In July, seven Oregon craft breweries will start selling beer in reusable glass bottles in the country’s first statewide refillable beer bottle program.
Oregon's Widmer Brothers, Buoy Beer, Double Mountain, GoodLife, Gigantic, Wild Ride and Rock Bottom breweries will be pioneering the program with some of their beers. Other breweries may join the program later.
The reusable bottles will be on store shelves just like all the other beer, but they'll look a little different.
The more durable glass bottles will have markings on them to indicate that they can be washed and reused up to 40 times instead of being crushed with the rest of the glass recycling.
The program is being orchestrated by the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, the industry group in charge of collecting and recycling beverage containers for Oregon's bottle deposit system.
Joel Schoening, a spokesman for the cooperative, said some breweries across the country have launched their own reusable bottle programs. But Oregon's unique Bottle Bill law, which put the beverage industry in charge of a statewide bottle collection system, makes a much larger reusable beer bottle program possible here.
“We did use refillable bottles for a long time,” Schoening said. “Because we have the ability to pick that glass up – all those bottles – and get them sorted, we’re in the perfect position to bring back a refillable container.”
The new program will allow consumers to continue returning all their beer bottles the same way they do now, but the refillable ones will be set aside and washed instead of being crushed. Refillable bottles returned to collection machines will be rejected and will need to be hand-counted for a deposit refund.
Initially the participating breweries will use 500-milliliter (about 17-ounce) refillable bottles before adding 12-ounce bottles by fall.
Until Oregon gets its own glass bottle-washing facility, the refillable containers will be trucked to a facility in Montana to be washed. Schoening said the system should still save money and release much fewer carbon emissions than glass recycling, which involves heating crushed glass to melt it.
"Each time the bottle gets reused it saves money," he said. "And the more times we use that bottle, the lower the carbon footprint is on that container."
Schoening said his group hopes the program can grow to include more and more bottles, but its success will depend on bottles being properly returned and recirculated. The program could get expensive if too many of the refillable bottles go across state lines and never return or get broken before they can be reused.
"We think it's the right thing to do," he said. "We think it's a win-win in terms of being both an economic win for brewers and an environmental win for Oregonians."