Seeing the Forest for the Beers

(This article originally appeared in the winter 2006/7 issue of American Brewer Magazine. I’ve updated it slightly and provided links to additional resources.)

Craft beer brands teem with images of the natural world. But the paper products used to package those brands rely on forest resources that are disappearing at alarming rates. In this issue, I’ll explore how breweries can reduce their impact on forests while cutting expenses, aligning craft beer’s natural brand with business practices that protect nature.

Why Bother?
I make beer not forest products, so why should I worry about forests in the first place? Consider these facts:

1. The pulp and paper industry ranks first in use of industrial process water, third in toxic chemical releases, and fourth in emissions of air pollutants known to impair respiratory health.

2. The U.S. is the largest consumer of paper in the world. The average American uses more than 730 pounds of paper a year. Less than a third of this paper contains any recycled content.

3. The U.S. paper industry is the country’s largest single consumer of wood. If current trends continue, the industry’s timber use will outstrip supply within ten to twenty years.

4. Ninety-nine percent of the virgin content in U.S.-made paper comes from trees. Almost half of the trees cut in North America are used for producing paper.

The health of the world’s forests at stake, here’s what brewers can do to move beyond using nature as a brand and start protecting real habitat.

Save Green: Trees and Money
Paper is a good place to start. The easiest way to save paper, including the kind that’s green, is to adopt efficient office practices. Skip unnecessary paper printouts, install duplexers on printers, and set computer defaults to double-sided printing. These reductions will lower your costs by reducing the volume of office paper you need to buy.

Then make sure the paper you do buy contains post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled content or comes from non-tree pulp like kenaf, hemp, or even “bier paper” made from spent hops, malt, and yeast and used beer labels (40%-60% beer labels, 5% to 20% beer fibres, 30% to 50% totally chlorine free virgin pulp). If you’re currently using 100% virgin-pulp paper, switch to at least 30% PCW. Paper with this minimum recycled content is widely available at price parity with virgin paper. Or go further and upgrade to 100% PCW paper. Although these papers can cost more, it’s still possible to save money overall by increasing paper efficiency and getting bulk discount prices through groups like the Recycled Products Cooperative. For example, the City of Portland, OR switched all of its paper from 30% PCW to 100% PCW and still managed to reap a net savings of $10,000 annually. Visit the Conservatree web site for a complete listing of recycled papers.

PCFAnother important consideration is chlorine. Chlorine is a toxic bleach used in the paper production process. Virtually all chlorinated organic compounds exhibit at least one of a wide range of serious toxic effects such as endocrine dysfunction, developmental impairment, birth defects, reproductive dysfunction and infertility, and cancer, often at extremely low doses. Many are also significant health hazards to employees in workplaces where they are used. Choose paper products that reduce or eliminate the use of chlorine. Look for PCW paper that is certified “Process Chlorine Free (PCF)” and virgin paper that is certified “Totally Chlorine Free (TCF).” Furthermore, select papers with the minimum brightness suitable for your needs. Whenever possible, avoid expensive coated or colored papers. Recycling paper with color or coating can produce more waste and harmful substances than untreated paper, and is not included in some recycling programs. Ask for vegetable-based inks and environmentally benign pigments. Most commercial inks use petroleum and toxic metals. Vegetable-based inks including soybean, linseed, corn, cottonseed, canola, China wood, and rosin are widely available, lighter on the environment, and easier to remove in recycling.

Finally, maintain paper recycling throughout the office. Establish or improve an office paper recycling program or organizational policy to ensure the raw materials for recycled-content papers are always available.

Even bigger savings, both environmentally and financially, can come from changes in packaging and promotional materials. Reduce the basis weight of coasters, napkins, paper towels, and promo materials like shelf-talkers, posters, and table-tents. The type of printing job will determine what grade of paper is required, but there is often a range of basis weights within a given grade. By choosing, for example, 20-pound paper instead of 24-pound paper, an office using only two reams per week will save 104 pounds of paper annually, equivalent to receiving 10,400 free sheets of paper per year.

Specify post consumer recycled content when sourcing your six pack carriers and case cartons. Great Lakes Brewing Company’s cardboard packaging is made from 100% recycled, 50% post consumer waste, which explains why they call it their “eco-carton”.

Wash Your Hands of It
How many times have you seen a server plunk down a giant pile of napkins? It’s easy to cut your napkin purchases down by half or more by simply training staff to serve a reasonable quantity of napkins. Consider placing a stack of self-dispensing extras on tables and bars making it easy for customers to get more when needed. Even better, upgrade to organic cotton napkins (cotton is the most chemical-intensive crop in the world), and wash them with non-chlorine bleach or have them professionally wet-cleaned (like dry cleaning but without the harmful chemical perchloroethylene).

XL hand dryerHere’s a guaranteed paper and money-saver. Get rid of paper towels in the bathroom and switch to hand dryers. You’ll be paid back quickly through savings on energy, maintenance, and janitorial costs. A study by the World Dryer Corporation concluded that one of their customers could switch from paper towels to wall-mounted dryers and see annual savings of: 587 trees, 690,000 gallons of water, 34.5 tons of solid waste, 103.5 cubic yards of landfill space, and almost $90,000 (including electricity costs), with less than a six-month payback period including the cost of installation. The Xlerator hand dryer is a good bet. It’s high-velocity air stream dries hands in 10-15 seconds. Use their online cost calculator to see how much money you’ll save by wiping your hands clean of paper towels.

FSCSingle-use wood pallets are an environmental nuisance, but the Summit Brewing Company of St. Paul, Minnesota has taken a major step toward making pallets more palatable. The company uses pallets made from wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC certified products adhere to strict standards for socially and environmentally sustainable forestry. “Supporting sustainable forestry is a smart business investment for us,” said Christopher Seitz of Summit Brewing Company. “Buying FSC certified pallets allows us to uphold our company values while encouraging forest management practices that protect clean water resources—an essential ingredient in quality beer. We especially like the direct connection between well managed forests in the Mississippi River watershed supplying wood for our pallets and protecting the quality of the water we use for our brewing.”

Another strategy is to use pallets made from recycled plastic that can be reused many times over rather than conventional single-use wood pallets. This isn’t possible for every brewery since it requires empty pallets to be returned to the brewery, but when that is possible, breweries can save pallets of money while eliminating a disposable forest product. Consider a single-use wooden pallet that costs $7 versus a recycled plastic pallet that costs $45. The upfront cost is more, but the savings add up quickly since the plastic pallet lasts for hundreds of trips and requires no maintenance. Disposable wood pallets, on the other hand, can damage products with their splinters and fasteners that dent or rip cartons; they also hold moisture, harbor bugs, and add to waste hauling fees.

Use the Freshpak web site to calculate prices of wood versus plastic pallets.

Make Beer, Save the World
Paper, napkins, hand towels, cardboard packaging, pallets – in every case it’s easy to reduce the impact on both forests and financials. A solid bottom line means you can focus on more important things, like making good beer and saving the world.

4 Responses to Seeing the Forest for the Beers

  1. […] Chris O’Brien at Beer Activist explains how craft breweries can be forest-friendly. […]

  2. ProDryers says:

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