Although New York City currently has no infrastructure (incentives, taxes, or bans) to support the refilling of beer, milk and soft drink containers, now is the perfect time to enact smart legislation moving towards this waste prevention strategy.

The most common container in the United States before World War II, refillable glass bottles now make up less than 6% of the beer and soft drink beverage container market. Although refillables have recently made a comeback in several American communities, New York City does not provide the incentives to support the collection of glass bottles. Many of our own American owned beverage companies are supplying their product to the European and Canadian markets in refillable containers. Now is the time to revisit the merits of this old, yet very conservation minded concept to help us reduce the amount of glass that must be recycled. In turn, this will reduce the amount of money spent by the city on collection as well as increase the efficiency of the City’s waste prevention dollars.

For every 1 glass container produced that is refillable, approximately 24 containers were not produced, and thus not thrown out or recycled. That is because the average container can be reused 25 times. According to the Recycling Association of Oakland, California, a bottle refilled 25 times will use 95% less glass and 90% less energy than the total process of producing 25 bottles in closed-loop recycling. The reuse of glass containers saves between 80% and 90% of the energy required to produce virgin glass. By comparison, recycled glass saves between 10% and 15% of the energy required to manufacture new glass. Refillers of glass bottles generally rely on backhauling of empty bottles collected from users during regular route deliveries; thus, no additional vehicle trips are necessary.

Why should New York City pass legislation or create incentives to encourage refillables? Currently, New York City offers curbside recycling at a loss. Passing a resolution or creating incentives requiring deposits and banning certain beverage containers from curbside collection will decrease the daily amount of tonnage that needs to be collected. 

How successful would refillables be in New York City? Deposit-law states' average market share for refillable beer bottles was 13.2 percent in 1991, compared with 3 percent in non-deposit states.

Would companies switch to refillables? A 1985 survey of New York State brewing companies found that some companies that switched from one-way containers to refillable bottles saved between $4 and $15 a barrel (one barrel contains 31 gallons).

What forms of incentives, bans, and taxes have been created to encourage/force refillables?


What companies and groups would be the best to target first?

Local Breweries that sell beer in-house and distribute locally; milk programs at schools.

Other benefits? More jobs -refillable glass container systems have higher jobs-to-volume ratio than a recycled glass systems.  

What we recommend for the New York City Market:

Volunteer program to begin with offering tax credit to manufacturers and companies supplying product in refillables, as well as a tax credit to stores that carry the products. Market this new tax credit to those local companies that supply milk and beer.

Can this happen overnight? Of course not, but in seven of Canada’s ten provinces they have proven in just six years that it is possible to make real strides in extended producer responsibility through refillables. Over the six years from 1992 to 1998, seven of Canada’s ten provinces have implemented or substantially strengthened regulations ensuring that beverage producers and their consumers increasingly bear the costs of beverage container waste. 

In addition, school districts in New York State, Connecticut, and Ontario Canada have adopted refillable milk service.