According to a Minnesota news station, the last ever returnable glass Coca-Cola bottle has rattled down a production line in the United States. The 6.5 ounce bottle, with its glassy curves, has always been a favorite for dedicated cola drinkers, but the end of this iconic packaging is sad news for another reason: it marks yet another brand that has done away with the bottle refund, an incentive for customers to recycle the bottles back to the original manufacturer, where they’re sterilized, refilled, and resold.
Returnable glass bottles used to be common in the beverage industry. All of the early major soda manufacturers used them from Shwepps to Pepsi. The main reason was that the bottle had to be able to withstand the pressure of carbonation. Due to the intensive nature of the bottle manufacturing process (they were hand blown until the process became automated in 1903) the company retained them as property. When purchased, customers paid a few extra cents which was refunded when they returned the bottle to the manufacturer.
Although most soda makers didn’t think of it this way back then, the returnable glass bottle prevented an enormous amount of waste from entering the landfill. Glass bottles were used over and over again, saving the manufacturers money and creating a loyal following of fans who loved to return them for the small reward.
The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Winona, the last in the country still making the returnable bottles of Coke, said that required upgrades to the production facility meant that filling and selling the bottles was no longer a sound business decision. The plant says it will remain open after the final glass bottle is produced, and none of its 14 employees will lose their job. They’ll likely be switching to plastic bottles like the rest of the Coca-Cola plants in America.
This is unfortunate. Despite the best efforts of beverage corporations to reduce the impact of plastic bottles, they’re still one of the most prolific types of waste and litter. Not to mention the resource intensive process of producing them, which consumes a vast amount of water and petroleum.
Bottle bills are a solution to this problem. Also known as container deposit laws, they are a proven, sustainable method of capturing beverage bottles and cans for recycling, but they’ve become obsolete in the face of aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Seven states reported a reduction of beverage container litter ranging from 70 to 83 percent, and a reduction in total litter ranging from 30 to 47 percent after implementation of the bottle bill. High recycling rates were also achieved.
Unfortunately, stiff opposition from members of the beverage and grocery industries means many states are reluctant to pass bottle bills. Still, today, ten states and eight Canadian provinces have a deposit law requiring refundable deposits on certain beverage containers. An increase in the use of glass bottles would provide greater incentive for companies to get behind these laws, which would ultimately save them money as well. But after 100+ years raking in profits from cheap plastic bottles, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
Interested in getting a bottle bill passed in your state? BottleBill.org is a wonderful resource.
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