Mitchell: Ban the Can

It’s been 22 years since Dartmouth banned kegs. Isn’t it time to fix that?

Wait, kegs aren’t banned at Dartmouth. Right? Well, not technically, but when the College banned kegs in 1991 it also required that all fraternities remove their tap systems and bar areas. When the administration ended keg prohibition, it neglected to overturn the ban on tap systems or bars.

The result is that cans replaced kegs as the dominant alcohol distribution vessel on campus. Cans have numerous advantages to kegs, all of which help aid and abet heavy consumers of alcohol. While slightly more expensive, cans are easier to procure since they are available in more locations and are more simply transported than carrying kegs. They are easier to carry in pockets or cars. They are untraceable: nobody has to sign for cans like they do for kegs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they can be distributed much faster than beer can flow from a keg.

The seamy underbelly of cans is that they created a level of waste that probably was not fully contemplated in 1991. Furthermore, the logical deduction that cans would replace plastic cups as a principal drinking vessel was naive. Cups, of course, were needed for pong. While the keg ban may have slowed some plastic cup consumption at its outset, the makers of new and exciting pong games in the 1990s quickly obliterated that benefit with shrubs, trees and battleships. Fraternities and sororities became saddled with much more trash.

Just as handguns should be considered for banishment in large cities, cans should be banned on college campuses. Drinking should only be permitted from kegs, at least in public spaces. Here are my top three reasons why cans should be banned:

First, waste: Assuming 1.7 million cans of beer are poured annually in Hanover (which is less than two cups per day per student), we generate 19.8 tons of waste annually. Sure, cans get picked up and some recycled (all for a net cost), but the wear and tear that all these cans put on the interior of the houses cannot be understated. Banning cans in public areas would eliminate this source of sight blight, damage and ecological waste.

Second, cost: Cheap keg beer costs about 35 percent less than cheap canned beer. If all Greek houses switched to kegs, they would provide these houses with sufficient savings to engage outside cleaners for 13 hours per week. Switching to kegs reduces waste and enables more cleaning.

Third, time: It takes less than 60 seconds to fill seven cups of beer from cans and deliver them to a pong table, compared to nearly 150 seconds from a tap, which is 2.5 times longer. Banning cans can have a huge impact in slowing down drinking at Dartmouth. Furthermore, it constricts distribution down to a hub, so unlike the cloud-based distribution system available through 30- packs, beer distribution will go back to the 20th century. This will slow down consumption and frustrate binging.

The administration can’t ban cans without some rational concessions on keg procurement and dispersion. Restrictions on keg purchase tracking and limits need to be eliminated. Houses don’t “report” can purchases today, so why do they have to report keg purchases? Fraternities and sororities should be authorized to reinstall professional tap and cooler systems with bars. It will still be slower to fill cups than cans. An ancient administration concern that taps would lead to 24/7 consumption ignores the facts: Every house has a 30-pack loaded for afternoon pong at a moment’s notice. If you make pong contingent on a significantly heavier, more expensive keg you might find that 24-hour alcohol availability will actually decline. The concern that kegs foster date-rape drug-dispensing ignores the effect of beer all by itself. Moreover, especially when it is portable and can be poured 2.5 times faster, who needs drugs?

Banning cans is about compromise. The keg stereotype of the 1970s is dead. Can the administration see the potential benefit of switching to kegs from cans and agree to reasonable terms for a trial? I know we can find fraternities that will be willing to try.

William Mitchell ’79 is the parent of a member of the Class of 2010 and serves as Bones Gate fraternity’s alumni advisor. He is the founder of the Banthecan group on Facebook.

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