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
  • Living Whole Foods 5 Gallon White Bucket & Lid - Set of 3 - Durable 90 Mil All Purpose Pail - Food Grade - Contains No BPA Plastic

    Product Features

    • Set of 3 - 5 Gallons in Volume - Food Grade HDPE Plastic - BPA Free
    • 90 Mils Thickness (.09 inches) - 14.5" Height, 12" Diameter
    • Metal Handle with Plastic Grip - Lid included
    • All Purpose - Heavy Duty
    • Made in USA

    Description

    • White, 5 gallon food grade buckets with lids. These storage pails are made with FDA approved plastic 90 mil thick, making them amazingly strong and solid. The all-metal handle has an attached plastic molded grip that protects hands from heavy loads. Lipped lids make stacking safe and easy. This is an excellent choice for those looking for a solid food grade container to store seeds, flour, sugar, pet food or any number of other things.
  • 5 Gallon White Bucket & Lid - Durable 90 Mil All Purpose Pail - Food Grade - BPA Free Plastic -

    Product Features

    • 5 Gallons in Volume - Food Grade HDPE Plastic - BPA Free
    • 90 Mils Thickness (.09 inches) - 14.5" Height, 12" Diameter
    • Metal Handle with Plastic Grip - Lid included
    • All Purpose - Heavy Duty
    • Made in USA

    Description

    • White, 5 gallon food grade buckets with lids. These storage pails are made with FDA approved plastic 90 mil thick, making them amazingly strong and solid. The all-metal handle has an attached plastic molded grip that protects hands from heavy loads. Lipped lids make stacking safe and easy. This is an excellent choice for those looking for a solid food grade container to store seeds, flour, sugar, pet food or any number of other things.
  • 2 Gallon Plastic Fermenter w/ drilled lid

    Product Features

    • Perfect size for making one gallon batches
    • Included grommet Hole for airlock, airlock NOT included
    • Metal or plastic handle depending on supplier

    Description

    • The perfect Size for making one gallon batches of wine. Also great for small batches of beer, mead, Cider, or for 1 - 1.5 gallon yeast starters.

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).
  • New Wave Enviro Products BPA Free Bottle, 3-Gallon

    Product Features

    • BpA Free, Made in The USA
    • New Wave Enviro bottle, the most trusted name in BpA free bottles
    • Top choice of natural health professionals  nationwide
    • Can be used with porcelain water dispensers and water coolers. Reusable again and again
    • FDA approved and NSF 51 certified Tritan material

    Description

    • 3 Gallon Round Polycarbonate Bottle with Handle is the premier plastic bottle with a number 7 recycle code on the bottom and your guarantee of quality
  • Big Mouth Bubbler Plastic - 6.5 Gallon PET Plastic Carboy Fermentor for Home Brewing and Wine Making

    Product Features

    • Superior to a carboy
    • A virtually indestructible fermentor
    • Revolutionary wide mouth eliminates the nightmare of cleaning and sanitizing
    • Prevents off-flavors by enabling you to keep the lid on during testing and transfer
    • Standard-sized ports that can accommodate most fermentation-monitoring equipment

    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
  • Strange Brew Fast Ferment Plastic Wall Mount Conical Fermenter(Stand Not Included), 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

    • The fast ferment is the only conical fermenter with a collection capsule at the base. With the collection capsule, you will be able to take sediment or trub from the bottom -- no more racking. If you're making wine, you can either bottle or filter directly from the unit. If you're making beer, you can prime the beer through the opening on the top, open the valve and bottle. Or just open the valve and run the line into your keg. Capacity is 7.9 gallons. Please note that this Fast Ferment is a wall-mounted unit and needs to be installed on a concrete wall or anchored into wooden (not metal) studs. Wall mount is included. Does not include floor stand.
  • FastFerment Conical Fermenter, 7.9 gallon

    Product Features

    • Consistent batches
    • Primary & secondary fermentation in the same container
    • No transfers & no racking - 80% less work
    • Better quality product with no sediment contamination
    • Ability to harvest yeast & save 100s

    Description

    • FastFerment makes it easy to brew and clean with a 6" removable screw top lid. At 7.9 US Gallons/30 Litres, the FastFerment is made for 5 or 6.5 US Gallon batches with blow offs. The FastFerment 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.
  • 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.