On 24 January 1935 beer was sold in cans for the first time. To celebrate Beer Can Appreciation Day, we’re looking at how this remarkable invention has changed over the last 84 years, and how we can help promote recycling.
Beer cans have changed a lot over the last 84 years, from the flat-top tin cans of the mid-1930s to the lightweight aluminium cans we know today. For Beer Can Appreciation Day, we’re looking at the evolution of this remarkable packaging invention.
IN THE BEGINNING
While companies had been trying to find a way to package beer in more durable cans rather than fragile glass bottles for years, it was only on this day in 1935 that beer was sold in cans for the first time. However, while they did help cut down on transport costs (cans are lighter than bottles) and packaging costs (unlike bottles, cans were not returnable), the cans of 84 years ago were markedly different from those we know today.
The original cylindrical beer cans resembled those in which canned food is still sold today and they made for easier packing and transport. But without a proper lining, the beer reacted with the tin, affecting the flavour of the beer. These cans also required a specialised tool (a can piercer, also known colloquially as a "church key") to open.
Some smaller breweries also produced "cone top" cans that had a cap that could be opened which enabled pouring of the beer in the same way as one would from a bottle.
These heavy tin cans (weighing around 120g, compared to today’s 33g cans) were replaced by steel cans to which, later on, had aluminium tops added for easier opening. Finally, in 1958, the first all-aluminium beer cans were introduced, though they were later re-called for structural problems.
In 1959, Ermal Fraze invented the first easy-open can after going on a picnic and leaving his church key behind. The first version was dangerous, leaving sharp edges, and in 1962, he introduced the familiar pull-tab version of the can.
This version remained widely in use until the 1970s when, in response to environmental outcry and public health hazards (people swallowing the tabs), it was replaced by non-removable tabs (the pop-top can) created by Daniel F. Cudzik.
And so was born the beer can we know and love today.
THE MODERN CAN
One of the original "advantages" of using cans for beer (for the manufacturers at least) was that they were not returnable, and therefore were just thrown away by the consumer.
Today, beverage cans (including both beer and soft drinks) is the single largest use of aluminium in the world.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
Since beer cans are now recyclable, why aren’t all of them recycled? One of the challenges we face is in accounting for the packaging waste distributed to our customers, as it doesn’t always make its way back into the package-making value chain. One reason is because of upcycling – people use beer cans (and bottles and caps) to create new items or products.
But what about packaging that is neither upcycled nor recycled?
That is one of the questions our Tembisa pilot programme hopes to answer: what happens to the packaging waste after distribution? In addition, SAB and AB InBev will partner with local taverns and existing recycling cooperatives to drive an effective recycling programme that will enable waste PIC (Public Investment Corporation) mandates to be achieved while promoting job creation and creating positive social impact within the Tembisa area.
The project will also include formalising local bottle and waste collectors into registered co-operatives and providing training to waste collectors on health and safety, business and financial literacy, upcycling and waste repurposing.
The recyclable waste collected will be sorted and sold, and the Abomakgereza App will be used to track the quantities of packaging waste, the location of the waste trolleys and the progress of the project. By investing in infrastructure, SAB and AB InBev will also help introduce efficiencies into the recovery process.