Oregon Adopts A Statewide Refillable Beer Bottle System

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Sep. 21 2018, Updated 12:18 p.m. ET

Once a beer bottle is drained, it usually goes to a recycling plant, where the glass can be heated and molded into a new product. But what if we just used the beer bottle again? That’s the basic idea behind a new refillable bottle system in Oregon, which is the first statewide program of its kind.

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The program is largely the work of the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative (OBRC), the service which collects bottle deposits for the state. The OBRC developed a brand new beer bottle for the refillable system, using recycled glass sourced from the Owens-Illinois glass manufacturing plant in Portland, EarthFix reports

This new bottle is thicker, heavier, and comes with a clear label. The word “refillable” is etched along the bottom of the glass, making it easier for recycling plant workers to spot and sort out. Because these bottles aren’t recycled — they’re simply washed and sold back to beer manufacturers, who can fill the bottles with new brews. 

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“Recycling is actually still pretty energy intensive,” Joel Schoening, community relations manager for OBRC, told KPTV. “When you return a glass bottle, it gets hauled away, it gets crushed, and it gets heated to really high temperatures to be melted down and turned into a new bottle.

“Instead we’re going to be able to divert this glass, send it to a washing machine, get it washed and sent back, which is a lot more energy efficient.”

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Through this program, the bottles can be refilled up to 25 times. Seven local breweries are already participating in the program, including Wild Ride, Rock Bottom, Double Mountain, Widmer Brothers, Buoy Beer, Good Life, and Gigantic. Cider makers and wineries could also potentially buy bottles back from the OBRC.

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But there are some limitations. Currently, the participating breweries can only distribute 20 percent of their refillable beer bottles outside state lines, since the OBRC would lose too many bottles in the process, and no other state has a comparable refillable program. 

Another issue is the washing process. While refilling the same bottle dozens of time eliminates some carbon, the OBRC is currently sending the bottles to a plant in Montana, racking up extra transportation emissions in the process. 

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The state is trying to build a washing facility in Portland to localize the process, with a projected opening date of 2020.

As Fast Company points out, refillable bottles are not a new idea. The concept was pretty popular in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s, but faded from mainstream use as the craft beer movement gained traction. Small local breweries just couldn’t afford the industrial washing equipment, and had no collection service to support them.

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But after lots of planning and roughly 60 bottle prototypes, the OBRC is ready to bring refillable bottles back. It hopes other states will follow their lead, and make the brewing industry a little more sustainable.

“It’s kind of like our state drink,” Lisa Morrison, co-owner of the Portland beer shop Belmont Station, told EarthFix. “I would like to see Oregon be the trendsetter in this across the country — much like we were with our first bottle deposit.”

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