Are beer boxes (or other beer packaging) recyclable?

  • Date: July 1, 2022

Having a beer in the backyard is one of summers simple pleasures. But, like most things, this comes along with some waste to dispose of! Glass beer bottles or aluminum cans are known to be widely recyclable – but what about beer boxes and other types of packaging? Beer boxes made from cardboard are easy to recycle, they are generally accepted in curbside collections. The plastic varieties present some extra hurdles – but, thankfully, many beer brands are moving away from these types of packaging. Here we will take a closer look…

What are beer boxes made from?

Knowing what an item is made from gives us a clue as to whether it is, generally, suitable for recycling. Although the quality varies massively from brand to brand, beer boxes are typically made from cardboard. They range from strong corrugated cardboard to thinner versions.

So, are beer boxes recyclable?

Cardboard items such as beer boxes are some of the easiest things to recycle.  Cardboard and paper are generally accepted by curbside collections – but if you are not sure if this applies in your local area you should get in touch with the recycling service to check.

It is important to recycle where you possibly can. Although cardboard-based beer boxes are biodegradable, if they end up in landfill they can take a lot more time than you might expect for them to breakdown naturally. Landfill conditions are not optimal for items to break down – they are not like a massive compost pile like many people imagine. They tend to be cramped, meaning oxygen and moisture can be severely limited. Diverting them from landfill is key and recycling is the best option.

There are, however, a couple of caveats. If your beer box is dirty or wet, it is best not to add it to the curbside collection. The wet cardboard can have weakened fibers and the quality of the recycled product will be poor. Dirty carboard is a problem as it can potentially cause contamination which may affect the process. If you are ever in doubt about whether an item is suitable for recycling, ALWAYS err on the side of caution.

Cardboard beer boxes can even be composted…

If your beer box is wet or dirty and not suitable for recycling, it can be added to your home compost pile. Even if it soaked in beer! Cardboard is a carbon-rich ingredient – known in the composting world as a ‘brown’, as opposed to the nitrogen-rich ‘greens’. Cardboard is not the most nutritious item for the compost pile, but it is an easily attainable ‘brown’ item that will help balance the ‘green’ to ’brown’ ratio. It also helps give the pile extra structure that helps improve airflow.  

Cutting or ripping your beer box into smaller pieces will ensure that it breaks down in optimal time (as long as the compost pile is healthy, of course).   

Can plastic beer packaging be recycled?

Multi-pack beer cans are sometimes not boxed, with brands instead opting for plastic shrink wrap. Unfortunately, the shrink wrap varieties are, generally, not recyclable in your standard curbside collection. However, they are often accepted in the soft plastic recycling collections at the larger grocery stores (the same collection that accepts plastic carrier bags). As always, check before you add it to your local grocery store collection. Taking this small extra step will prevent the plastic living on in landfill for (literally) hundreds of years.

More recent developments in beer packaging…

Brands in all industries are increasingly looking at ways to reduce their environmental impact. The alcohol industry is no different. Beer packaging is changing! For example, Heineken, in the UK, have replaced their plastic packaging with a cardboard topper. As well as avoiding plastics (and the environmental issues they cause from production to disposal), they also minimize the need for excess cardboard and the resources that that would use.

Other brands have taken their innovation of beer packaging to a new level! The brand Salt Water Brewery came up with and ingenious packaging that is made from by-products of their manufacturing process. Although generally not recyclable in curbside collections, it is fully compostable (and even edible for marine life if it enters their habitat).  

The bottom line

Recycling is a great way to divert items from landfill and save resources. Cardboard beer boxes are very easily recyclable in the vast majority of curbside collections. The plastic shrink wrap type packaging may require a trip to the grocery recycling collection alongside your plastic carrier bags. Brands are increasingly coming up with more eco-friendly recyclable options – the future looks bright for plastic-free beer packaging!