As any regular reader of this site knows, sustainability and beer are two things the TriplePundit community takes very seriously. This is, after all, the place that brought you 2012’s Green Brewhaha, an exhaustive series on the sustainability movement in the brewing industry. So, it goes without saying that when a craft brewer begins packaging its beer in a can made of almost-entirely recycled aluminum, it is big news here; it should also be big news to the rest of the beverage industry.
The Red Hare partnership
In April, Georgia-based craft beer manufacturer, Red Hare Brewing Co., announced that it was partnering with the multinational aluminum producer Novelis, to package its beer in an “almost-entirely recycled” aluminum can. Developed by Novelis in 2013, the “evercan” is the only aluminum can sheet containing at least 90 percent recycled content — nearly double the amount of recycled material in a standard aluminum can. And this is just the beta version. According to Novelis’ chief sustainability officer, the company aims to be at 100 percent recycled content within a few years. Last week, Red Hare began rolling out the new packaging.
When Novelis was searching for evercan buyers, Red Hare seemed a natural partner. For one, Red Hare is small enough for a test run. (Illustrative of the company’s size, despite being a dedicated craft beer drinker I had never before heard of Red Hare and, according to the beer locating website Beer Menus, the nearest Red Hare purveyor is some 400 miles away. So a plea to Red Hare: ship the evercan to New Orleans distributors! We’re a drinking — and caring — city!) For another, Red Hare has been can-only since the company’s inception in 2011. As Novelis described it, Red Hare is a “small company with big ideas.” (Of course, both companies also happen to be headquartered in the Atlanta, Georgia area.)
Novelis: A sustainability champion
While much of the focus around the evercan will likely be on Red Hare and which other brewing companies adopt a more sustainable packaging model as a result, Novelis deserves more than just a pint of praise. The company is a model for sustainable manufacturers. In FY2013, 43 percent of the company’s inputs came from recycled aluminum, up from 33 percent two years earlier and significant progress toward the company’s goal of 80 percent by 2020. Novelis also improved its energy efficiency by nearly 20 percent and reduced: absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent; water intensity by 16 percent; and total waste by 11 percent.
The company is also laser-focused on ambitious aluminum recycling programs. As Novelis points out in its most recent sustainability report: “Recycled aluminum avoids 95 percent of the greenhouse gas [...] emissions associated with primary aluminum production – and also uses significantly less energy and water.” In support of its recycling efforts, Novelis recently began operations at a new recycling facility in Yeongju, South Korea, the largest fully-integrated beverage can recycling system in Asia; it also started construction on a plant in Nachterstedt, Germany, which, when complete, will be the world’s largest aluminum recycling facility of any kind.
In other words: This isn’t Novelis’ first sustainability rodeo, and when the company suggests that it is aiming for 80 percent recycled inputs and a 100 percent recycled evercan, one would be wise to believe it will get there or die trying. That type of ambition is vital if we are serious about combating the effects of global warming and becoming a more sustainable species. On that note, one hopes that other breweries will follow Red Hare’s lead and look for more sustainable packaging options.
The future for the beer industry?
The craft beer industry is ripe for this type of development, thanks in part to the “craft can” movement sparked by Oskar Blues in 2002. Prior to Oskar, canned beer was frowned upon, and beer connoisseurs wouldn’t be caught dead with a six-pack of aluminum. Oskar changed that, primarily by putting out consistently excellent brews packaged exclusively in cans. Now, according to the CraftCans.com database, there are nearly 1,500 canned craft beers from 413 breweries, representing 94 different styles of beer and every state in the U.S. In prime beer markets like Denver, Colorado, it seems like a new craft beer is being released in a can every week. Personally, I think some of the best beer on the market is packaged in cans. Oskar Blues and Sixpoint are obvious examples; lesser-known New Orleans breweries like Tin Roof and NOLA offer cans, too, as do numerous other larger, classic breweries like 21st Amendment, Founders, Goose Island, Harpoon and Magic Hat.
So, while the jury may still be out on whether bottles or cans are, in their traditional forms, more sustainable forms of packaging, it is clear that the evercan represents an advancement and one unique to the aluminum can. According to Georgia Tech Professor Dr. Thomas Sanders, interviewed by the AP for its feature on the evercan, more companies are likely to embrace a more sustainable packaging model because of the clear economic benefits of using recycled content. Given the number of craft brewing companies already using cans, as well as the sustainable bent of some of the industry’s leaders, one has additional reasons to be optimistic.
In the meantime, as consumers we can do our part by supporting Red Hare (by purchasing its beer and encouraging local distributors to stock it), urging our favorite brewing companies to follow Red Hare’s lead, and being more diligent about recycling.
Image courtesy of Red Hare Brewing Co.