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Those Hard Plastic Beer Carriers Don’t Get Recycled Often, But Chicago Breweries Are Teaming Up To Reuse Them

The plastic four- and six-pack holders are marketed as fully recyclable, but more than 90 percent end up in landfills. Local breweries and shops are trying to change that.

Cans of Beer Here Now, a double dry hopped double IPA, at Illuminated Brew Works’s tap room, 6186 N. Northwest Hwy., in Norwood Park on July 22, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A group of Chicago breweries and beer shops are joining forces to cut down on a big source of waste in the industry: hard plastic six-pack carriers.

Hard plastic beer carriers — sometimes called holders or toppers — were supposed to be an innovation that led craft breweries away from ecologically harmful soft plastic six-pack rings. But the overwhelming majority of the hard plastic carriers — which have become the norm in the craft brewing industry and are marketed as fully recyclable — end up in landfills.

That’s because the snap-on carriers can’t get properly sorted by the equipment at recycling facilities, local brewers said. Of the estimated 10 million can carriers in circulation in the Chicago area annually, less than 10 percent end up getting reused or recycled.

A new group effort from the craft beer industry is trying to change that.

The Chicagoland Reuse and Recycling Co-op is made up of nearly 30 craft breweries and bottle shops dedicating to keeping the plastic packing out of landfills.

The breweries and shops will serve as collection sites were customers can return their beer carriers. They will be sanitized and reused, according to the co-op.

Participating breweries include Half Acre, Dovetail, Maplewood, Off Color and On Tour.

Half Acre and Evanston’s Temperance will serve as collection hubs, where participating businesses can bring damaged or unused plastic carriers for proper recycling.

Distributor Heartland Beverage will transport the collected plastic carriers to get to recycling hubs or other businesses for reuse.

“People think they’re doing the right thing when they drop them in their single-stream recycling bins, but because recycling centers have difficulty processing them, they might be doing more harm than good,” says Alex Parker, founder of Craft for Climate, a Chicago-based organization that’s coordinating the co-op effort. “We want breweries and consumers to know that there’s a better way.”

A list of participating breweries and businesses is here.

The co-op is being modeled on a program in Massachusetts and other New England states, where tens of thousands of can carriers have been rescued from recycling centers and reused.

The co-op’s members hope to grow the program throughout Illinois.

“We think this program can really make a difference, and we think it’s replicable across Illinois and other places,” Parker said.

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