Nova Scotia craft brewers will soon be able to refill some bottles

Some Nova Scotia craft breweries will soon be able to refill bottles, as opposed to the current practice that sees them buy brand-new ones for each batch of suds they produce.

Excluding growlers, all craft brewers have to buy new bottles for each batch of beer

Whether a Nova Scotia craft brewery's bottles can be refilled depends on what kind of bottle they use. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

Some Nova Scotia craft breweries will soon be able to refill bottles, as opposed to the current practice which sees them buy brand-new ones for each batch of suds they produce.

That's because not all beer bottles that are brought into recycling depots in the province are cleaned and refilled.

Rather, what happens to a bottle depends on what type of bottle it is.

While growlers get refilled, it isn't exactly the same story for traditional bottles that get capped.

What's an industry standard bottle?

Some breweries use something known as an industry standard bottle, a 341 ml dark brown bottle that is the likely image of a beer bottle that would come to mind for most people. To use this bottle, breweries must sign an agreement with the national trade beer association, Beer Canada.

Under the agreement, breweries are entitled to get back the number of bottles they use.

In Nova Scotia, three craft breweries use it: Halifax's Garrison Brewing, Propeller Brewing Co., as well as Shelburne's Boxing Rock Brewing. This is also the same type of bottle used by the Oland Brewery in Halifax.

When the industry standard bottles get returned to recycling depots in the province, they make their way back to the Oland Brewery, which brews 180 million bottles of beer each year, said spokesperson Wade Keller.

At its facility, it accepts the industry standard bottles from the recycling depots, which are then stripped of their labels, washed and put into the production line.

The three Nova Scotia craft breweries that use the industry standard bottle don't have the equipment to process the used bottles, so even though they're entitled to them, they can't collect their share and therefore must buy brand-new ones. 

"I spend a lot of money on bottles," said Emily Tipton, the co-owner of Boxing Rock Brewing and the president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia. She said the cost of a new bottle is 31 cents.

31 cents a bottle

The Oland Brewery doesn't sell any of the bottles it collects.    

"They're not in the business of washing bottles [for competitors]," said Luke Harford, Beer Canada's president.

Just how much the Oland Brewery is paying for the used bottles isn't known. Keller called it "proprietary information" and wouldn't share. He said on average, bottles are reused 17 times.

Industry standard beer bottles that are returned to recyclers in Nova Scotia end up at the Oland Brewery in Halifax and are then cleaned and refilled. (The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia craft brewers will soon be able to get their hands on the industry standard bottles they put into the system. That's because a third-party company will soon establish a bottle washing service in Cole Harbour, N.S.

A new bottle washer

"The i's are being dotted and the t's are being crossed," said Harford.

Tipton said that Nova Scotia craft brewers use about five million industry standard bottles a year.

While the news is good for the craft brewers that use these bottles, what happens to the beer bottles other craft brewers in the province are using?

Not all bottles are refilled

"They do go to our recycler in New Brunswick and they're either converted back either into glass colour, which goes into manufacturing of new bottles somewhere or they're converted into a material that's used as a feedstock in producing fibreglass," said Jeff MacCallum, the CEO of Divert Nova Scotia, the organization that oversees recycling in the province.

He said the reason these bottles aren't refilled is they historically haven't accounted for a large quantity.

"As a percentage of the volume that we handle, it's a very small percentage, it's less than one per cent," said MacCallum, adding recyclers in Nova Scotia collected 351 million bottles of all kinds last year.

For these bottles to be reused, MacCallum said the craft brewers would have to agree on using a standard bottle of some sort.