Beloved Aussie Tradition May Be at Risk Because of Recycling Success

Foster's may be Australian for beer, but what's Australian for beer-can boat?
Jul 14, 2014·
Michael Sugerman is a summer intern at TakePart and a student at the University of Michigan, where he reports for the school newspaper, The Michigan Daily.

Empty beer cans transformed into competitive racing vessels? Regatta be kidding me.

Since 1974, the city of Darwin—the capital of Australia's Northern Territory—has hosted an annual Beer Can Regatta, inviting people to Mindil Beach to construct mostly buoyant, recyclable beer can creations for racing purposes. Although really, speed isn't the idea when you're just trying to drag your makeshift aluminum junk heap over a finish line.

The Daily Mail wrote that more than 15,000 spectators crowded the beach for this year's event, held earlier this month.

The funny thing might be that the awesome recycling habits of Australians are endangering the event, because there aren't a huge number of empty cans lying around these days. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that a new government payout of 10 Australian cents a can (that comes to about nine American pennies) has inspired more recycling. Can recycling may be prevalent in many other countries, but it's only caught on in Australia in recent years—and it can take more than 40,000 beer cans to build each of these vessels. Even if teams were intent on saving all their beer cans over the course of the year, that's a lot of beer to sip. Let's say you do manage to drink all that lager: Where do you store the empties?

That's not the main concern of regatta organizers, who have their own set of customized Ten Commandments, the most important of which are "Thou shalt not drown" and "Thou shall not commit adultery." While that second one has little applicability to the building of beer boats, it is there to "give us an air of responsibility and respect."

The local chapter of Lions Clubs, an organization that fosters local, national, and international community service, has helmed the event since 1978. In 2012, the regatta accrued $30,000, and according to the Lions Clubs website, most of this profit is funneled back into the Darwin community via service projects.