Multipack Can Carrier Options and the Real Environmental Impact

Eco-friendly. Going green. Reduce, reuse, recycle. These are just a few of the phrases manufacturers and consumers are being bombarded with due to a renewed focus on creating environmentally sustainable packaging solutions. And while the intentions behind this push are certainly worthwhile, part of the conversation around sustainability requires us to see if our perceptions match reality, particularly when it comes to the use of plastic and recyclability of alternatives. As it turns out, efforts at moving to plastic alternatives may be doing more harm to the environment than we realize.

Where do we start?

A product that is frequently the target of environmental scorn is the plastic handle for beverage cans. Because this is such a pervasive product, it’s often touted as an example of a beverage packaging product ideal for alternative packaging options. But part of the challenge when evaluating alternatives to plastic in the packaging industry is finding substitute packaging materials that are viable alternatives. Many of these substitutions that claim to be ecologically better than plastic do so without consideration for the entire recycling infrastructure, which consists of collecting, sorting, shredding, washing, melting, and palletizing plastic waste for reuse.

Is there a viable alternative for beverage packaging?

When we take a closer look at each "alternative" in light of both recycling and the beverage market’s packaging needs, it quickly becomes apparent that proposed solutions often create more problems within the sustainability chain than they solve for. Some popular paper-based products must be coated with a layer of plastic or coating to resist moisture and withstand handling. This layer causes paper-based alternatives to be too expensive and complicated to recycle, given the necessity of separating the paper from the plastic or coating. And since most retailers and consumers assume all paper-based/paperboard packaging is recyclable, they incorrectly toss it in the general recycling bin, decreasing recycling efficiency, potentially damaging recycling equipment, and causing more harm to the environment.

Another alternative to can carriers is to shrink wrap cans. While this might seem to be a better option than coated paper, the shrink wrap production process has a much larger carbon footprint than can carriers already on the market, requiring more energy during production – and just like paper options, it still incorporates plastic. In addition, the majority of retailers and consumers are unaware of how or where to recycle shrink wrap and generally just toss it in with the garbage. Plus, most recycling centers don’t accept soft plastics, making the process of recycling properly more cumbersome.

Sustainable Can Carrier Solution

What is the solution then? Here at Roberts PolyPro, we ask this often, and our team is continually researching ways we can make the best possible packaging products for our customer’s needs while keeping the entire recycling ecosystem in mind. When creating Craft-Pak®, we set out to produce a solution that was environmentally responsible while meeting the needs of our customers. When evaluating available options, we first asked ourselves, "Can we create a can carrier that uses less plastic, is reusable, and is 100% recyclable?"

What our team came up with was a unique design that didn’t sacrifice form for function and met our requirements of reduce, reuse, recycle. By breaking down the configuration of existing craft beer can carriers, we engineered a product in Craft-Pak that utilizes 30% less plastic than competitive carriers, offering customers a sustainable (and cost-effective) can handle solution that is 100% recyclable using traditional recycling channels. As added benefits, the open top design prevents moisture accumulation between the can top and the can carrier, and our two patent-pending T-clips make removing cans without shaking them a breeze – features especially important to craft beer breweries.

While many in our industry are making packaging decisions based on consumer perceptions of sustainability, we take pride in Craft-Pak’s design focus on achieving the realities of an environmentally responsible product that keeps today’s recycling infrastructure top-of-mind without compromising function or inflating product cost.