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Why eco-friendly packaging could be the next big thing in craft beer

A research team in Scotland is designing an environmentally friendly packaging for craft beer made with an unusual material.

Six beverage cans held together with plastic with one open.

Cuantec — a bio-tech firm backed by the University of Strathclyde alongside three investors including the Scottish Investment Bank — says it is using the remains of shellfish to manufacture bio-degradable six-pack rings, potentially saving millions of animals each year which are killed by entanglement.

The scientists in Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, were originally working towards a degradable alternative to food packaging, but believe they are just months away from a breakthrough which could see beer firms adopting the new plastic rings later this year.

Cuantec partnered with local brewery Jaw Brew to create the new can connectors, and says success would turn the business “from a research company into a production company,” according to The National.

Cait Murray-Green, Cuantec’s chief executive, said: “If we get the science right in the next six months, they could be available by the end of the year.

“We have done tests in our own lab and we reckon we’ve got strong ideas for formulation. We are pretty confident we can get that work out quite quickly.”

The firm’s chief operating officer Dr Ryan Taylor, an analytical chemist and alumnus of Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, began working on the project in Spring 2017. He received support in establishing the company from his alma mater through the Strathclyde Entrepreneurs Fund, which invests in business ventures by the University community.

Around 100 million marine mammals are affected each year by plastic waste, according to a study by the University of Plymouth, while hundreds of thousands of animals die as a result of being caught in plastic rings.

Cuantec is using discarded shellfish to make craft beer more sustainable.

The firm intends to launch the bio degradable rings in the drinks market by 2020, and recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to secure £200,000 worth of investment to hire more staff and expand its facilities.

Murray-Green said the firm already has customers lined up.

“Plastic pollution has hit the headlines and people are starting to realise that everything they do has an impact,” she said. “We bring home more plastic than we do food, it’s ridiculous. Everything is packaged and wrapped in some form of it.

“We can’t change the food industry overnight, but at least we can make a contribution to stopping the damage that these choices have done.”

Mark Hazell, founder of rapidly expanding Glaswegian brewery Jaw Brew, believes adopting new sustainable practices could help the company stand out in key European markets.

“Some countries would be more interested if we could present ourselves as a sustainable business, such as Germany and Scandinavia.”

Jaw Brew currently uses standard plastic shrink wrap to package its wares, but has an eco-friendly image which sees brewers using leftover bread from local bakeries as well as adopting canned formats.

Hazell said he wants to make the brewing industry “more sustainable and reduce the amount of non-compostable plastic material being thrown away.”

“CuanTec can help to make that happen.”

The announcement marks a significant shift towards sustainable practices across the drinks industry, with craft beer producers in particular spearheading innovative solutions such as using waste from small business and adopting canned formats.

A report from market researcher Nielsen published in November found that cans now make up more than a quarter of craft beer sold in the UK in off licenses and multiple grocers, increasing by 327% from January – August in 2017.

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