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