Cans vs. Bottles: The Environmental Impact

Wine connoisseur Jancis Robinson makes the case for cans as an environmentally friendly alternative to glass bottles in the Weekend edition of the Financial Times, noting that “Canned wine seems to be moving rapidly from convenient novelty to a category of real interest to serious wine producers and therefore drinkers.”

She lists the environmental advantages that aluminum cans have over glass bottles, quoting a “detailed survey by the Swedish government’s alcohol monopoly Systembolaget, that a can is “28 times more efficient to recycle than bottles” and that “three-quarters of all aluminum ever mined is still in use today.”

She has heard from wine producers about the rising cost and shortage of glass bottles, which was also mentioned in my recent interviews with kombucha companies in both the Czech Republic and Spain — both noting that the war in the Ukraine had impacted their suppliers.

Indeed, the production of glass is an energy-intensive process, while aluminum compares favorably.

The production of aluminum for cans makes its own contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but producing three 25cl aluminum cans instead of a traditional 75cl wine bottle can reduce carbon emissions by 79 per cent.

Robinson notes that cans are light, unbreakable, swiftly chilled, and easy to store and recycle.


Wine drinkers might be taken by surprise by this debate, but it’s long been a topic in the kombucha world. The Fall 2021 edition of SYMBIOSIS magazine quoted a number of brands that sell kombucha in cans.

However, we noted, not everyone is a fan:

Cans are environmentally friendly, recyclable,and acceptable in venues that don’t allow glass. Many eco-conscious brands encourage consumers to recycle glass. However, for some consumers and fermentation purists, concerns about leaching from liners mean they are unwilling to consider this option. Can kombucha in cans win over consumers?

We listed the pros and cons of each form of packaging:

SYMBIOSIS Magazine, Fall 2021, p. 32

Those lists could now be updated with the supply constraints on the glass side, the energy use implications listed in the FT, and the ease of chilling a can.

There are plenty of kombucha companies that champion glass, some selling premium varieties in wine-sized bottles. Many brands encourage customers to recycle their bottles. Others offer their product in cans. Perhaps the most environmentally friendly option is kombucha on tap, served in pint glasses that can be washed and refilled for each new customer.

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5 Responses

  1. the_editor says:

    The Financial Times published my letter summarizing this debate in their Oct 22/23 Weekend edition.

    FT Weekend Letter

  2. Brady Boyd says:

    Thanks for this information. I had no idea that cans are a better environmental choice for either wine or kombucha.

  3. Gary says:

    It depresses me greatly that the real possibility of chemicals from the polymer plastic lining of cans leaching into low pH acidic drinks like real kombucha is a potential ticking time bomb for those who regularly drink from cans. It seems it’s a race to the bottom right now, with even respectable brands finally giving way to this medium; and the fact that without research to show one one or the other they are dicing with the health of their customers and putting profit first.

    Coca Cola etc make billions of dollars each year and would have invested in lab research by now to determine if their own low pH drinks are safe from chemical leakage. How do I know this? Because if the results were favourable we’d have heard about it long before now as they’d be shouting it from the rooftops!

    Polymer-lined canned drinks are also more likely in testing to contain micro plastics which collect in the gut and build up over time; the extent to which that too causes problems we do not yet know as this is also a relatively new phenomenon.

    When we accept that the cause of many modern day maladies like dementia, allergens, Alzheimer’s etc remain unknown, as the oldest brewer in business in Europe who has never in 20 years been tempted away from bottling in glass, I will always call out what I perceive to be the irresponsibility of those who pack their acidic teas in plastic-polymer pouches coated in aluminium.

    I just pray the day never, ever comes where I have to say ‘I told you so…’

  4. the_editor says:

    The Brewers Association is funding research at Cornell University into the potential corrosive effects of sour beers and low pH liquids like kombucha when packaged in aluminum cans. The primary goals are reported as:

    Sour beers are reported to suffer from premature corrosion as compared to conventional beers. However, the specific roles of sour beer components (e.g., acetic acid, lactic acid) in promoting corrosion are unclear. We propose to 1) determine components in sour beers that enhance the rate of corrosion by lactic and acetic acids, and 2) develop a predictive model for corrosion and estimate product shelf life based on concentrations of lactic, acetic, and other critical components.

    We have been informed that “Once the storage trials complete by the end of the year, we need to do chemical/visual evaluation of cans, followed by data analysis. If all goes well, we will have lots to share in Nashville at the Craft Brewers Conference in May 2023, and then submit results for publication to an appropriate journal (likely J. Am Soc Brew Chem).” (email response from Prof. Gavin Sachs, Cornell)

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