I stowed all that in the back of my mind as one of those funny quirks that I would likely never have a chance to write about, until this, from Double Mountain:
In Belgium, brewing lines have little laser eyes that scan every bottle before it goes into the queue and snatches out damaged or dirty ones, which I mention because, obviously, it's groovy. I assume Double Mountain's new system has the same tech (though they don't wander into those particular weeds in explaining it.)
We encourage you to bring your bottles back to us so that we can put them back into service again. We’ll even pay you an extra five cents on your deposit, just for being good. Our plan is to have retailers in local markets return empties to us to keep them out of the evil glass crushers.
In any case, here's the issue. When I asked them about returnable bottles, Belgians were never convinced it was enormously more green than our system--using a bottle once, grinding it up, melting it back into a bottle, and sending it back out--but I have a hard time seeing how. Reusing bottles means a fair amount of water use to clean dirty bottles--but so does recycling. And, in Double Mountain's scheme, most of the returned bottles will come from retailers in the Hood River area--perhaps eventually as far away as Portland. Still, that's only 60 miles, which means the transportation footprint is quite small. It seems inconceivable to me that reusing bottles isn't a greener solution than constantly buying new ones.
So let's assume this is right. Can breweries lead the way back to reusable bottles? It would be yet one more way in which breweries lead the way in embracing greener operations.
And kudos to Double Mountain.
Update: In comments, Double Mountain's Matt Swihart confirms my hypothesis:
You are spot on regarding the carbon footprint. At smaller shipping distances, returnable/reusable glass is the most green packaging option (less drinking draft beer out of keg... clearly the best), recycled glass as next in line for short hauls, then when you start talking thousands of miles, cans due to the lighter weight of the package.