Beverage cans provide a burst of colour on our shelves. Photo: Melanie Streich
Beverage cans: more popular than ever
Beverage cans have come a long way in the past 85 years. Today, they are among the most popular types of packaging for beverages worldwide and have a recycling rate of more than 99 percent (Germany). In 1935, one other advantage led to their breakthrough as a common form of beverage packaging: After Prohibition had ended, the demand for alcoholic beverages increased, including for beer. Beer cans soon became a space-saving alternative to beer barrels and bottles. George Newman, technical manager at the Krueger Brewing Company, was the man who ordered the first 2,000 cans from the American Can Company and filled them with Krueger Cream Ale. By the end of the year, Krueger had already sold 200 million beer cans.
IT'S IN THE CAN
Today, consumers consider beverage cans to be light and handy; the cans protect their contents reliably against light and are shard-free. The latter is an advantage that is particularly beneficial during transport and at major events, where beverage bottles are often not permitted. Beverage cans are popular. Nowadays, numerous liquids are packed in cans: from coffee to cocktails, from wines to teas – almost everything is filled into cans. First and foremost: soft drinks and beers.
85 years ago, however, accessing the refreshing beer stored in the can wasn’t all that easy and took the right tools. Today, things are much easier, even though it took several steps to get there: In 1937, beverage cans were given a crown cap seal; in 1959, American Ernie Fraze invented the aluminium ring pull. Since 1974, the stay-on-tab has been the prevalent method: Instead of tearing the can open, a prepunched area is pressed into the inside of the can. This has remained unchanged until today, 85 years after the invention of beverage cans.
Environmental benefits of beverage cans
However, there have been other large changes with regard to the cans’ environmental performance, which only played a minor role when this success story was launched. Originally, the metal cans were made up of three parts, with a soldered seam on one side. From the start, they were lighter than beverage bottles, with a weight of around 100 grams per can in the 1930s. Today, 0.33 litre beverage cans weigh a mere 12.1 grams and thus have an accordingly good transport result. Looking at proportions by weight, the packaging makes up a mere 3 percent, whilst the contents account for 97 percent. Nowadays, the walls of beverage cans are thinner than a human hair, and just as strong: they can bear a pressure of up to around six bar.
Reusability and the recycling circuit for beverage cans
Another environmental benefit is the recyclability of beverage cans. In Germany, up to 99.1 percent of the packaging is recycled, making beverage cans the recycling champions in this country. The aluminium can be melted again and again and turned into a wide range of new products, such as bicycle frames and even aircraft parts. In multi-recycling, the metal consumes 95 percent less energy than in primary manufacturing and thus ensures the ideal recycling circuit.
The history of the beverage can
As mentioned above, beverage cans started out as beer cans in the USA in 1935. Only a year later, they crossed the Atlantic and came to Europe. Another year on, beer cans came to Germany, however, due to World War II, they had to wait a while for their big break. In the 1950s, the cans finally made it in Germany as well, and became a definite bestseller and fashion product.
Nowadays, state-of-the-art technologies such as laser printing, UV and thermochromic paints ensure that the various collector’s editions on shelves at supermarkets and off-licenses catch our eye.
Beverage cans in numbers
George Newman of the Krueger Brewing Company is the first to fill beer into cans in the USA
Cans come to Europe
Beer is now also packaged in cans in Germany The bottle can is made up of three parts and sealed with a crown cap
Beverage cans become a fashion product in Germany
New material: aluminium The cans are now made up of two parts. Ernie Fraze (USA) invents the ring pull closure for cans
Drawn and wall ironed tin improves tastelessness and corrosion protection
The amounts are changed: from previously 12 ounces (0.35 litres) to 0.33 litres
Cans now weigh a mere 38 grams The stay-on-tab replaces ring pulls
New printing functionalities: Thermochromic paints ensure that the drinking temperature is clearly visible, whilst UV paint lets cans glow in the dark
Laser printing technology opens up new design possibilities Weight of the tin can: 24 grams (0.33 litres) Aluminium 12.5 grams (0.33 litres)
Germany introduces the first resealable beverage cans