"Conscious Container" looks to reuse glass bottles

Published: Feb. 6, 2018 at 1:51 AM PST
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At the Great Basin Brewery: Taps and Tanks production facility, employees are busy bottling the latest batch of the brewery's 'Icky" IPA. A little more than a thousand bottles will be filled, but that is just a fraction of what the state's largest craft brewery bottles each year. According to brewmaster and owner Tom Young, the brewery will put out about 1.7 million bottles each year. That means he's spending about $500,000 each year on the glass containers.

"I could hire a few people with that money," Young said.

As does any business owner, Young looks for ways to save money, and a partnership with a new startup may do just that.

"Recycling is good, but reuse and refilling is better," Caren McNamara, founder of Conscious Container, said.

The goal behind Conscious Container is to reduce the number of glass containers that end up in landfills each year. Instead, the bottles would be washed, sterilized, and sold back to places like Great Basin Brewery at a discounted price. Instead of around $0.15 a bottle, breweries would spend between $0.05 to $0.07 a bottle. McNamara says each bottle could be reused around 15 times. It's a concept other developed countries have already embraced.

"In countries where they have returnable, refillable bottles, the numbers are off the charts in regards to energy savings, water savings, and CO2 footprint," she said.

In America, the concept is less familiar.

"Our society has gotten so much into just using and throwing away," Young said. "This is not sustainable. We need to start reusing a lot more and recycling."

That's why Young has partnered with McNamara to start reusing bottles. It's not an easy task. The machine to clean and sterilize the bottles is expensive and the nearest one to Reno is at a small brewery in Montana. Bayern Brewing has been collecting and reusing bottles for a couple years. McNamara says in 2016, about 700,000 bottles were returned and that translated into about a $50,000 savings for the company.

But getting people to return their used beer bottles is a challenge. There needs to be incentive for people to collect their bottles and return them to the brewery.

"What we want to see is a continual climb of bottles coming in every month, month over month, that we start to see more and more bottles so that we can prove that yes consumers will participate," McNamara said.

Conscious Container is taking a note from Bayern Brewing and offering incentives to people in northern Nevada. For every case of 24 empty Great Basin 12-ounce craft beer bottles, people will receive a $1 Great Basin Brewery credit. Young knows it won't happen overnight, but the incentive is just a start.

"This is a very, very big project and very difficult to achieve," Young said. "But it has to start somewhere."

The program is in a pilot stage right now. The bottles will be sent to Bayern Brewing to be washed, and Young doesn't expect to see a windfall in savings immediately. He knows it will take time.

"The way this is going to work, financially and environmentally, is if we could get a standardized beer bottles that all breweries that bottle their beer are going to use," he said. "But it really is the right thing to do to reuse things instead of throwing things away."

Still if Young and McNamara can prove the will is there, the savings won't be too far behind.

"It will happen," McNamara said. "I know it will happen, and I actually would love to get this business going in Northern Nevada. This is a big ship to turn. We are trying to change hearts and minds."

McNamara hopes to get enough participation to show the will is here in northern Nevada. That would allow her to get funding to buy the special machine needed to wash the bottles and establish a washing facility here in the area. To learn more about Conscious Container,