The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative (OBRC) is resurrecting an old practice to make craft beer greener. The solution? Reusable glass bottles. Reusable bottles were popular in the ’30s and ’40s and although they’re still used around the world, the US moved on from the practice. However, OBRC and its chief stewardship officer and head of communications Jules Bailey found that breweries instituting reusable bottles, rather than simply recycling, could lead to a 92% savings in carbon footprint because there’s less energy used in washing bottles than heating an oven to melt down and re-mold them.
“It’s a plus economically, and environmentally,” Bailey shared with Fast Company. However, as independent and craft breweries boomed, collecting bottles to reusable became infeasible. “As craft took off…no one had the size or scale to own a bottle washer and wash bottles,” Bailey said. “Additionally, there wasn’t a collection mechanism to get the bottles back and to the right companies. So the system collapsed. It was a market reality.”
For OBRC’s bottles to work, they needed to create a bottle that could be reused, and looked good enough that brewers would want to slap their labels on the bottles. Bailey and OBRC teamed up with Owens-Illinois, one of the largest glass bottle manufacturers in the world, to design a bottle that would please brewers and would be sturdy enough to withstand multiple washes.
So far, seven breweries in Oregon have signed on and OBRC has seen interest from folks in California, New York, and New Jersey, who want to launch similar operations. Eventually, OBRC can expand this idea to cidermakers and wineries as well. Although many breweries have made the shift to aluminum with cans and crowlers, implementing reusable bottles can mitigate craft beer’s carbon footprint and makes for a sustainable choice for beer fans.
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