How Beer Bottles Are Recycled

One of the many things you will return to the bottle depot in Calgary is beer bottles. What many people don’t know is just how quickly beers bottles are returned to the breweries they came from, sorted, cleaned and refilled to get back onto shelves.


Calgary bottle depot

After you bring your beer bottles to the bottle depot in Calgary, here is a bit more about what happens to them. 

The first stage happens in the back room, where clear bottles, coloured bottles and proprietary bottles (meaning bottles designed for one particular brewer) are separated, placed in cases and stacked on skids. The skids of empties are carried away from the depot and taken back to various breweries to be reused.

Essentially, the bottles go to one of two places: either a bottling plant, or to a third-party recycler who crushes them into small pellets called “cullet,” which are then sent to glass manufacturers to use in producing new bottles.

The brown bottle we all know and love is an industry-standard bottle, and many beer brands use it. These standard bottles are the ones that get sent to bottling plants. One-time use bottles, which include imports like Heineken and Corona, are unique in size and shape and can’t easily be reused, so they’re turned into cullet. Clear ones must be separated, because the smallest trace of coloured glass will contaminate a clear batch once it’s melted down.

When they go to a bottling plant, a machine separates the broken ones and diverts them down another line where they fall into a chute and are saved in a hopper.

The next stage on the line is cleaning. A humungous machine with a big rotating drum takes in 60 bottles at a time and washes them thoroughly with detergent, rinses them out and removes the labels. The thousands of brown bottles file down the line to the filler stage. An electronic detector flashing like a strobe light scans each bottle looking for minute defects that could spell disaster later on. Rejects are spat onto a separate line and recycled. The good ones go through to the filling machine, which is like a whirling carousel that fills them, caps them and spits them out into another scanner. Reject bottles are, again, spat down a separate line and dealt with in another factory process.

Next, the bottles are pasteurized. Brewers do this by heating them up to 61C for ten minutes. This kills off any microbes that could make people sick, and increases the beer’s shelf life. The bottles come out of the pasteurization stage at around 28C.

The bottles, now filled with delicious beer, continue to the labelling machine, which slaps on labels with astounding speed: first on the neck of each bottle, then on the body. After that, the labelled bottles go down the line to be boxed and are sent back to retailers to be sold again!

This entire process will happen in a matter of days in most cases. Cullet is used in a wide variety of products so every bit of glass beer bottles you return to the bottle depot in Calgary is recycled.


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