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Plastic Waste, Sustainability and Beverage Packaging

4 packs, 6 packs, 8 packs, and 12 packs, drinks, brewery, beverages have a long tradition of being packaged in multiples. 
shrink wrapping and beer cans

From bottled water to canned beer which are the longstanding winner in the consumer goods market, shrink-wrapping and shrink sleeves have always been opted for as the ideal form of packaging due to their flexibility.

Plastic shrink packaging application on aluminum cans has been accepted for a long for the reason it fits a wide range of sizes and shapes without limitation and is available for directly printed cans.  Things have changed, however, with each time much importance being attached to environmental concerns and regulations enforced to control plastic packaging usage.

In this blog, we discuss the recent trend of sustainable packaging in the sector of breweries, drinks, and beverages. 

Plastic Waste Behind the Large Beverage Consumption

Regarding the data of the National Beere Wholesale Association, the United States Beer Industry recorded a sales volume of almost $199.3 billion of drinks and beverages to Americans each year with an incredible quantity of 67.2 billion ounce servings. Supposing a can of beer is 330 ml, this would be 6.02 billion of canned beer sold!

Shrink-wrapping is commonly used for beverage packaging, including canned beer. The plastic film, also known as shrink wrap, is made from polyethylene (PE) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which takes hundreds of years to decompose and can have detrimental effects on the environment.

Beverage packaging waste

According to a report by Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, the global market size of shrink wrap films was estimated to be worth 17.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, and it is expected to grow to approximately 23 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. This growth is driven by the food and beverage industry, among others.

Furthermore, a study conducted by The Ocean Cleanup, an organization dedicated to removing plastic waste from the oceans, estimates that the world’s oceans contain between 86 and 150 million tons of plastic, with an annual input of 8 million tons. Plastic waste has harmful impacts on marine life, often leading to entanglement and ingestion.


The Paradox of Sustainable Plastic Packaging

Companies looking into sustainable packaging with beverages have basically two approaches:

  • Developing new materials to improve the recyclability of plastic from shrink wrapping

An example of this approach is Petoskey Plastics, which claims to have developed a new polyethylene shrink film with 50% recycled content. The company claims its low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film is environmentally friendly and offers various benefits to end-users.

Petoskey plastics
Credit: Petoskey Plastics

  • The invention of a new packaging form to replace plastic shrink wrapping

PackTech’s plastic topper to replace the traditional plastic shrink wrap and the plastic ring has been gaining recognition these days. PackTech claims that their can carriers are made from 100 percent recyclable materials and themselves fully recyclable.

However, both above approaches stick to plastic packaging in nature can cause problems and trouble for recycling. Emma Shea, the representative of t Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, claims that PackTech packaging calls for specific locations for the collection of their used packaging for recycling and processing.

Users do not necessarily have at their disposal such a facility near their location and thus frequently find themselves faced with considerable inconvenience. It is also featured by difficulty to recycle post-consumer plastic waste. While this product is recyclable generally, it is lower on the recycling hierarchy which means it might not be as easy to handle during the recycling process as other materials.


Paper and Cardboard Packaging – The Sustainable Future

The latest replacement for plastic rings and shrink films for beverage multipacks is paper and cardboard packaging.

Ricardo de Genova, vice president of global innovation and new business at Graphic Packaging International LLC, suggests that paperboard and cardboard packaging allows companies in the beverage and brewery industry to significantly increase their sustainability with packaging by replacing plastic wrapping for canned beer in multipacks. Rather than plastics that call for complex processes of degradation, recycling, and reuse, paperboard and cardboard are easier in terms of renewability and recyclability.  

In summary, there are a few reasons why paper and cardboard are easier to recycle compared with plastic packaging such as shrink wrap or plastic rings for the beverage:

  • Degradability: Paper and cardboard are made from natural materials that can degrade or break down relatively quickly when they are disposed of in the environment. In contrast, plastics take hundreds of years to degrade fully, which means that they accumulate in landfills and oceans over time.
  • Sorting: Paper and cardboard are generally easier to sort and separate from other waste items during the recycling process. This is because they are lightweight and do not cling together, unlike plastics, which tend to stick together when mixed with other materials.
  • Demand for recycled materials: There is generally a greater market demand for recycled paper and cardboard products compared with recycled plastic products. This means that there is a greater economic incentive to recycle these materials, which can make it easier and more efficient to collect, process, and reuse them.
  • Energy requirements: Lastly, it takes less energy to recycle paper and cardboard compared with plastic packaging. The manufacturing process for paper and cardboard typically requires less energy and resources, which can lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions and a lower carbon footprint overall.
About the Authors

Zixin Yuan
Digital Marketing Coordinator
Zixin Yuan - LinkedIn

Zhiwei Bao
Company Owner
Zhiwei Bao - LinkedIn

About the Company
ÉLITER Packaging Machinery Co., Ltd
No.1088, Jing Ye Rd, Economic Development Zone, Dong Shan District, Ruian Wenzhou Zhejiang, China 325200
+86 (0577) 6668 2128
ÉLITER Packaging Machinery