Plastics have arrived for mankind and can be found in nearly every industry for millions of applications. Their use comes with controversy as they are made from non-renewable resources, and commonly consume a large portion of land fills when not recycled. For example 1.2 trillion plastic bags are consumed a year, and the half life for these little miracles is speculated to be between 20 and 1000 years depending on the process and materials. Regardless, as in most applications, they are extremely handy for fermenting beer as they are made with ideal shapes and features, and can be very affordable.
Plastic materials are derived from organic materials that are comprised of monomers. Monomers are molecules that are highly capable of bonding to other molecules through a chemical process. When monomers bond together in long chains they are considered polymers. Polymers are not unique to the making of plastic. For example, bonding of monomers happens during plant growth and these ploymers make up a significant portion of all plants. For plastics, the source organic materials for the monomers is commonly oil and gas products, namely petrochemicals. There are also synthetic monomers to add the to the plastic pie, and these are created through thermal and chemical processes.
Plastics are made through a polymerization process in one of two ways. Thermosetting is a process that begins with liquid materials that are reverse cured through a heat and chemical reactions. Thermoplastic is the process of taking solid materials and heating into a liquid. At this point, through either process, the liquid is poured into molds, and allowed to cool.
In 1998 the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) developed a coding system for labeling the products with codes. These codes were originally intended to mark the resins used in the materials, but also provides the consumer with information. Below is a table detailing the symbol, materials, and potential impact.
|Symbol||Name||Products||Leaching Chemicals||Potential Health Effects|
|Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)||Beverage containers, beer bottles, heat tolerant shrink wrap, and food trays||Antimony trioxide is used in the production of PET plastics, and has been shown to leach into water stored in PET water bottles.||Long exposure to antimony trioxide can results in skin irritation and chronic respiratory problems. Has been shown to increase menstrual problems in females and lead to miscarriages.|
|High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)||Beverage and comsmetic containers. Trash and retail bags.||Undetermined at this time.||Undetermined at this time.|
|Polyvinyl Chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC)||Toys, food packaging, medical tubing, carpet, piping, flooring, and siding.||Di(2-ethylhexyl phthalate) (DEHP) and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP) are common additives in PVC||DEHP and BBzP have been linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children and have been shown to cause certain types of cancer.|
|Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)||Light flexiable plastics such as bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles.||Undetermined at this time.||Undetermined at this time.|
|Polypropylene||Semi-soft food container bottles such as yogurt and condiments and harder products like rakes, and utility casings.||Undetermined at this time.||Undetermined at this time.|
|Polystyrene||License plate frames, office plastic hardware cups and utensils.||Styrene leaches from plastic under heated conditions.||In the body, styrene mimics the female hormone estrogen. This causes reproductive and developmental problems for children..|
|Other - This category is for anything made that is not discretely in one of the oter categories. It may be made one of the materials already mentioned, not at all, or in some mix.||Reusable water bottles, Nalgene bottles, food containers, baby bottles||Bisphenol A (BPA) Polycarbonate is known to leach from materials in this category.||BPA is another chemical that resembles the female hormone estrogen and is linked to many health issues including chromosone damage in female ovaries, accelerated rate of growth, and decrease in sperm production in men.|
Plastic offers the most diversity when it comes to fermentation containers. Not only are the materials different, but so are the shapes sizes, from cubed to barrel shaped, and the same is true for the accessories. There are small to large, transparent to opaque, some with carrying handles, some with spigots, and some made specifically for fermentation with features such as a conical bottom.
As mentioned the demand for these plastic containers, and cost of materials, has created an industry that produces them. The manufactures range from general container makers, to specialty laboratory equipment providers, to home brew specialists. Below some of the available options are laid out by type instead of manufacturer.
Pail buckets are common, especially for kits as they are cheap and readily available. Note, there are places online that resell used pharmaceutical pails...beware. All the items below are food grade, and should give an idea of pricing. The features that are optional for these pails include spigots, inline or wire handles, screw tight lids, and holes for air or fermentation locks.
|Plastic Pail Size||Materials Used||Accessories||Price Range|
|1 gal||PET, Polypropylene, or HPDE||Screw cap, grommet||$2.10 - $3.49|
|3.5 gal||PET, Polypropylene, or HPDE||Wire handle||$4.75 - $5.52|
|5 gal||Mostly HPDE||Wire handle, some with screw caps and pre-drilled holes in the lids for an airlock||$4.99 - $16.99|
|6.5 gal||Mostly HPDE||Wire handle, some with screw caps and pre-drilled holes in the lids for an airlock||$14.50 - $15.25|
|7.9 gal||Mostly HPDE||Wire handle, some with screw caps and pre-drilled holes in the lids for an airlock||$21.72 - $24.99|
|10 gal||Unknown||Snap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock||$22.95 - $31.99|
|20 gal||Unknown||Snap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock||$33.95 - $45.99|
|32 gal||Unknown||Snap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock||$39.95|
|44 gal||Unknown||Snap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock||$49.50|
Carboys are simply another set of shapes for plastic and cover a wide number of applications. Different industries use these vessels for storage, transport, dispensation, as well as fermentation. And due to the number of uses, there are quite a few variations in materials, shape, and accessories. These plastic carboys are generally larger in size due to the nature of its use, however they are not limited to multi-gallon capacities. The table below however is focused on the larger sizes.
|Container Type||Size||Materials Used||Accessories||Price Range|
|Better Bottle||3 gal||PET||Spigot available||$18.95 - $25.50|
|Better Bottle||5 gal||PET||Spigot available||$19.95 - $27.50|
|Better Bottle||6 gal||PET||Spigot available||$21.95 - $29.50|
|Nalgene Sanitary Carboy||5 gal||Polycarbonate Plastic (PC)||Built in handles||$59.95|
There are a number of plastic vessels that are designed specifically for fermentation of beer and wine. The most notable difference is going to be in the shape, having a conical bottom. This allows for the sediment to collect into the cone, and a valve on the bottom allows for extraction.
|Container Type||Size||Materials Used||Accessories||Price Range|
|V-Vessel System||5 gal||Unknown||Wall mount, rubber bung, fermentation lock, collection capsule, brush||$149.00 - $215.98|
|U.S. Plastics Inductor Cone Bottom Bulk Storage Tanks||15 gal||Medium density polyethylene||Gallon indicator markings, wide mouth screw lid for top, 2 \" FPT fitting on bottom. Stand sold seperately||$86.31|
|U.S. Plastics Inductor Cone Bottom Bulk Storage Tanks||30 gal||Medium density polyethylene||Gallon indicator markings, wide mouth screw lid for top, 2 \" FPT fitting on bottom||$107.00|
|U.S. Plastics Inductor Cone Bottom Bulk Storage Tanks||40 gal||Medium density polyethylene||Gallon indicator markings, wide mouth screw lid for top, 2 \" FPT fitting on bottom||$133.22|
|Minibrew Fermenter||6.5 gal||Inert Polyethylene||Built in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve||$147.00 - $198.00|
|Minibrew Fermenter||8 gal||Inert Polyethylene||Built in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve||$257.00 - $289.00|
|Minibrew Fermenter||15 gal||Inert Polyethylene||Built in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve||$289.95 - $347.00|
|Minibrew Fermenter||25 gal||Inert Polyethylene||Built in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve||$510.00 - $625.00|
|Minibrew Fermenter||40 gal||Inert Polyethylene||Built in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve||$755.00|