Lowly beer bottle sets sustainability standard

The empties-deposit program was originally implemented to cut costs; later it was used as a way to control littering.

The empties-deposit program was originally implemented to cut costs; later it was used as a way to control littering.

When Canada’s brewers first started putting a deposit on their beer bottles in the 1920s, they did it because it was the best way to cut bottling costs.

Then, in the 1970s, when governments began passing anti-litter regulations, the beer-bottle deposit was the best way to control littering.

Today, when consumer businesses are looking for ways to reduce their environmental footprint, again, it’s the lowly beer bottle that is showing the way.

You don’t have to look any further than the life cycle of a beer bottle to understand sustainability, said Brian Zeiler-Kligman, director of sustainability for the trade association Canada’s National Brewers.

Recycling empty beer bottles in Canada was first introduced 80 years ago as an economic solution that benefited not only the breweries but their customers as well, said Zeiler-Kligman, who is to tell the story of the beer bottle at a Globe 2012 panel Wednesday. The beer bottle is the perfect example of the maxim that sustainable practices should be good for the bottom line as well as the environment, he said.

For brewers, “the innovation story is really an old story,” Zeiler-Kligman said, referring to the post-prohibition origin of beer-bottle recycling.

“The system itself came into place as an economic solution. The brewers put a deposit on the bottles because they wanted to get them back from the customer. That was the best way they could think of to do that: To provide the customer with an incentive to do that. It’s been operating that way, with a few minor tweaks ever since prohibition ended.

“Because of the longevity of the program, because of the various incentives we provide to the consumer to participate, we have got some of the highest return rates for any kind of recovery program, certainly in North America.”

His advice on developing sustainable consumerism is to look first at the economics of it and, make sure that any program provides an incentive to the customer.

“If the economics aren’t there, regardless of the environmental benefits, the program is not going to last for long periods.”

Ninety-seven per cent of all beer bottles in Canada are recycled, he said. returning to the brewery as empties in the same truck that delivers fresh beer to retailers. And each bottle is used from 12 to 15 times before it goes into a glass recycling line, where it is broken into chips and sold back to the glass manufacturer. When you add up the impact all those bottles have on the bottom line for those three companies, it is staggering: In Ontario alone, consumers buy 1.2 billion bottles of beer, but brewers only needed to buy 93 million bottles. At 10 cents a bottle, those recyclable bottles add up to a sustainable industry valued at over $100 million.

Developing a successful return program did not just happen, however. It took cooperation among breweries to use a standardized beer bottle, something that the three major breweries that comprise the association — Molson, Labatt and Sleeman — still support. In B.C., Canada’s National Brewers have stewardship responsibility for beer bottles and cans from 23 domestic breweries and distillers.

The industry has since put other innovations in place related to other sustainability issues, such as water consumption and energy consumption, and they have all followed the same principle: it has to make economic sense.

“What makes it sustainable is that there is a compelling reason, not just environmentally but business-wise as well, to put these programs in place. It becomes almost foolish to not do the environmental thing.”

It’s not just the beer bottle that is an icon of sustainability. The packaging the bottles come in is equally designed to be sustainable.

Take the beer case for example. The beer comes off the assembly line and is packaged in cardboard cases with a built-in handle. The beer is delivered by the case to the retailer, who also sells it in the case. The consumer buys it in a case, drinks the beer and return the bottles in the original case to the retailer, who in turn sells the case of bottles back to the brewery.

It’s only then, when the bottles are back on the line to be washed, that the case is taken out of the stream crushed and baled with other cases and diverted to a recycling program.

Surprisingly, other beverage recycling programs are not as successful. In B.C., where consumers prefer beer cans to bottles, there’s a lower rate of return even though the deposit is the same. And other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage bottles and containers have a far lower rate of return, only 80 per cent, according to the website bottlebill.org.

Zeiler-Kligman attributes the high success rate for the beer bottle return program to the fact that it has been around so long. Other beverage packaging refund programs are more recent.

Source / Fuente: www.calgaryherald.com

Author / Autor: Gordon Hamilton

Date / Fecha: 13/03/12

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