- Labatt USA is introducing recycled and photodegradable plastic carrier rings for six-packs of 16-ounce cans of Labatt Blue and Labatt Blue Light beers in the United States. They replace the plastic rings found on its six packs, which are imported from Canada.
- The RingCycles packaging from Hi-Cone is made of more than 50% post-consumer recycled content and breaks down over time as it is exposed to UV light. The green rings also are stamped with recycling information.
- The news from Labatt USA came as Consortium, a Europe-based group of CPG manufacturers including PepsiCo and Nestlé Waters, announced the creation of what it says is the first food-grade, 100% enzymatically recycled plastic bottles. These and other new package offerings are debuting as concerns about pollution from plastic packaging and interest in sustainability continue to grow.
Six-pack carriers have become a symbol of the environmental challenges facing packaging material for years even though the EPA has mandated since 1994 that ring carriers sold in the U.S. must be degradable.
Hi-Cone is said to be the original creator of the plastic six-pack carrier ring, which dates back to 1960. It has since adopted targets of halving its use of virgin plastic by shifting all of its ring carriers to 50% recycled content by this year. It also has a goal for all of its products to be 100% recyclable, biodegradable or compostable by 2025.
RingCycles, launched in 2019, have become its pathway to hitting these goals. Hi-Cone has already transitioned customers in Europe to the photodegradable plastic rings, and it is now focusing on its North American market. The partnership with Labatt USA is one piece of this effort. It also provides RingCycles to alcohol manufacturers such as Molson Coors, which began using it for its Coors Light six-packs in Canada this past July.
Many sustainability-minded food companies are looking at packaging improvements as a way to meet their environmental goals. Coca-Cola is reducing its use of new plastic by 20% compared to 2018, and Nestlé is spending $2.1 billion to shift from virgin plastic packaging to food-grade recycled products.
Other alcohol manufacturers are chasing the promise of more environmentally friendly packaging. Last October, Bacardi said it would transition all its spirits brands to 100% biodegradable plastic packaging made with plant-based oils by 2023. Corona has unveiled sustainable packaging that repurposes barley straw into packaging material for its six-packs. And Danish brewing company Carlsberg is developing what it describes as the world’s first paper beer bottle.
New corporate initiatives aimed at reducing the impact on the environment have a promising future. Consumers are more interested in reducing the use of plastics, with a 2019 poll from PBS NewsHour showing 24% of adults in the U.S. are willing to pay 5% more in order to have more eco-friendly everyday plastics available for use.
Large CPGs are slowly rolling out new packaging that reduces their environmental footprint and more closely aligns with what consumers are looking for. Shoppers are placing greater importance on issues such as a company's position on the environment when they decide what products to purchase, meaning businesses have little choice but to do more in this area.
The complexity and cost of developing new packaging that not only holds the contents but keeps them fresh for a similar amount of time as their plastic or glass counterpart necessitates moving gradually. As companies uncover technologies that are effective and less costly, they would be wise to share their discoveries with other CPGs to facilitate a faster roll out. Recently, General Mills' Nature Valley brand unveiled a new recyclable wrapper and chose not to patent the material.