Miller Brewing Co. will make major changes to address recyclers' concerns with its test PET beer bottles — if it proceeds with a national rollout. The Milwaukee brewer came under fire from environmentalists, recyclers and local governments when it rolled out its PET trial about a year ago. But Miller now says it will junk an aluminum cap and a label that proved troublesome to plastic recyclers.
The firm also will use recycled content in its plastic bottles if it decides to roll them out nationally, said spokesman Scott Bussen. Continental PET Technologies Inc., Miller's bottle maker, is buying back amber bottles at a 50 percent premium, Bussen said.
Miller has expanded its trial to about a dozen markets, but Bussen declined to say when it may move beyond a test.
Miller's move was praised by the Arlington, Va.-based Container Recycling Institute as "some genuine progress" in addressing concerns.
Recyclers have other issues if Miller and other brewers move to plastic, ranging from the cumulative effect of the variety of materials used in barrier layers, to the impact of more amber bottles in the recycling stream, said Robin Cotchan, executive director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers in Arlington.
But recyclers' concerns are easing, she said.
"The problems [we] were screaming about in the beginning have been alleviated some and there's not so much worry," she said. "[But] until you have critical mass and have a viable market for amber and other colors, you add to the cost of recycling."
Amber is less valuable to recyclers than clear PET, and too much amber in a bale of clear can lower its value significantly, Cotchan said. One recycler told her that sorting out amber is expensive, even with Continental's premium.
But more amber could spur sorting facilities to create bales of mixed colors, similar to high density polyethylene recycling, and open up new markets, she said.
APR is not surprised that Miller is making the change, because the firm has worked hard to address recyclers' concerns, she said.
Miller initially used an aluminum cap and tamper-proof ring, but will switch to plastic caps and rings, Bussen said. The brewer went with aluminum initially because plastic did not offer the carbonation and oxygen protection it wanted, but those issues have been resolved, he said.
Miller also will switch to a label that does not disintegrate so easily when PET bottles are being washed for recycling, he said.
To stimulate demand for recycled amber PET, Bussen said Miller plans to use it in the middle layer of its five-layer bottles. He would not say what percentage of post-consumer resin the bottle would contain.