I wrote about this last week, where the focus was on the Straub Brewery, in The Extinction Of Returnable Beer Bottles, but they did mention the decision by Yuengling to discontinue offering returnable bottles. Today my old hometown newspaper growing up, the Reading Eagle, picked up the story but centered instead on Yuengling. In Returnable Bottles Leave Beer Drinkers Cold, Dick Yuengling explains the reasons for discontinuing returnables.
Yuengling said returnable bottles still make great sense ecologically. He said that at one point 60 percent of his business was in returnable bottles.
“Now, if you showed a 16-ounce returnable bottle to a 22-year-old, he wouldn’t know what the heck it was,” Yuengling joked. “I like the idea. I installed a bottle washer at our new (Pottsville) location. I was going to try to revive the returnables but the customer just doesn’t want them anymore.”
According to the Beer Institute, in 1981 about 12% of beer sold was in returnable bottles. Today it’s just under 0.3% … and dropping fast. As I opined last week, even though I understand the rationale for this, I still can’t help but lament it. It just feels like a lost opportunity in our current obsession with being green. I did a lengthy feature article for All About Beer magazine a few years ago about brewery’s green practices, and I was astounded by how much most breweries, both big and small, were doing.
It seems like going back to returnables, while undoubtedly difficult and expensive, would be a great way to keep local beer local and show the craft beer industry’s leadership in recycling and being ecological. It may be nearly impossible to ramp up by any national company, but the smaller the brewery, the more manageable it could be, giving an advantage to local brewers. Oh, well, I know it’s not going to happen, but I can still dream.