Advances in science create almost unimaginable wonders in complex matters like medicine and rocketry along with materials that are adapted to everyday conveniences most of us take for granted. Lightweight pop-top cans and twist-top beverage containers, familiar to all of us associated with the beverage industry, have their roots in scientific development. Along with these advances we are now becoming aware that some of the wonders, most notably with plastics, are turning into blunders.

Early mistakes that occurred with aluminum containers have through ingenuity been corrected. An example is the evolution of the easy-to-open soft drink and beer can. It’s unlikely that many of today’s canned beverage consumers remember the so-called “church key.” It was that handy can opener with the curved sharp point and protruding hook that allowed the user to lever it into the can lid creating a triangular opening through which the contents could be poured, usually directly into one’s mouth as with a can of beer.

That seemingly primitive means of accessing a can’s contents was succeeded by a handy yet major innovative blunder--the pull-top opener. It was a metal loop affixed by a rivet to an etched strip on the lid allowing the consumer to pull up the loop breaking open the can then discarding the loop and strip. These sharp and shiny aluminum strips began cutting rollicking children’s bare feet in city park grass or in the stomachs of curious fish when thrown into creeks and rivers. Complaints and progress led to a more environmentally acceptable solution known as the pop-top that remains attached to the container so the entire package can be easily recycled. Paper and most metal containers, compared to plastics, are relatively easy and profitable to recycle. And until the mid-1950’s the ultimate form of recycling was practiced by breweries, dairies and soft-drink producers when they relied on reusing bottles, collecting them at retail centers and bars where refunds were given to customers returning empties.

For those of us who enjoy beer, wine and distilled spirits plastic hasn’t replaced the metal and glass containers we are accustomed to, at least not yet! In Europe plastic containers of low price wine have been available for years but haven’t been accepted by most consumers for even average everyday wines with exception of larger volume box wines, some of which are available locally.

Given the proclivity of producers to opt for plastic alternatives it’s important for we wine aficionados to continue insisting of glass containers. For wines from New Zealand and Australia, and salute to them for changing to the more effective metal screwcap closures in lieu of cork, please do your environmental part by putting the screwcap back on the bottle before discarding, making it safer and far easier to recycle the entire package. And with the many pull-top canned food items now available please drop the top back into the empty can before discarding. Thank yourself for doing your bit for a safer environment. 

Written by: R. James Mullen