Canned Beer vs Bottled Beer and the Fallacy of False Choices

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Steven Perlberg writes in Slate and Business Insider Why Canned Beer Is Way Better Than Bottled Beer and claims:

Canning innovation is on the rise. And why not? It's cheaper to produce and better for the environment...First, canned beer weighs less. Less packaging means you can move the same amount of product in fewer trips, reducing a firm's expenses and carbon footprint at the same time.

This statement demonstrates the fallacy of false choices, looking at cans vs bottles without including a third option, which is to return and refill glass bottles.

beer refill rates

Lloyd Alter with info from Heather Rogers/CC BY 2.0

The real carbon footprint of beer is in the manufacture of the container, and the choice isn't between a new can or a new bottle, but between a refillable bottle, like most of the world has, and the disposable container that Americans have been trained to use. Discussing this issue last year I looked at the reason that beer drinkers north of the Canadian border drink from refillable bottles and Americans don't:

Corporate concentration is the reason that hosers north of the border are drinking their beer from bottles and Americans are drinking it from BPA lined genderbending disposable aluminum cans. Canned beer became the American standard with the completion of the interstate highway system, which let brewers build massive centralized breweries and ship the stuff all over the country by truck. But you couldn't do that with returnable bottles, as the distribution and handling of bottles was a local business. So the brewers took their huge savings from their massive, efficient beer factories and put it into advertising and price cutting, and put almost every local brewery out of business

In fact, using a refillable bottle uses 93% less energy than making a new container. And the washing water? it takes between " 47 percent and 82 percent less water than is needed to manufacture new one-way bottles for the delivery of the same amount of beverage."

Then Perlberg is dismissive of the issue of the Bisphenol A lining in beer cans:

Canned beer also chills better, and collective hysteria over BPA poisoning — a chemical in the lining of aluminum and plastic products — has gone out of vogue.

Which mouse would we rather look like?/CC BY 2.0

Really? One could point out that the thermal mass of a beer bottle works both ways, it stays cold while you drink it. As for the BPA, quoting an older post again:

The science on BPA is controversial, and research is ongoing. So I am not saying that some of the effects of drinking beer, such as becoming stupid and depressed, , or getting fat, , or growing man boobs is due to the BPA linings rather than the beer itself, but it surprises me that people who wouldn't touch a polycarbonate bottle would happily down a can of beer when there is a perfectly good alternative.

Finally the author goes on about convenience. But that is always the case, isn't it? We have been trained to throw things away and pay taxes to have other people take them away and separate them and recycle them instead of returning them. It goes back to the sixties, a shift from corporate responsibility for dealing with containers to "convenience" and citizens responsibility to pay for that, and we all fell for it. That's why recycling continues to be bullshit.

There are so many stories in that can of beer. After writing this, I need one.