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Mourning The Death Of The Returnable Glass Coke Bottle

Mourning The Death Of The Returnable Glass Coke Bottle

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? is a wonderful resource.


Related Reading:

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9:00AM PST on Nov 19, 2014

Twig's Beverage in Shawano, WI still solely does Returnable glass bottling in one of their buildings. They save about 10,000 a day from being thrown into a landfill/the trash.

6:18AM PST on Feb 18, 2013

Thank you Beth, for Sharing this!

6:45AM PST on Nov 11, 2012

In Australia we still have Pepsi in glass bottles and that is what I will buy. I hate plastic.

6:58AM PST on Nov 8, 2012

Kelly C - Thank you for the petition link. Found and signed.

3:16AM PDT on Nov 3, 2012

Sad. The sodas tasted better in glass bottles.

5:59AM PDT on Oct 31, 2012


10:33AM PDT on Oct 26, 2012

As kids, we used to collect soda bottles and turn them in for the deposit. It helped our neighbors, cleaned up the neighborhood, kept us busy, & gave us a financial reward.
I've seen kitchen counters made of old bottles. My friend says she'd like one made of old Coke bottles because she likes the color. I'm holding out for Dom Perignon. :D

8:55AM PDT on Oct 26, 2012

7:43PM PDT on Oct 25, 2012

I suppose this means more plastic.

7:11AM PDT on Oct 23, 2012

Connecticut is one of the ten mandatory container deposit laws. Merchants hate the law because it costs them money to handle the returned containers. The state finally decided to confiscate the deposits on any containers not returned and redeemed within six months. Some merchants scoff the law and refuse to redeem containers. Some are grumpy and grudging about it. Some seem to have decided that being gracious about redeeming bottles might be good public relations and might even increase sales some. I sort of wish the state would go to a tax and bounty system and contract with the state's carters (who get the redeemed containers from the merchants who redeem them to the recyclers who actually melt them down to make new containers) to take care of redeeming the containers leaving the merchants out of the redemption hassle.

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