Feature

Bottles versus cans versus kegs

G Magazine

What's the most environment-friendly way to enjoy at beer at the pub?

beer containers

Credit: iStockphoto

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Packaged Beer

Beer is Australia's most popular alcoholic beverage with 1.8 billion cans and bottles being produced at Foster's Yatala brewery each year in Queensland alone - a quarter of Australia's total production.

According to a Spanish study, packaging is the greatest single contributor to the total greenhouse gas emissions generated through the beer production cycle. It constitutes one third of beer's total environmental impact, making container choice very significant.

In Australia beer is typically purchased in glass bottles, aluminium cans and in draught form where beer is served from a stainless steel keg.

Inputs

Virgin glass is made by combining sand, soda ash and limestone in a blast furnace at temperatures of over 1500ºC. Bottles can also be made with up to 100 per cent recycled glass. In practice, 40 per cent recycled glass, or cullet, is used on average.

Aluminium is the third most abundant element (after oxygen and silicon) and is refined from the ore bauxite through a very energy intensive refining and smelting process that also creates a number of greenhouse gasses including the extremely potent perfluorocarbons (PFCs).

Stainless steel is a generic term for a family of corrosion resistant alloy steels containing 10.5 per cent or more chromium and is produced in an electric arc furnace.

Energy and emissions

An Australian study by the CSIRO and the University of Sydney looked at the relative inputs for each of the raw materials used in the packaging and shows aluminium is by far the most energy demanding material.

The report shows that greenhouse emissions for aluminium are five times the national average for other products, compared to steel at three times and glass which is only 30 per cent above the average.

These figures from the report reflect the energy intensive nature of the production of aluminium, which requires 211 MJ of energy per kilogram to produce, compared to 26 MJ per kilogram for steel and 10 to 14 MJ per kilogram for glass.

So intensive is aluminium's energy requirements that 15 per cent of Australia's total energy production is used to drive the production of aluminium (for all its uses - not just beer cans).

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