Plastic 6-Pack Rings Are a Thing of the Past

Major beverage companies are turning to sustainable solutions to keep their drinks together.

April 01, 2022

Sustainable Can Ring Holders

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Soda and beer companies are transitioning away from the ubiquitous plastic rings to more sustainable solutions to keeping their products together, reports the New York Times.

This month, Coors Light announced that it would eliminate its use of plastic rings from packaging globally, investing $85 million transition to fully recyclable and sustainably sourced cardboard-wrap carriers later this year.

The investment will go toward upgrading packaging machinery, which will allow the company’s North American portfolio of brands to advance to cardboard wrap carriers by the end of 2025. In total, the move by Molson Coors will save 1.7 million pounds of plastic waste annually, according to the company.

“We believe that buying beer shouldn’t mean buying plastic,” said Marcelo Pascoa, vice president of marketing for the Coors Family of Brands in a news release. “That’s why we’re taking a step toward making packaging even more sustainable, and with this achievement Coors Light will save 400,000 pounds of single-use plastic from becoming waste every year.”

Last year, Corona introduced sustainable packaging made with surplus barley straw and recycled wood fibers. It was piloted in Columbia last March, followed by Argentina in late 2021, but no word from the brand if it will be scaled globally.

“Turning barley straw into paper fiber uses 90% less water in its production than the traditional virgin wood process, along with less energy and fewer harsh chemicals,” wrote Corona in a news release. “Using leftover barley straw is also far more productive than the equivalent area of woodland, and Corona sees this as one path forward to eliminate the need for virgin trees and raw material from their supply chain in the future.”

In March, California-based packaging company World Centric rolled out new compostable four-can fiber carrier rings made exclusively from annually renewable plant fibers. The rings are made from sugarcane and bamboo.

“Flexible can rings are still commonly made from plastics despite public concerns about their harm to wildlife, and most people aren't aware that plastic can rings are not always recyclable,” said Mark Stephany, World Centric senior vice president of sales. “Beverage can rings contribute to the overwhelming problem of plastic waste that ends up in our oceans annually. Our fiber can rings are part of the solution.”

Last October, Coca-Cola created a beverage bottle made from 100% plant-based plastic, excluding the cap and label. Dubbed “PlantBottle,” the bottle looks, functions and recycles like traditional PET but has a lighter footprint on the planet and its resources. A limited run of about 900 of the prototype bottles was produced. In late 2020, PepsiCo committed to making Pepsi bottles with 100 percent recycled plastic in nine European markets by the end of the year.

By starting in select markets, companies can “take a local approach to identifying solutions that can be scalable,” Ezgi Barcenas, chief sustainability officer of AB InBev, told the Times.

A study from 2017 found that plastic polluted all major ocean basins, and that an estimated four million to 12 million metric tons of plastic waste entered marine environments in 2010 alone. Experts say that just switching from plastic to another packaging material won’t stop the overflow of landfills.

“If you transition from a plastic ring to a paper ring, or to something else, that thing will probably still have a decent chance of ending up in the environment or being incinerated,” Joshua Baca, vice president of the plastics division at the American Chemistry Council, told the Times.

Addressing the overuse of plastic is a “big step in the right direction,” Elizabeth Sturcken, a managing director for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Times, but the business models of these large companies need to change to tackle other environmental issues like emissions.

More convenience retailers are turning to sustainable packaging to keep food and drinks fresh and warm. Learn more in the NACS Magazine article “Package Deal,” published in the January 2022 issue.

More than half of all convenience store customers (54%) say they’d like to see more recycling at their local c-store, according to NACS data. NACS offers a resource in partnership with CMI on the value of can and bottle recycling, which offers tips and suggestions for improving current practices, how to effectively communicate the goals of the program with staff and customers, as well as a checklist to help retailers reduce contamination in their recycling bins.