In Dunedin we have a hero named Tony Culling who owns a company in his spare time called Smartbottles.
It is essentially a bottle washing service. With collection points around the South Island, bottles placed in are returned to him for washing, which he sells to some beer companies and home brewers etc.
The bottles go through a machine with a conveyor. It has various spray systems and washing areas that ensure the bottle comes out sparkly clean and can even lead on to a filling and packaging station.
The problem is, with the movement towards bottles that are cheaper, thinner and unfortunately non-reusable, most bottles now break in a temperature fit for sanitisation. Also, many bottles that can be washed are recycled instead. So a company considering what bottle to use has a simple decision: it’s cheaper to be wasteful by using a non-refillable bottle. Unfortunately this decision is more ‘expensive’ for all of us.
This system of washing bottles for re-use isn’t unique or rare, in fact it’s what we used to do and it’s still being done in Germany and many other European countries. (How reusing bottles works in Germany – paying a “pfand” or ransom on your bottle which you get back on return.) The point is, there’s a glimmer of hope for a much more efficient system to deal with bottles.
A paradigm shift
Consider this: you buy your groceries, take off the packaging, fill your own containers and leave the rubbish there at the supermarket. Not just you but also a handful of others every day.
In a couple of days there’d be signs up saying you can’t leave your rubbish. Keep doing it and in a couple of weeks there’d be even more resistence to this rebellion. But in a couple of months there’d be a reverse supply chain set up, sustainable product packaging and whatever it takes to satisfy the customer – because the feedback, responsibility and the cost of disposal is coming back to the company.
Simplistic? Idealistic? Unrealistic?
How is it that we’ve set up a nationwide system to collect, destroy and then reform millions of glass bottles that were a wash away from being ‘as new’? We’ve let this happen by taking away the responsibility away from business and filling it with with our own collective stupidity.
The current system of recycling is an inefficient, non-viable ongoing pseudo-solution that we’ve been green washed into.
I have been offering $2 returns on Quick Brown Fox and Lazy Dog bottles, 250ml and 500ml since I began. I’d be lying if I told you this was purely for environmental reasons – this is an economic advantage: bottles cost me $1.95+gst per bottle even when buying by the pallet, and i’d rather buy them from you, my customers.
I get about 1-5% of my bottles returned and it breaks my heart to think you are throwing it into the recycle bin; it’s come all the way from Italy!
Many of my bars around Dunedin know to keep them for my collection, and I get more since I’ve been at the Otago Farmers Market but getting them returned from the rest of the country is difficult – I can offer courier tickets, address labels and extra incentives to make it easy but unfortunately, as experience suggests, I am one bottle amongst thousands; recycling is just that much easier.
So should recycling be banned?