New recycling scheme for single-use plastic beer kegs

The different types of KeyKeg availableMost of the time when you head down to the pub on a Friday night, you won’t be thinking about the waste that’s produced from your pint. But the storage of beer in plastic kegs can create problems, with thousands of them ending up in general waste instead of recycling every year.

Modern casks and kegs are often made of stainless steel or aluminium, and will be collected and cleaned for reuse by producers. However, the use of plastic kegs is growing in the UK, especially with the rise in popularity of craft ales from smaller-scale breweries.

More than 90 per cent of the plastic kegs in use in the UK are KeyKegs, a brand of one-way disposable keg composed of a sterile inner bag within a hard plastic outer; when the bag is filled with beer it expands to fill the outer case. The use of KeyKegs removes the need for expensive cleaning and filling equipment, as well as reducing transport costs as they are much more lightweight than metal kegs – plus they don’t have to be collected from bars after use, making them a preferable choice for many small breweries. However, they are single-use, creating a problematic waste stream.

The creator of the KeyKeg, Dutch company Lightweight Containers, says that it is 100 per cent recyclable, made of 88 per cent PP and PET, two of the most common types of plastic recycled today. On the website, the company states that the used kegs can be taken to ‘your local recycling processor’, but it is still the case that most plastic beverage kegs in the UK are currently not recycled – and many bars and pubs can end up with hundreds of used kegs.

In response to this problem, KeyKeg has teamed up with recycling company First Mile to pilot a keg recycling programme in London. The project will see First Mile, which provides recycling services for businesses in London and Birmingham, collecting used KeyKegs from bars across the capital, removing the need for bars to find a reprocessor and transport the used kegs themselves.

Once collected, the kegs will then be passed on to OneCircle, a plastics recycling initiative set up by Lightweight Containers in 2018. The company processes the used kegs with the aim of reusing the elements in new kegs, creating a circular product.

New recycling scheme for single-use plastic beer kegs
Baled KeyKegs being collected for recycling

Joe Allen, Chief Commercial Officer of First Mile, commented: "We estimate that more than 500,000 KeyKegs end up in London every year and it is great that we can now use them as raw materials again. It meets a huge need. Many bars have heard that we are going to process KeyKegs and have spontaneously saved them up. It is clear to them that a lot of plastic ends up in landfill and they want to prevent that from happening.”

OneCircle’s Annemieke Hartman said: "We're aiming to reuse the raw materials worldwide. Ideally this would be to make the next KeyKegs, but we want to minimise our ecological footprint, so it may be more sustainable in some situations to make them into other high-quality recycled products.

“We have developed various collection models and recycling methods and are supporting circular solutions around the globe. We work together with brewers, beverage distributors and innovative waste companies such as First Mile and GroenCollect. We have developed tools that allow our supply chain to separate the valuable materials and are actively looking for people and companies to join our fast-growing community.”

Lightweight Containers states that each KeyKeg already consists of 30 per cent recycled material, and it aims to increase this to 40 per cent in 2019.

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