Four Loko, the caffeine-and-alcohol infused malt beverage that was banned following a series of accidents and deaths in 2010, has all but disappeared from store shelves, except in a caffeine-free version. But the original Loko will live on in a surprising new incarnation: fuel to power automobiles. On Thursday, the AP reported that MXI Environmental Services in Virginia has been recycling thousands of truckloads of Four Loko into ethanol, which can later be mixed with gasoline. Will the cult alcoholic brew soon be powering your car? (Watch a local report about the plan.) Here's an instant guide to the process:
How does this work?
After Four Loko was banned in November, wholesale distributors from Virginia, North Carolina, and other states bought unused stock from retailers. They then began to ship the banned beverage to MXI Environmental Services, an environmental recycling facility in Abingdon, Va. MXI and two other recycling companies distill the alcohol out of Four Loko, then sell it as "fuel to be blended into gasoline."
What else does MXI recycle?
MXI doesn't stop at distilling. Indeed, says Curtis Cartier at Seattle Weekly, "the company apparently treats the Four Loko cans like Native Americans treat a slain buffal —not wasting anything of value." Beyond the ethanol distillation, MXI "sells the aluminum cans to a recycling plant, and recycles the drink's water, cardboard packaging and shipping pallets." A spokesman for the company says that after recycling a Four Loko can, it would only be "30 days until it's back on the shelf as a beer can."
What do environmentalists think of this?
They're elated. America is pretty good at finding new ways to use old products, says Bonnie Azab at Grist, but "converting Four Loko into fuel represents new heights of creative reuse." (Although Brian Merchant at Treehugger says that "MXI, along with two other plants in the U.S., have been transforming bad booze into fuel for years," which means that former caffeine-and-alcohol king Sparks "may be powering your Volvo.")