow-moulded and seamless, and Greg
Whitehorne is quick to point out that they will not explode,
regardless of the pressure applied.
"What happens with polyethylene, which is what we use, is
that when you put pressure in it, it expands. If you gradually
increase the pressure, it will tear, but it won't explode. You'll
get a rip in it, then it's like a puncture in a tyre -- it will just
deflate", he explains.
Both one way and re-usable kegs have their merits, clear-
ly. When it boils down to it, the choice is entirely up to the
brewer. It's a simple case of being fit for purpose. And it's
not just brewers looking closely at re-usables. Producers
of one-way kegs are not ruling out branching into this area.
"We've been looking at our keg and seeing whether we
can re-use it -- for instance, supplying the brewer with a PET
bottle with a valve. A couple of our craft brewers are willing
works for us as a company", says EcoKeg's Nigel Williams.
Andy Carter is equally open-minded. Asked whether Petainer
would consider making re-usable kegs, he says "In the full-
ness of time, maybe", adding that it's all about responding
to the market's needs.
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