How Green

Keg or Can? An Eco-Friendly, Beer-Drenched Showdown

Some (quality) Busch Light cans in my

basement fridge. Photo by Andy Kroll

Last month, another beer-filled, hazy, riotous St. Patrick’s Day went into the history books, with the sound of Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys and the theme song to The Boondock Saints carrying through the air.

St. Patty’s is also one of the greenest days of the year, too—the color, that is, not necessarily the “green” lifestyle I write about here. But in the spirit of both St. Patrick’s Day and my month-long sustainability project, I’ve decided to offer a few eco-friendly tips for next year’s St. Patrick’s Day parties—and for drinking beer in general, too.

For my friends and I in St. Patrick’s Days past, the main question at hand has always been: How are we going to get our beer? Or, in other words, do we buy a case of beer or a keg?

There’s the usual squabbling that cases are cheaper but kegs hold more fermented goodness and look much cooler on a patio or porch. Kegs, though, are harder to transport and require much more money upfront than do cases. And so goes the usual back-and-forth.

Now, I’d like to add an environmental aspect to this debate. As it turns out, kegs are a much more environmentally friendly way to drink your St. Patrick’s Day (or any day’s) beer than buying, say, a 30-pack of beers in cans. Kegs are reused over and over and over, unlike cans which, though recyclable, require a good amount of energy to recycle and remake into new products again. Kegs also come without any of the cardboard packaging, which, though also recyclable, usually end up in the trash can.

Given that most kegs weigh quite a bit more than cases, the energy expended transporting kegs from a brewery to (usually) a distribution center and then out to stores is certainly an issue. But in the long run, the nearly endless reusability of kegs outweighs the transportation emissions, especially when considering the energy used in the production, transportation and recycling (or flat-out disposal) of beer cans.

Now, if you really want be a green keg drinker, you could try using a plastic keg. (Some beer aficionados will consider this blasphemy, but we’re all about going green here.) As Plastic Kegs of America explains on its Web site:

Plastic Kegs America Kegs are significantly lighter than metal equivalent kegs; meaning the same volume of beer can be transported at a lower all up weight; reducing the delivery cost and reducing fuel consumption as well; save money and do your little bit at the same time!

Also the material used on the chimes (note: not liquid facing material) of the 1/2 barrel; 1/6 barrel and the 1/12 barrel is environmentally recycled HDPE; and the entire keg is recyclable; so rather than letting your keg become a BBQ/mooring for an old fisherman’s boat/scrap for cash for a less savory cause; if you ever damage your keg beyond repair; simply remove the spear and you can recycle the keg!

So in the battle of kegs versus cans, the more environmentally friendly option is going the keg route. And outside of the keg-vs.-can debate, there are a spate of other green steps you can take when imbibing some quality brews.

Here are just a few courtesy of Mother Nature Network:

Consider trying an organic beer or two. The ingredients that are most common in beer – barley, hops and sometimes wheat - are heavily laden with insecticides, fungicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers when commercially grown. All of these are bad for the environment. The ingredients for organic beer should not be grown with any of those – leaving the earth (not to mention you) a little bit healthier.

An alternative to organic beer when looking to leave less of an impact on the earth with your beer is to buy a local brew. It may not be organic, but it won’t have to travel far to get to you. The fancy imports that you drink may be really tasty, but they leave quite a carbon footprint getting from their home to yours. Buy buying local, the energy and fuel needed to transport the beer is decreased dramatically.

When at a restaurant, order beer on tap. Many restaurants do not recycle their bottles because it’s either a hassle or they don’t want to pay the fee to have them hauled off. By ordering beer from the tap, there is a good chance you’ll save at least one bottle from ending up in a landfill.

Recycle your empties. This may seem like a no-brainer but I’m still surprised at how many people don’t do it – even when they have curbside recycling programs. If you don’t have curbside recycling or your apartment complex doesn’t have a program, you can find out where to take any glass or cans that need to be recycled by going to Earth911. By entering your zip code, you can find the nearest recycling center.

Adventures in composting, day two: I awoke today and looked out the window to see my compost pile a bit out of sorts:

Day two, and my compost pile is already falling apart. Photo by Andy Kroll

Undeterred, I replaced the fallen board, sprayed the pile with a bit of water to keep it moist and then headed off for campus. I can’t tell if the microbes have started to do their composting-thing yet (they’re a bit too small to see, I think), but here’s hoping they are.

I’ll keep you updated on how the process is coming along.