When beer goes bad: This mini-keg is just about the most environmentally stupid packaging I have ever seen.

keg with glass
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd alter

I am a huge fan of the Ontario system of returnable beer bottles. I carry the empties to the beer store in their Scarborough Suitcase and get a dime per bottle back. Meanwhile, the beer store washes and refills them an average of 15 times, with a 98.2% recovery rate. According to their sustainability report, last year they saved the equivalent of 460,000 barrels of oil in energy and avoided 200,500 tonnes of greenhouse gases, equivalent to taking about 41,700 cars off the road.

I like the beer too. In summer when I am in a cabin in the woods near Dorset, Ontario, I drink Lake of Bays, made 15 miles down the road in Baysville. I even drink it from a Lake of Bays glass. The kids like it too, and this weekend turned up with a mini-keg that holds 5 litres of beer, equivalent to 14 bottles and a whole lot lighter to carry across in the boat.

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Being a creature of habit when it comes to beer, I had never seen this before, and started looking at it closely, and the more I looked (and the more I drank) the worse it got.

The bottom keg is aluminum, and fastened to the top two inches are what appears to be a plastic mechanism, a "Top Keg" made by Fass Frisch in Germany. Pushing the lever in releases a CO2 cartridge that builds pressure in the keg.

Fass-Frisch/Screen capture

Looking on their site, it appears that this device includes plastic, metal pins, a metal CO2 cartridge and a steel ring that holds it onto the aluminum keg. It's what Bill McDonough would call a "monstrous hybrid", more trouble to take apart than it is worth. Yet the can has a label calling it "fully recyclable". On what planet?

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Recyclable is total meaningless if you can't get all the pieces apart. And you can't refill it. TreeHugger Emeritus Ruben nailed it when he asked "What does "re" mean? It means again." To paraphrase his rant about Tetra-paks, The poor suckers who try to recycle these things are going to have to take it apart, shred it, separate the plastic and turn it into lawn chairs, the steel from the aluminum and then melt it all down. "What idiot thought this would be a better idea than washing a bottle and refilling it?"

Not only that I get a dime from the beer store for a bottle; this keg gets 20 cents. It must have cost the brewer a couple of bucks, we probably paid more for the keg than the beer. It's insane.

Someone will say I am being a jerk again, telling people what to drink and depriving them of convenience. Or that if I don't like it I can just buy the bottles. My daughter says I shouldn't single Lake of Bays out, that lots of breweries, starting with Heineken, sell beer this way. I disagree; I think that any company that sells something like this by a lake in pristine Muskoka where everyone claims to care about the environment, in a Province with perhaps the best bottle recovery and reuse system in the world, is being environmentally irresponsible. I just switched to Muskoka Brewery, another 15 miles down the road. This kind of stuff makes me need a drink.

Tags: Beer | Ontario | Recycling | Reusability

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