In October of last year, nine students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after mixing Four Loko, a potent caffeine- and alcohol-loaded beverage, with other alcohols. Colleges around the country, including Boston University and the University of Maryland, soon banned the drink around the time the parents of a Florida sophomore sued Loko-maker Phusion Products and held the company responsible for their son’s death. Sadly, other stories followed suit, and with a war on Four Loko steadily brewing, entire states – including Washington, Michigan, New York, Utah and Oklahoma – have banned its sale.
Phusion tried to save the so-called “blackout in a can” by starting a reach-out campaign to college presidents and deans, offering on-campus responsible drinking education, but the damage had already been done. It later announced it would take the loko, er, caffeine, out of the drink. Now the “Four” in Four Loko – which stood for alcohol, caffeine, taurine and guarana – is simply part of the brand’s name, since the new formulation, “Four Loko XXX” doesn’t actually contain stimulants, according to a press release the company issued last week.
But what to do with all that leftover original Four Loko? Last week, the Associated Press reported that truckloads of high-alcohol caffeinated malt beverages would be recycled into ethanol and other products. So instead of throwing away all the unopened Four Lokos and drinks like them, wholesalers from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and other states along the Eastern seaboard are sending cases to MXI Environmental Services in Abingdon, Virginia. MXI will recycle the drink, which has been described by some as tasting like rocket fuel, into car fuel.
Brian Potter, vice president of operations at MXI's facility in Abingdon, Va., told the AP that a few hundred truckloads of the drinks would be coming to the plant. “These are actually things that could go directly into a landfill or incinerator or some other waste process that’s not as environmentally friendly, so I think it’s a good thing. MXI distills the alcohol from the drinks, then sells the fuel to be blended into gasoline.”
Each truck holds 2,000 cases of the 23.5-ounce cans. "We're equipped to process four truckloads a day, and we're at full capacity," he said. "There are about 30 different products involved, and we've only seen a couple of them at this point. It could go on for several months." He also said that MXI’s ethanol-recycling competitors were taking the drinks.
The company also recycles the drinks’ water, cardboard packaging and shipping pallets, then sells the aluminum cans to a recycler. All in all, it sounds like a pretty great solution. Got any more good news stories about recycling, or ideas for other products that you’d be happier seeing in your car than in your kid? We’ll take them here.