Refillable Glass Bottles

The Decline of Refillable Beverage Bottles in the U.S.

Before the introduction of one-way, disposable containers all fountain soft drinks and draught beer were sold in refillable glass bottles. The disposable steel can made its debut in 1938 and in less than 10 years cans comprised 11 percent of beer market share. Non-refillable glass bottles made up 3 percent and  refillable bottles had dropped to 86 percent. By 1984 only 8 percent of beer volume was packaged in refillable bottles. Refillable market share is now less than 4 percent of packaged beer volume.

The soft drink industry was slower to move from a refillable, reusable system to a one-way, disposable system. In 1960 nearly one-half (47 percent) of beer was sold in one-way containers while only 6 percent of soft drinks were sold in one-way bottles and cans. Today less than 1percent of packaged soft drink volume is sold in refillable bottles.

Economic instruments such as deposits allow refillables to compete in the marketplace with one-way, disposable cans and bottles. This is evidenced by data from the Beer Institute which shows that most states with mandatory container deposits have a higher percentage of refillable beer bottles than states without deposit laws. According to the Beer Institute, the market share for refillables dropped to 3.3 percent in 1998. However, in 1998 11 states had a refillable market share of 7 percent or more. Of those 11 states, 7 require deposits on one-way, non-refillable beer and soft drink containers. In one of the deposit states (Massachusetts), 18 percent of total beer volume was sold in refillables in 1998.

 


 

Soft Drink Container Mix in the U.S.
(as a percent of total volume sold)
Year Refillable Bottles NR Bottles Cans Plastic Bottles All one-way Containers
1947 100 0 0 0 0
1960 95 2 4 0 6
1969 67 13 20 0 33
1980 31 14 37 18 69
1984 20 15 41 24 80
1998 0.4 0.3 48.3 50.9 99.5
Source: Can and Bottle Bills, CalPIRG, 1981 for 1947-60 data;1986 Statistical Profile, National Soft Drink Association,1986 for 1969-84 data; Beverage World, June 1999 for1998 data. Note: Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

     Beer Container Mix in the U.S.
(as a percent of total volume sold)
Year Refillable Bottles NR Bottles Cans Plastic Bottles All one-way Containers
1947 86 3% 11 0 11.03
1960 53 10% 37 0 37.1
1970 26 22 53 0 75
1980 12 32 56 0 88
1984 8 26.4 65.6 0 92
1998 3.3 40% 56.70% 0 97%
Source: Can and Bottle Bills, CalPIRG, 1981 for 1947-80 data; Beer Institute, 1998 for1984 data, 1999 for 1998 data. NOTE: Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

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