Flats of 500-milliliter bottles clanged together at Buoy Beer Co.’s bottling line last week as workers loaded them to be filled with Czech-style Pilsner before being labeled and shipped out.
But unlike older vessels, the new bottles will be washed, refilled and reused in an effort to lower the carbon footprint.
Buoy Beer is one of seven Oregon breweries that have so far joined Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative’s BottleDrop Refill program, launched this year. Members in the program take on standardized, refillable 500- and 375-milliliter bottles made by Owens-Illinois Glass Plant in northeast Portland to last through at least 25 uses.
Dave Kroening, general manager of Buoy Beer, said the company recently started sending shipments of the refillable bottles to Clatsop Distributing and expects to see them on shelves in the next couple of weeks around Oregon and southwest Washington state.
The quickly growing brewery previously used a third-party mobile bottling line and supply of bottles. When it was looking to buy its own bottling line, the recycling collective reached out, Kroening said.
While Buoy will still can its beers, its entire bottling line has been designed around the refillable containers.
“The entire program made way too much sense not to pursue,” he said. “It’s really exciting being able to reduce our waste by switching to a package (with) a way better carbon and energy footprint than new glass bottles.”
Joel Schoening, a spokesperson for the collective, said the program is an effort to bring consumers back to a time when milk, beer and many other items came in refillable containers. Refillable bottles still represent about 60 percent of Owens-Illinois’ market in Latin America and 35 percent in Western Europe.
“Research shows that on an average container of beer a consumer takes home, the bottle is 40 percent of the environmental impact of the beer,” Schoening said. “We’re billing this as the most sustainable choice in the beer aisle.”
Bottles recycled locally are usually crushed in the redemption machine, sorted in Portland by color, crushed further at Owens-Illinois’ plant into cullet, melted at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit with new material and turned into new containers.
The company has estimated that making and shipping a new glass bottle requires more than 0.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide on average. The impact is even lower than the 0.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide per container the company estimates is required to create and ship new cans.
“A lot of people are looking at cans as an environmental option, but the metal gets shipped to Alabama for smelting,” Schoening said.
Owens-Illinois estimates the carbon footprint of each refillable bottle at .006 kilograms of carbon dioxide after 30 uses. The bottles, made from about 70 percent recycled glass, are taken to the collective’s sorting facility and shipped to Missoula, Montana-based Bayern Brewing, another participant in the BottleDrop Refill program and the closest brewery with a suitable bottle-washing machine. The cleaned bottles are shipped back to Oregon and sold to breweries at a market-based rate.
“There’s definitely a higher cost to start out, especially being the first ones to put them on the shelves,” Kroening said of buying the new bottles. “The actual cost we think is going to be worth it because of the sustainability of the bottle.”
Widmer Brothers, Gigantic, GoodLife, Double Mountain, Wild Ride and Rock Bottom breweries are all taking part with Buoy to varying degrees. The hope is that as more breweries come online, and as bottles are recirculated, the economy of scale will help drive the price down, Schoening said.
The collective anticipates opening its own washing station in the Portland metro area in 2020.