Overview

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.

How Plastics are Made

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.

Plastic Types

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.

SymbolNameProductsLeaching ChemicalsPotential Health Effects
Plastic Recycle Type 1 - PETPolyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE)Beverage containers, beer bottles, heat tolerant shrink wrap, and food traysAntimony 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.
Plastic Recycle Type 2 - HPDEHigh Density Polyethylene (HDPE)Beverage and comsmetic containers. Trash and retail bags. Undetermined at this time.Undetermined at this time.
Plastic Recycle Type 3 - PVCPolyvinyl 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 PVCDEHP and BBzP have been linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children and have been shown to cause certain types of cancer.
Plastic Recycle Type 4 - LDPELow Density Polyethylene (LDPE)Light flexiable plastics such as bread and frozen food bags and squeezable bottles.Undetermined at this time.Undetermined at this time.
Plastic Recycle Type 5 - PPPolypropyleneSemi-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.
Plastic Recycle Type 6 - PSPolystyreneLicense 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..
Plastic Recycle Type 7 - OtherOther - 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 bottlesBisphenol 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 Fermentation Types and Sizes

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.

Plastic Pails and Buckets

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 SizeMaterials UsedAccessoriesPrice Range
1 galPET, Polypropylene, or HPDEScrew cap, grommet$2.10 - $3.49
3.5 galPET, Polypropylene, or HPDEWire handle$4.75 - $5.52
5 galMostly HPDEWire handle, some with screw caps and pre-drilled holes in the lids for an airlock$4.99 - $16.99
6.5 galMostly HPDEWire handle, some with screw caps and pre-drilled holes in the lids for an airlock$14.50 - $15.25
7.9 galMostly HPDEWire handle, some with screw caps and pre-drilled holes in the lids for an airlock$21.72 - $24.99
10 galUnknownSnap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock$22.95 - $31.99
20 galUnknownSnap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock$33.95 - $45.99
32 galUnknownSnap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock$39.95
44 galUnknownSnap on lids, inline handles, predrilled hole for airlock$49.50

Plastic Carboys

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 TypeSizeMaterials UsedAccessoriesPrice Range
Better Bottle3 galPETSpigot available$18.95 - $25.50
Better Bottle5 galPETSpigot available$19.95 - $27.50
Better Bottle6 galPETSpigot available$21.95 - $29.50
Nalgene Sanitary Carboy5 galPolycarbonate Plastic (PC)Built in handles$59.95
  • Vintage Shop Plastic PET Carboy, 6 gallon

    Product Features

    • This is Truly a plastic Carboy designed for wine/beer makers
    • BPA free product
    • Manufactured in Canada

    Description

    • This is truly a plastic carboy designed for wine/beer makers. BPA free. Made of heavy P.E.T. plastic. Ideal for secondary fermentations of both wine and beer. Also perfect for bulk aging wine. Completely taste and odor free and stain resistant. No side wall ribs to collect yeast or sediment. Easy to clean inside and out. Impermeable to oxygen. Safe to reuse over and over, if properly sanitized before and after each use. Takes 10 Rubber stopper. In Ported Carboys, the hole is 2'high. Note: Do not recommend to lift the carboy from the side when is full. To lift it place one hand on the bottom and the other on the neck. Do not clean carboy with water hotter than 53AC (127AF).
  • Vintage Shop B00838WL08 FBA_Does Not Apply Plastic 3 Gallon Carboy, Clear

    Product Features

    • Plastic secondary fermenter
    • 3 gallon capacity
    • Overall Dimensions are 15-1/2" tall and 9" round

    Description

    • Plastic carboys offer many of the benefits of glass while offering convenience and durability. This food-grade plastic is non-porous and will not absorb flavors and aromas. The smooth surface inhibits contamination and the Clear, colorless plastic allows for visual observation. A plastic carboy is extremely light-weight and provides exceptional durability. Requires #10 rubber stopper (available separately). height: 15.5in. Width (Overall): 9.0in. Opening (interior diameter): 1.8in. Opening (exterior diameter): 2.13in.
  • Northern Brewer - Big Mouth Bubbler PET Plastic Carboy with Wide Mouth for Home Brewing and Wine Making (6.5 Gallon Plain)

    Product Features

    • Revolutionary wide mouth eliminates the nightmare of cleaning and sanitizing. Stick your arm in to clean the entire inside with a swipe of the cleaning cloth.
    • Superior to a carboy; A virtually indestructible fermentor
    • Volume markers molded into the side of the vessel
    • Uses a Standard-sized #6.5 Stopper (not included); ports that can accommodate most fermentation-monitoring equipment
    • 6.5 Gallon fermenters are perfect for the primary stage of beer or wine fermentation. The extra head space allows for the production of krausen on a 5 gallon batch of beer.

    Description

    • Superior to a carboy, the Big Mouth Bubbler® Plastic is a virtually indestructible fermentor, equipped with 3" thick anti-flex ribs, a punted bottom and decreased base diameter for extreme strength and durability. Its smaller footprint preserves precious brew cave space and allows for convenient storage inside a standard brewing bucket. The punted bottom promotes crystal-clear beer by efficiently settling out yeast from finished fermentations. Graduation marks make volume measurement instant and effortless. And, of course, its revolutionary wide mouth eliminates the nightmare of cleaning and sanitizing by giving you direct hands-on access to attack crusted krausen, while simultaneously offering unlimited flexibility in dry-hopping and flavor additions. Superior to a carboy, the Big Mouth Bubbler® Plastic prevents off-flavors by enabling you to keep the lid on during testing and transfer, avoiding exposure to oxygen with standard-sized ports that can accommodate most fermentation-monitoring equipment. Best of all, it will not shatter when dropped or knocked. Say goodbye to your carboys for good!

      The Big Mouth Bubbler® Universal Lid is just like a traditional carboy bung, only bigger! Just as easy to sanitize and set in place too. Ribbed silicone rings ensure a positive seal to keep out pests, while the non-threaded design allows the lid to move preventing an out-of-control fermentation from dangerously pressurizing your fermentor. The optional Dual Port Lid (not included) allows for the use of a temperature controller probe. The ThermoStar Dual-Mode Digital Temperature Controller with optional 12" stainless probe ensures precise and repeatable fermentation temperatures! Lid ports work with our Small Universal Stopper or a standard 6.5 rubber stopper. 6.5 gallon capacity, Height: 23", Diameter: 11"

Specialty Plastic Fermentation Containers

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 TypeSizeMaterials UsedAccessoriesPrice Range
V-Vessel System5 galUnknownWall mount, rubber bung, fermentation lock, collection capsule, brush$149.00 - $215.98
U.S. Plastics Inductor Cone Bottom Bulk Storage Tanks15 galMedium density polyethyleneGallon 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 Tanks30 galMedium density polyethyleneGallon indicator markings, wide mouth screw lid for top, 2 \" FPT fitting on bottom $107.00
U.S. Plastics Inductor Cone Bottom Bulk Storage Tanks40 galMedium density polyethyleneGallon indicator markings, wide mouth screw lid for top, 2 \" FPT fitting on bottom $133.22
Minibrew Fermenter6.5 galInert PolyethyleneBuilt in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve$147.00 - $198.00
Minibrew Fermenter8 galInert PolyethyleneBuilt in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve$257.00 - $289.00
Minibrew Fermenter15 galInert PolyethyleneBuilt in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve$289.95 - $347.00
Minibrew Fermenter25 galInert PolyethyleneBuilt in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve$510.00 - $625.00
Minibrew Fermenter40 galInert PolyethyleneBuilt in stand, conical bottom, thermometer mounting thread, port valve$755.00
  • FastFerment Conical Fermenter, 7.9 gallon

    Product Features

    • Primary & secondary fermentation in the same container
    • No transfers & no racking - 80% less work
    • Better quality product with no sediment contamination
    • Increased sanitation with less contamination & less oxygen exposure
    • Wall mount included, does not include floor stand

    Description

    • Fast Ferment makes it easy to brew and clean with a 6" removable screw top lid. At 7.9 US Gallons/30 Liters, the Fast Ferment is made for 5 or 6.5 US Gallon batches with blow offs. The Fast Ferment comes with an easy wall mounting system that mounts to standard 16" wall studs. It also has a flat-bottomed collection ball for yeast harvesting - you can save $100's & harvest your yeast strains! In addition, there are temperature monitoring capabilities with a brass thermowell included. Accessories including a small stand, carrying strap, thermometer and extra collection balls are available.
  • FastFerment FF14G 14 Gallon Plastic Conical Fermenter, 14 US Gallons-53 Litres, White

    Product Features

    • The fast ferment conical fermenter is better for your fermentation because it is a closed vessel
    • Cleaner fermentation with less risk of oxidation and less risk of infection
    • No sediment or oxygen contamination
    • Stand included
    • Bottling hose included
    • NOTE: Refer the User Manual before use.

    Description

    • Gold Medal Winner - FastFerment is a Gold Medal Winner at the Largest Homebrew Competition - HomebrewCon 2016 in Baltimore, MD - Other Ales Category

      80% Less Work - No Racking & No Transferring & only 1 vessel to clean means less work and more brewing!

      Easy & Efficient - The FastFerment System is a one-stage fermenter, which allows brewers & winemakers to do primary & secondary fermentation in the same unit. FastFerment eliminates racking & transferring between buckets & carboys. This saves approximately 80% of the time & labor needed to make a batch of beer or wine compared to traditional methods & with less equipment, clean up is easy.

      Premium - FastFerment is a professional system for the average Homebrewer & Winemaker. The conical design limits exposure to oxygen & allows for yeast harvesting. The end result is consistently high-quality batches of beer & wine every time.

      Benefits Over Traditional Conicals - The downfall of other conical fermenters is that you have to ferment the product with the valve closed and then the trub & sediment accumulates above the valve. When the fermentation is complete you have to open the valve and flush the sediment out the bottom. This results in two main issues:

      1. You need to time the flushing of the sediment perfectly to ensure minimal loss of product.
      2. As the sediment is flushed out, there will always be yeast and trub/sediment hazes that float up back up into your beer or wine.

      Kit Contents:
      14 US Gallon / 53 Litre Conical Fermenter
      Large Screw Top Lid with Hollow Silicon Gasket
      Rubber Grommet & 3-Piece Plastic Airlock
      Bottom Collection Ball for Harvesting Yeast
      Teflon Seated Union Valve with Fittings
      Solid Tubular Steel Stand with Assembly Screws
      PVC Hose & Hose Clamp
      Stainless Steel Thermowell
      Permanent Stainless Steel Insert for the Thermowell
      Teflon Tape
      Step by Step Instructions & Best Practices Manual

      Why FastFerment?

      1. Guaranteed consistent batches with no trub/sediment contamination
      2. Primary & secondary fermentation in one vessel
      3. 80% less work with no transfers & no racking
      4. Increased sanitation with less oxygen exposure
      5. +60 000 FastFerments sold to date
      6. Stainless fermenters cost 2-4x more
  • The Catalyst Fermentation System, Craft a Brew, 6.5 gal Conical Fermenter for Beer Home Brewing and Wine Making

    Product Features

    • 6.5 Gallon Conical Fermenter that separates sediment, eliminates transfers and allows you to bottle straight from your fermenter
    • The Catalyst's tank is made from Tritan, a food-safe, BPA-free polymer. This revolutionary material retains the same clarity and smoothness of glass, but is resistant to shattering
    • 3" Trub Trap Butterfly Valve - the largest in the industry- is designed to work with any large-mouthed mason jar, which makes catching and storing viable yeasts or separating sediment super simple
    • Includes: 6.5 Gallon Tank with Lid, Stand (Base, 2 Legs, 2 Support Beams, 8 Screws), 3" Proprietary Butterfly Valve, Bottling Attachment, Transfer Tubing, Tubing Clamp, Rubber Stopper
    • 16 Oz. Wide Mouth Mason Jar, Allen Wrench, Total Height (does not include airlock): 26.25" Maximum Width: 17"

    Description

    • If you could eliminate one chronic home brewing time-suck, what would it be? How about the Transfer Trap...You know, where you endlessly shift your homebrewed beer from fermenter, to secondary to bottling bucket, to bottles, risking contamination and messy spills at every step. The great news is, you can. There's a better, simpler way: The Catalyst - an ingeniously designed fermentation system from Craft-A-Brew. The Catalyst's tank is made from Titrant, a food-safe, BPA-free polymer. This revolutionary material retains the same clarity and smoothness of glass, but is resistant to shattering. It is more durable and outlasts the other types plastic typically used in home brewing. You can even put it and the removable silicone gasket in your dishwasher for easy cleanup. Properly cared for, the tank will last for years to come. The Catalyst is engineered to optimize ever cubic inch of space, resulting in an incredibly sturdy stand with I-beam and honeycomb construction, squat 6.5 Gallon tank and 3" Trub Traps Butterfly Valve - the largest in the industry. The result is an efficient, practically indestructible system that fits easily under a table or on a countertop. No specialized equipment required. The Trub Traps on The Catalyst is designed to work with any large-mouthed mason jar, which makes catching and storing viable yeasts or separating sediment super simple. The Catalyst Fermentation System Includes: 6.5 Gallon Tank with Lid Stand (Base, 2 Legs, 2 Support Beams, 8 Screws) 3" Proprietary Butterfly Valve Bottling Attachment Transfer Tubing Clamp Rubber Stopper 16 Oz. Wide Mouth Mason Jar Allen Wrench Dimensions: The Stand: Height: 14.75" Width: 17" Depth: 13.75" Unit Size: Total Height (does not include airlock): 26.25" Maximum Width: 17".

Advantages of Plastic Fermenting Buckets and Plastic Carboys

Like any of the trade offs made in life, there are pros and cons to any decision. Below some of those trade-off are described.

  • Price - The price of the simplest fermentation vessels is hard to beat. The price varies substantially across the products, but at the lower end, a few dollars is hard to beat.
  • Safer Handling - Unlike the risks of breaking glass, if plastic does break it is a lot less likely to inflict physical damage
  • Reuse - For plastic pails especially, these plastic vessels can be reused for any number of different applications such as storage of grains, liquid transport, and as a sanitization bucket during the brew process.
  • Innovation - Due to the ease of forming very specific molds for certain applications, plastic fermentation vessels will make progress in features that are tailored towards brewing.

Disadvantages of Plastic Fermenting Buckets and Plastic Carboys

  • Chemical Leaching - Ongoing research is underway into short term and long term impact of plastic chemicals, polymners, and adhesives on the human body. Today there is proof of problems created by certain types of plastics. Unfortunately the impact has proved to be grave for certain plastic types. Stay tuned as there are many people and organizations who are testing and researching these products.
  • Transparency - Although advancements are being made in some applications, plastics will generally not even compare to the clarity seen through glass. Moreover, many containers are not designed with this in mind at all and consist of nearly opaque materials.
  • Scratch Resistance - Most plastics can be scratched easily. Even a cleaning brush can puncture the surface of the plastic and create breeding grounds for bacterial. These scratches can be sanded and patched, but require constant attention.
  • Durability and Longevity - Plastics break down by oxidation, sunlight, and exposure to chemicals and fluids. Although they may be usable for years, time will catch up with these convenient materials.
  • Strength - Plastic carboys and pales will be flexible to one degree or another depending on the shape and materials. This will affect your ability to carry and work with teh container.
  • Permeability - The permeability of plastics varies by type. Some are made with adhesives and chemicals specifically for this. It is likely that the best examples for lack of permeability are those found in commercial use, for example containers that store gases and liquids under pressure. With that said, the long term ability to provide this seal will not be as good as a glass or sealable steel container. Other lighter plastics will not have good resistance to gasses and this can effect your beer or wine.