When Saint Arnold Brewing shipped its first keg of beer in 1994, it launched itself as Houston’s first craft brewer. Almost 40 years later, as Texas’s oldest craft brewer, Saint Arnold is still finding new ways to reinvent itself.
Faced with challenges posed by excess waste, the brewer was on the search for sustainable solutions when the team ran across game-changing equipment at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver a few years ago. They had been dutifully recycling cans that had never been used—for discontinued brands, for example—but crushing reject cans that had already been filled was another matter and not something they could handle in-house.
But Saint Arnold, the patron saint of brewers and the company’s namesake, smiled down on them when they discovered the Weima E.200 drainage press. It enables the brewer to much more easily recycle aluminum cans that are unsaleable.
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The brewer had been grappling with an abundance of underfilled or damaged cans that were accumulating within its facility, occupying precious storage space and hindering efficient operations. “What this piece of equipment did for us is now we can recycle low-fill cans or out-of-date cans,” says Phil Dagger, Saint Arnold’s packaging manager. “It used to be that anything out of date, we’d have to save it up, ship it out to a recycling company, and pay them to do that in order to recycle it correctly.”
With the drainage press from Weima, Saint Arnold is easily able to empty and crush a load of cans into 3 to 4 lb pucks, with full pallets shipped off to recycling.
Instead of paying for that service, Saint Arnold is reaping the benefits in the money it gets back for that crushed aluminum, providing a quick ROI on the E.200. “Just the amount of money we’re getting back for being able to recycle those cans pays it off in about a year and a half,” Dagger says. Factoring in the other benefits the brewer receives, the ROI is more like nine months, he estimates.
How the drainage press works
The Weima E.200 is a universal hopper with a sizable infeed capacity. The machine drains underfilled or out-of-spec product in one easy step. Rejected cans can be ejected directly into the machine’s hopper, which punctures them so the contents can be drained into a collection bin. All rejected cans are then easily compressed into 200 mm discs for recycling.
The machine can also be hand-fed in the case of loose cans that need crushing. In Saint Arnold’s case, they weren’t able to make use of the inline version of the drainage press because of line space, Dagger says. Instead, rejected cans are collected in a bucket to the side of the processing line, and that bucket is dumped into the drainage press.
Workers empty the bucket of cans daily typically, though sometimes twice a day, Dagger says, noting that the bucket is easier to dump if it’s not quite full. Dagger and his team have hooked up a pipe to existing fittings on the press to the drain to keep the flow of drained beer cleaner.
Despite space constraints in its brewing facility, Saint Arnold was still able to strategically place the free-standing Weima machine on-site. The damaged cans are manually loaded into the hopper, which swiftly compresses them, reducing volume and liberating much-needed space.
Instead of storing damaged cans in bulk in its warehouse before shipping to recycling, Saint Arnold is now able to take up much less space by storing tightly compressed discs of aluminum instead of partially filled cans. Not only does this maximize floor space between trips to the recycler, but it also increases the value of the aluminum due to its compressed form. The new system also significantly reduces the frequency of shipments to the recycler, streamlining logistics and minimizing transportation emissions.
Continued sustainability efforts
Crafting beer sold in distinctive, colorful cans has set Saint Arnold Brewing apart. As part of the craft brewing community, there’s also a strong tradition of environmental responsibility. Saint Arnold’s Recycle Rewards program, for example, incentivizes customers to return printed cardboard six-pack carriers for reuse—not only to reduce waste but also to save costs by repurposing the expensive carriers.
The move to the Weima E.200 has been huge for Saint Arnold’s recycling efforts, Dagger says. “We were dumping our used cans in the garbage can,” he concedes, pointing to the added cost savings they’re now seeing with fewer garbage pickups. Recalls and out-of-date product that was already palletized was going to the recycler, but that wasn’t true of the individual rejects. “For daily low-fills, the time it took for somebody to open each can, dump it, and make sure it’s dried out—we just couldn’t sustain that.”