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Four Loko Being Recycled Into Auto Fuel

Four Loko cans

Cans of Four Loko are seen in the liquor department of a Kwik Stop store. The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing whether the drinks are safe for consumers after complaints that the fruit flavored malt beverage keeps consumers from realizing how intoxicated they are. (Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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ABINGDON, Va. (CBS) – The infamous Chicago-made beverage Four Loko is being recycled, and could actually wind up in your gas tank.

The caffeinated alcoholic drink and other similar brands have been pulled off the market because of health concerns.

Now, a Virginia firm called MXI Environmental Services is about to receive about hundreds of cases of the beverage to turn into fuel.

Wholesalers from Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and other East Coast states started sending cases of the malt beverages to MXI Environmental Services in Virginia after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its crackdown on the sale of such beverages in November.

Brian Potter, vice president of operations at MXI’s facility in Abingdon, Va., said about a couple of hundred truckloads of the drinks would be coming to the plant. Each truck holds 2,000 cases of the 23.5-ounce cans.

MXI is one of three facilities in the U.S. that recycle ethanol, according to the American Coalition for Ethanol, an industry group. Potter said Thursday that his competitors also are taking shipments of the drinks.

“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.”

The Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to four companies on Nov. 17 saying the beverages’ combination of caffeine and alcohol can lead to a “wide-awake drunk.” The agency called the caffeine an “unsafe food additive.” Warning letters were sent to Chicago-based Phusion Projects, as well as Charge Beverages Corp., New Century Brewing Co. and United Brands Company Inc.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said at the time that consuming the drinks has led to alcohol poisoning, car accidents and assaults.

Health experts have raised concerns that the caffeine can mask a person’s perception of intoxication, leading them to drink more than they typically would before passing out. Many of those who consume the drinks are college-age and underage drinkers.

The four companies decided to pull their beverages from stores or reformulate them to remove caffeine, or other stimulants such as guarana and taurine, after the FDA’s ruling. Under pressure from states’ attorneys general, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors removed their Bud Extra, Tilt and Sparks drinks from the market two years ago.

Last month, the Illinois State Senate voted 51-0 to ban so-called “alcoholic energy drinks.”

MXI distills the alcohol from the drinks, then sells the fuel to be blended into gasoline, Potter said. It sells the aluminum cans to a recycler. Potter estimated it takes “30 days until it’s back on the shelf as another beer can.” It also recycles the drinks’ water, cardboard packaging and shipping pallets.

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