Jun 11, 2023

Fishing for sustainable beer crates

Mexican beer brand Corona is finding marketing success from old fishing nets.

Plastic crates for the Corona Extra Mexican brand — part of global beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev SA/NV — are injection molded by Schoeller Allibert International GmbH using recycled high density polyethylene and up to 20 percent recyclate made from used fishing lines, nets and ropes.

The crates are injection molded on machinery from Munich-based KraussMaffei Technologies GmbH. Schoeller Allibert, based in Pullach im Isartal, Germany, featured the crates at the Drinktek trade show in September.

One reason for the crates' popularity is the deliberate use of light color streaking or marbling in the blue moldings to create a visible association with the oceans. Another reason is a user-friendly integrated central handgrip, but sustainability was the key factor in the Corona Extra beer crate winning a 2022 German Packaging Award.

The World Free Oceans organization also worked on the project to ensure the use of nets and other fishing products.

Corona, which is part of Leuven, Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev the world's largest international brewery group, introduced the crates in 2022. Martin Fetzer, design manager beverage at Schoeller Allibert, told Plastics News: "They have been a great marketing success for Corona."

Fetzer noted that each fishing cutter has around five metric tons of nets on board, consisting mainly of PE and polypropylene, but also some nylon. The weight is, in reality, even larger, when allowing for lead weights, sand, etc. The nets are ground, creating so-called "marifiber" (marine fiber) that is processed further into plastic granulate. Fetzer said Schoeller Allibert had worked on the project for two to three years and was finally able to use 30-40 percent of the available material.

In terms of recycling in general, Fetzer said, "We are highly dependent on developments in recycling, but as we are not recycling experts, we need partners for sorting, etc." He had doubts on the economic feasibility of chemical recycling, asking, "Who pays the huge investment cost?"

Fetzer said post-industrial and post-consumer recyclate is more expensive than virgin plastics, so it usually means lower properties for the same or higher price.

"Dealing with this discrepancy needs to be steered by politics and we expect some movement on this within a few years," Fetzer said.

Recyclate availability is another issue. Fetzer recalled how a large material supplier talked about having 800 tonnes per month of post-consumer HDPE available, yet when Schoeller Allibert asked for 50 tonnes, there was no material available, as whatever had presumably been available had been sold.

Frank Reininghaus, sales director beverage for Germany, told PN that in-mold labeling (IML) hasn't been applied to the Corona Extra crates, but screen printing, as a less expensive solution that leaves more of the plastic visible to associate the crates with their sustainable maritime origin. This is in complete contrast to Clausthaler beer crates with IML on the entire surface, except for the rounded edges.

Some crates, like a red one for Belgian beer brand Stella Artois, are molded in 8-millimeter-thick structural foam, compared with 3-4 millimeters for compact plastic crates. The typical foam surface swirl pattern is quite visible in the Stella Artois crate, as it has a relatively small IML label. Foam swirling patterns are not so visible in other foamed plastic crates, depending on IML label size and the extent to which the foam process hides the swirls. PP is the preferred material for foamed crates, Reininghaus said, as it has homogeneous bubbles, unlike PE.

A large Magnum Optimum rigid intermediate bulk container in PP, also featured during Drinktec, has a modular construction, so it can be completely dismantled. It has opening floor and chute functions, so it can be used as a hopper for feeding its contents. Reininghaus said typical applications include holding PET preforms and screw caps.

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