Craft beer has a plastic problem. Some New England breweries are finding solutions
On a recent day, a steady stream of aluminum cans move down the assembly line at Lamplighter Brewery in Cambridge, Mass., being filled with a New England Style IPA. The cans move to their last stop: a device that presses plastic toppers onto four cans at a time.
Standing next to the assembly line is Rob Vandenabeele, wearing a T-shirt that reads “There is no Planet B.” He reaches into a bin filled with a rainbow of Lamplighter toppers, and pulls out a white one.
“On the top it says here, 100% recyclable,” he says. “It’s true in theory but it’s not true in the real world, unfortunately.”
Microbrewing is a big business in Massachusetts. Ten years ago there were about 50 craft brewers in the state. Today, according to the craft-brewery-enthusiast website Mass Brew Bros, there are well over 200.
But the expanding industry comes with a growing environmental problem: municipal recycling facilities refuse to take the plastic toppers that hold four-packs together.
Vandenabeele has set out to find a home-grown solution.
He has two passions: the environment and craft beer. He combines both on his website Ecofriendly Beer, which offers “insights on how the brewing industry and its consumers can be environmentally mindful of our earth, the only planet with craft beer.”
“My goal is to educate people in the craft beer community on how to be more environmentally conscious about consumption,” says Vandenabeele, who has visited almost all the craft breweries in Massachusetts, and many of the 600-plus microbreweries across New England. “Or, from the brewing side, how to be a more eco-conscious business.”
Vandenabeele estimates that Massachusetts brewers use 10 million plastic beer toppers a year; nationwide, brewers use over a billion. New England microwbreweries use their fair share: nationwide, Vermont is the number one state for breweries per capita. Maine and New Hampshire are also in the top 10.
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