Location: State of Maine
Project Team: Michelle Smith; Currently interviewing for project partner
Refill ME – The U.S. has made significant progress implementing recycling programs for both glass bottles and aluminum cans in the past 25 years, but extensive studies conducted by INFORM and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance indicate that refilling of glass bottles could further reduce environmental and economic costs associated with beer packaging. Our project would execute a study of refill options in Maine, helping us to reduce glass bottle waste in our state.
How are you making Maine a better place for young people?
Beverage industry research indicates that consumers under the age of 25 and ages 25 – 34 represent the two largest segments of beer consumers by age. As a group disproportionately responsible for beer consumption, individuals under 35 bear significant responsibility for the energy, water, and package waste associated with beer sales. The U.S. has made significant progress implementing recycling programs for both glass bottles and aluminum cans in the past 25 years, but extensive studies conducted by INFORM and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance indicate that refilling of glass bottles could further reduce environmental and economic costs associated with beer packaging. While the infrastructure for bottle washing has largely been dismantled in the U.S., refillables are widely used in parts of Canada, Europe, and Latin America. Successful refilling models have employed a diverse mix of policy incentives, consumer engagement, and industry buy-in. I am currently seeking funds to conduct a six-month long feasibility study on the potential for reintroducing refillable glass beer bottles in the state of Maine, examining historical and contemporary models and initiating conversations among key local stakeholders.
According to the Beer Institute, formerly the U.S. Brewer’s Foundation, an estimated 32 million gallons of beer was consumed in Maine in 2010 (Brewer’s Almanac 2011). Over 41% of this beer was bottled, requiring roughly 140 MILLION glass bottles. The potential for source material, energy, and water savings through the use of refillables is significant on this scale. Even though refillable 12 oz bottles are typically heavier than one-way bottles, if they make an average of 25 trips, glass use would be reduced by 24,201 tons annually (calculated based on INFORM data 29). Water is conserved when washing refillables over bottle (or recycled aluminum can) production, even if refillables average only 10 trips (INFORM 33). Similarly, less energy is required to wash refillable glass bottles than to produce new containers (INFORM 37). Conservation of these valuable resources will help to 1) protect our environment,2) increase the sustainability of existing Maine breweries, and 3) potentially capture additional revenue in the local economy. While there is currently an economic incentive for breweries to purchase glass produced out-of-state, processing of refillable bottles in Maine could reduce the need for out-of-state glass and create jobs locally. My intent is that this feasibility study will identify strategies by which young Mainers can help to transform our current beverage system for the benefit of all citizens.
What challenges in your community are you addressing?
This study specifically seeks to address the unnecessary consumption and destruction of resources, while simultaneously fostering local economic sustainability. Under our current model of recycling, glass beer bottles are used once, crushed, and sold as cullet for integration into new products. The market for cullet fluctuates and recyclability is not guaranteed. A refilling system would reduce the volume of glass, water, and energy needed to transport a given volume of beer. Special attention during this feasibility study will also be given to developing models that would contribute to the economic viability of existing Maine businesses, create opportunities for new business ventures, and create local jobs. The beer industry in Maine directly support over 5,000 jobs and produces $206.7 M in value, but the producer price index for bottled beer jumped 5.5% in 2009 alone (Brewers Almanac 2011). Supporting this industry would be of economic benefit to the state – and ensure the ongoing availability of amazing, high-quality, local brews that contribute to high quality of life for young Mainers!
Who will benefit from your idea?
As described above, I hope the strategies identified through this study will help to develop refilling models that benefit the environment, the local brewing industry, and all who enjoy both of these local assets. The INFORM study identifies third-party bottle washing enterprises as a possible solution in areas where there are a number of small breweries, and thus there may be the potential for a new business and Maine jobs. I believe the dialogue opened by the study itself, by engaging brewers, distributors, waste management professionals, planners, and policy-makers, has the potential to foster valuable communication and collaboration across sectors.
What major success would you like to see at the end or apex of your project?
The greatest success of this project would be to have developed a viable proposal for integrating the use of refillable bottles in the state of Maine, with buy-in from key stakeholders. I anticipate that arriving at this goal will involve a process of 1) assessing both successful and failed refilling models, 2) identifying potential obstacles and strategies for addressing them, 3) building networks of support, and 4) analyzing possible models for transitioning to refillable beer bottles in Maine.
Funds raised to support this feasibility study will be used to offset the cost of research-related travel. For example, one of the world’s most successful and recently-implemented refilling models is in effect on Prince Edward Island in Canada, where a combination of legislation, policy incentives, and business practice were coordinated to transform beverage packaging. While many interviews can and will be conducted via phone or internet, travel may be necessary to fully understand the infrastructure and processes at work in a particular location. Day trips are also planned to Boston, MA and upstate NY, where individual breweries have experimented with in-house bottle refilling. The first phase of the feasibility study (research and analysis) is projected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2012. Contingent upon the outcome of Phase I, comprehensive business plan development will begin in late fall.
Brewers’ Almanac, 2011 Edition. Washington, DC: The Beer Institute. << http://www.beerinstitute.org/statistics.asp?bid=200>>
Reduce, Reuse, Refill. A joint project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the Grassroots Recycling Network. <<refillables.grrn.org>>
Saphire, David. Case Reopened: Reassessing Refillable Bottles. New York: INFORM, 1994.