If you buy a six-pack of Carlsberg beer in a U.K. supermarket this week, it will no longer come with standard plastic six-pack rings. Instead, the cans will be held together with a new kind of glue.
The company estimates that the switch will reduce plastic waste by more than 1,200 metric tons a year, or the equivalent of 60 million plastic bags. It can also help address the problems that the packaging causes when plastic rings end up in the ocean, potentially choking wildlife or breaking down into pieces of microplastic that can enter the food chain.
While other beer companies have experimented with different types of six-pack rings–including an edible version, made from food and agricultural waste, that can safely fall apart in water–Denmark-based Carlsberg decided to eliminate the rings completely. A small plastic handle, however, still exists to help carry the beer.
The process took three years of research and development. “We tested around 4,000 different types of glue before we settled on the final formulation,” says Håkon Langen, packaging innovation director for Carlsberg Group. The final glue, which has a consistency similar to a tiny piece of chewing gum, holds cans together as securely as the plastic rings, and can easily separate when someone is ready to drink. “To get a good snap, [you] split the cans in two rows of three, and then roll off one can from the others, or simply snap it off, quickly,” Langen says.
The company developed the glue along with a partner, NMP Systems, which owns the innovation. Carlsberg hopes that other brewers will also make the shift. “We have no problem sharing the innovation with others, and one day it will be available to everyone, but for now I think [NMP Systems] are busy producing for Carlsberg,” Langen says.
The change is one of several that the company is rolling out in its packaging. Ink on the cans is now certified by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and makes cans easier to recycle. The company’s refillable glass beer bottles have a new coating to make the bottles last longer. New caps are designed to remove oxygen to keep the beer fresh longer, reducing waste. The plastic packaging that’s still in use now uses a greater percentage of recycled material. On a bigger scale, Carlsberg is shifting to 100% renewable electricity in its breweries by 2022, and will eliminate carbon emissions from breweries by 2030. The company has a goal, set through the Science Based Targets Initiative, to cut its carbon footprint in line with the Paris agreement.
For now, the new glue is only in use in Carlsberg six-packs and other multipacks, and not yet in the company’s other beer brands. After rolling out in U.K. this week, it will reach Norway later this month, and Denmark in 2019.