Ask Pablo: Do New Six-Pack Rings Offer A More Sustainable Solution?


Image Source: PakTech
Dear Pablo: I have recently seen a new kind of six-pack ring. It seems like it uses more material so I wonder what the environmental impact is.

You have probably seen a packaging solution by PakTech that is growing in popularity among craft brewers. Likely, you've already seen their TwinPack handles when you buy two large bottles of fruit juice together at a warehouse store like Costco. My first reaction to seeing these new six pack rings on a respected brand of craft brew's product was that the environmental impact must be more. But since I knew that this brewery had a deep concern for its impact on the environment, I was willing to give it a closer look. What Is The Impact Of The Six-Pack Ring Material?
Six-pack rings have long been the nemesis of the environmentalist. I remember learning from the 1989 first edition of Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth (Simple Thing #2) to cut apart rings before throwing them in the trash so that they wouldn't end up around the neck of a sea turtle (last time I checked there were no sea turtles at my landfill, but as a nine year-old you don't always think things like this through). Unless you are discarding your six-pack rings at sea (please don't) cutting up six-pack rings turns out to be a feel-good yet pretty ineffective tactic for "saving the earth." In fact, this tip didn't make it into the completely revised and updated for the 21st century 2008 version of the book (I don't mean to discredit the importance of the original book. It played a vital role in initiating a dialog about our impact on the environment and influenced many of us TreeHuggers).

Traditional six-pack rings are made from LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) and are designed to photo-degrade in 90 days, which means that sunlight will break it down into smaller and smaller bits, much like those littering our oceans. The PakTech product is made from HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) and is meant to be recycled. What is obvious the first time you see these new six-pack holders is that they require more material, 21 grams per six-pack compared to 5 grams for traditional rings. While they are 4 times heavier, making the environmental impact of producing and shipping them higher, there are other factors to consider.

What Other Impacts Should We Consider With These New Six-Pack Rings?
What is the best case scenario for traditional six-pack rings? Despite being recyclable (in theory) they are not stamped with a recycling symbol and everyone has been trained to cut them up and throw them in the trash anyway. The worst case is that they end up around some poor animal's neck or in its stomach in the form of photo-degraded plastic bits. PakTech rings, on the other hand, are much more likely to be recycled. Their more substantial feel triggers the human recycling reflex. In fact, HDPE enjoys a national recycling rate of 29.3% (2008). PakTech rings offer little chance of animal entrapment and their design limits product loss by holding the cans more effectively.

Amie Thomas, Marketing Manager at Oregon-based PakTech says that their packaging handles "show off [the craft brewing market's] higher-quality products, provide consumers with dust/debris protection, are extremely user-friendly, and our HDPE handles are 100% recyclable. We are proud to be a part of a movement to revolutionize beer packaging."

Who Is Using PakTech Six-Pack Rings?
I first saw PakTech being used by Anderson Valley Brewing Company in California and Maui Brewing Company in Hawaii. Another fine craft brew that can be found in cans with PakTech handles isOskar Blues in Colorado. The number of craft brewers packaging in cans continues to increase as the stigma of cans being associated with mass-produced beer fades and the environmental benefits become more clear. As the canned craft brew market grows I suspect that we will also see a steady increase in companies using PakTech handles.

Pablo Paster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com, an experienced greenhouse gas engineer and the Senior Environmental Program Manager at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
More TreeHugger Articles On Beer:
Green Beer: TreeHugger Tested, Planet Approved (Slideshow)
Ask Pablo: Eat Local, Drink Local Beer
Go Ahead, Have Another Six Pack

Tags: Beer | Disposable | Environmental Footprint | Plastics | Transportation

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