The plastic six-pack ring, once ubiquitous on packs of beer and soda, may not necessarily exist much longer. The latest alternative is the KeelClip, a design that attaches a paper lid to the top of the cans, with a hidden flap shaped like the keel on a boat to keep the cans stable. Coca-Cola and AB InBev will begin rolling it out in Europe next year.
It’s one of several ways to avoid plastic rings, including a biodegradable ring that can break down if it reaches the ocean and a minimalist design from Carlsberg that attaches cans with tiny dots of glue. Graphic Packaging International, the company that designed the KeelClip, started working on alternatives to plastic rings 25 years ago. But it’s only in the last couple of years, as consumer sentiment against plastic has grown and countries have started to ban single-use plastic, that beverage companies have started to make the shift.
“I think they’re certainly recognizing that both on the legislative front and the social front that it’s the right thing to do,” says Bret Arnone, vice president of beverage commercial operations at Graphic Packaging International. The new design is a little more expensive than plastic, though he says that the cost will come down as production scales up. And companies are now willing to pay.
The design gives brands extra marketing space on the top of the cardboard, another selling point. But most importantly, it can fit into existing production lines. “When you get into large beverage companies, they’re going to need to be able to keep up with their filling lines,” he says. “If they don’t have a solution that will allow cans to be packed at thousands of cans per minute, then it really does not become a good solution.”
In the European Union, single-use plastic will be banned in 2021. (Canada recently announced a similar ban, as have other countries.) Coca-Cola HBC, a bottler that distributes Coke products in 28 European countries, will begin rolling out the KeelClip next year, and by the end of 2021, it will use the design to fully replace plastic rings and shrink-wrap on its products. Coca-Cola European Partners, which operates in the U.K. and several other countries, will also begin rolling out the new packaging next year. AB InBev will use it on Budweiser, Stella Artois, and its other products in the U.K. American customers are also showing interest, Arnone says, even though the U.S. doesn’t yet have a similar ban.