Anita Veenendaal, Chief Executive Officer of Lightweight Containers makes the case for plastic kegs as a means to reducing carbon emissions.

Every day we are bombarded with images of plastics in the ocean.  Heart-wrenching pictures of seals being strangled by fishing nets, turtles deformed by plastic rings, fish swimming through plastic infested waters – and so it goes on.  I think this media coverage is very good.  It brings into sharp relief a global problem which we are all facing – and which we are all responsible for.

But these images don’t portray the biggest problem.  Microplastics.  Tiny particles of broken-down plastic which have turned our precious oceans into a plastic soup and are entering our food chain.

However, the fact is that we can’t live without plastic.  It is all around us.  In every room, in our cars and even in our clothing.  Lightweight Containers is a business which wants to leave the world a better place, yet we are a plastic packaging business.  We are committed to taking handling plastic responsibly and its up to all of us as consumers to do the same.

We make KeyKeg, an innovative plastic keg for the beverage industry.  Beer, wine, cider, coffee and cocktails are packaged in a KegKeg and sent all over the world for consumption. We pioneered plastic kegs and designed KegKeg to provide premium protection for beverages in terms of freshness and taste but also with re-use and sustainability in mind.  

In our industry, plastic is a good thing.  Compared to traditional steel kegs, currently the most common draught packaging, the environmental benefits are significant.  Our kegs dramatically reduce carbon emission because they are lighter, their compact design means that they have a 25-30% higher loading capacity than steel kegs, meaning more can be transported in one go and no return journey is required.

One of our increasingly scarce resources is water.  Our plastic kegs do not require washing like steel kegs, saving water.  An additional benefit is that no harsh cleaning chemicals are required either.

In the production of glass bottles, the furnaces burn all day, consuming huge amounts of energy and producing CO2 emissions and contributing to global warming.  Our 30L keg replaces 90 beer bottles or 40 wine bottles.

The European beer industry currently brews 400million hectolitres of beer every year or the equivalent of 70,000 olympic-size swimming pools.  By switching from steel to plastic, CO2 emissions can be cut, water usage and can be reduced and less energy consumed. 

As and industry, there’s an opportunity to greater responsibility.  But there are barriers. Think about the response to plastic wine corks and screw tops when they were first introduced.  The brewing industry is vested in steel.  It is committed to large, expensive fleets of kegs, so switching to plastic is not an easy or quick decision. KeyKeg is the disruptive alternative but it will take time.

KeyKeg is the only keg that was designed with circularity in mind from the very beginning.  For us, landfill or incineration is not an option. We started to-reuse plastics to create the griprings and basecups which are now made from 100% Post-Consumer Recycled materials.  Today, KeyKegs are collected with the aim of creating new KegKegs which are made from 81% re-used materials.

We are continuously innovating to ensure that we meet our ambition that all KeyKegs will follow the full cradle-to-cradle principles. However, there’s still a significant piece of the jigsaw missing, and that’s accessibility to recycling around the world.

The challenge to push our commitment to the circular economy came when it was obvious that the market waste streams were not all taking responsibility for plastic waste.  Recycling of large containers such as kegs is technically possible but, in general, not applied, even though the pure, high quality materials used to make them is perfect for re-use.

For this reason, Lightweight Containers launched OneCircle – to close the loop.  Over the past year, OneCircle has collected kegs used at festivals and created fully operational collection networks in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK, with programmes ready to roll out in the USA and Asia.  In markets such as Japan, KeyKeg is processed by the local waste streams in line with country specifications.

We work closely with partners such as WDS Group in the UK to kick-start closed-loop recycling programmes for KeyKegs.  The programme was launched as a pilot scheme in London and now WDS Group have taken up the baton for the North of England and one of our biggest markets. WDS Group collect the used KeyKegs from bars and deliver them to plastic recycling specialist OneCircle, where the KeyKegs are then processed and turned back into KeyKegs.  Our customers are totally committed to recycling and some have even registered themselves as waste collectors to make efficient recycling a reality.  There’s much, much more to do but we have started and that’s significant.