Beaded glass bottle reaches 50: The reusable glass bottle makes its comeback

© Genossenschaft Deutscher Brunnen (GDB)

The German mineral water industry as an example of sustainability in action.

It’s enough to spark conversations that last through the evening, and something now almost constantly featured in the media – the concise term “plastic waste,” which raises emotions, brings people together worldwide. But when opinions differ, it still has the potential to divide. The simple term, which is charged with emotion-inducing significance, in most cases tends to have problematic rather than solutions-focused connotations. Yet there are numerous solutions to this problem that can also be applied to the beverage industry. And they are to some extent – as described in this blog by way of example – already mainstream and only need to be reappreciated and approved of by consumers – such as the reusable glass bottle, which includes the beaded glass bottle.

Plastic waste – a haunting nightmare

Consumers are being increasingly sensitized to the issue of plastic, precisely because the figures speak for themselves. For example, the facts recently published by the environmental organization BUND in its Plastic Atlas are nothing less than drastic. It states that more than 400 million tons of plastic are manufactured worldwide every year. Between 1950 and 2015, total output was 8.3 billion tons. Not even one tenth of that total was recycled.

According to the Plastic Atlas, every German alone generated 38 kilograms of plastic waste on average in 2016. No less alarming is the following statement made by Environmental Action Germany (DUH): “Around ten million tons of plastic waste inundate the world’s oceans every year. If we don’t do anything about it, there will be more plastic floating around in the sea than fish swimming in it by 2050.”

That said, the packaging policy of the German mineral water producers and their more explicit reorientation toward glass bottles seems like a drop in the ocean. On the other hand, doesn’t every step, no matter how minor, take us closer to finding a major solution?

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50-year-old beaded glass bottle wins “German Design Award Gold 2019”

The fact is: The GDB’s (Genossenschaft Deutscher Brunnen) beaded glass bottle becomes 50 years old this year, and according to the GDB is still as familiar in Germany as the current Federal Chancellor. 97 percent of Germans are aware of the glass bottle featuring a total of 230 beads, which are supposed to symbolize the freshness and carbonated tingling of mineral water. The beaded glass bottle design was once created by industrial designer Günter Kupetz, who said: “I believe that the design of the bottle is timeless, and I would say you can’t actually improve on it.” In his own immodest way, he has been proved right to the extent that the beaded glass bottle has become a design classic. In addition to numerous awards in the past, it won the “German Design Award Gold 2019” in the “Design Classics” category this year.

GDB reusable glass bottle pools increase by 4.2 percent

Today, the GDB manages a wide range of pooled reusable glass and PET bottles, which was most recently augmented in 2017 with the addition of the 0.5 l reusable glass bottle (N1), the 0.75 l reusable glass bottle (N2) and the 1.0 l reusable glass bottle (N3). In 2018 alone, German mineral water producers bottled around six billion reusable GDB bottles of mineral water and mineral water-based soft drinks. According to Markus Wolff, chairman of the GDB, the reusable glass bottle pools managed by the association increased last year by 4.2 percent to around 3.7 billion fillings. Growth of 3.3 percent was recorded in the reusable PET segment in 2018.

Reusable glass bottles account for some 25 percent of the German bottled water market

As a reusable pool-system container, the beaded glass bottle represents sustainable beverage packaging. It can be refilled around 50 times on average. Just the bottle in its original form, i.e. the glass version holding a volume of 0.7 liters, was filled around 2.5 billion times in 2018.

Which also demonstrates that consumption of mineral water and mineral water-based soft drinks from glass bottles is regaining importance for German consumers. Petra Ossendorf, AFB expert at Nielsen, confirms that, the reusable glass bottle share of the German bottled water market was almost 25 percent in 2018 at sales growth of more than 10 percent compared with the previous year, when sales growth was at + 6.6 percent.

The other types of packaging like single-use PET (+ 3.9 percent), reusable PET (+ 1.9 percent) and single-use crated products (+ 1.1 percent) grew at a significantly slower rate in comparison.

Wolff encapsulates changing consumer behavior as follows: “Increased awareness of sustainability among consumers as well as among wholesalers/retailers and politicians represents an opportunity for the pooling systems run by the German mineral water producers.”

Recent popularity of producer-specific reusable glass bottles

Many mineral water producers also generally see the recent popularity of mineral water in reusable glass bottles as an opportunity. For example, Gerolsteiner was an early pioneer of a trend heading in this direction. Back in 2010, this particular mineral water company launched a producer-specific 1.0 l reusable glass bottle that comes in crates of six, which has since proven to be a driver of its growth. Gerolsteiner is launching a new 0.75 l reusable glass bottle that comes in producer-specific crates of 12 from October 2019 onwards. The launch will be actioned variety by variety and is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2020. “The Gerolsteiner core target audience includes a high percentage of consumers who prefer to consume mineral water in glass bottles,” says Joachim Schwarz, Gerolsteiner’s Commercial Managing Director.

David Schilling, Head of Sales and member of the Management Board at Brohler, has a similar take on the direction in which glass bottles are heading: “We believe in glass as a packaging material and assume that the trend back toward glass will continue too.” Heidrun Hövelmann, CEO of beverages group Hövelmann says: “We are observing how positively the producer-specific glass bottles, which we use for our Staatl. Fachingen and Rheinfels Quelle brands, are performing.” There is also an upbeat attitude to the glass bottle at Rhönsprudel. By using its GDB and producer-specific glass bottles, the mineral water producer achieved strong above-average double-digit growth in 2018 and performed particularly well with its six x producer-specific 1 l bottles in the higher-priced mineral water segment – with an increase of more than 35 percent. “We believe that mineral water can be consumed particularly well from glass bottles,” says Managing Partner Christian Schindel, promptly expanding the mineral water producer’s range by adding a new 0.75 l glass bottle that comes in crates of 12.

Germany – a model for the return and recycling of beverage bottles?

Udo Kremer encapsulates the idea of sustainability as practiced in the mineral water industry a little differently: “In Germany, we have a superbly effective deposit system in both the reusable and single-use segments that serves as a global model for the return and recycling of beverage bottles,” says the VDM’s (Verband Deutscher Mineralbrunnen) CEO.

That will ultimately be what counts. While it’s also interesting to see the reusable glass bottle, which is now propagated as a sustainable solution, currently undergoing a renaissance among mineral water producers – certainly because of plastic’s current bad reputation – what ultimately matters are controlled material flows, i.e. return and recycling systems that work. And why not question things more and more and learn from one another across borders?

© Genossenschaft Deutscher Brunnen (GDB)

Everyone is the architect of their own sustainability

Michael Neuenhagen also puts the issue of glass bottles v. PET bottles into perspective: “We are convinced that the reusable glass bottle will continue to evolve positively,” says Bad Dürrheimer Mineralbrunnen’s Head of Marketing, adding that “the media and politicians to some extent too, nevertheless unjustly, blame PET for everything. In Germany in particular, the return rate is very high.” For example, the mineral water producer recently demonstrated that ultimately every market player is called upon to implement actionable sustainability measures themselves by replacing its entire range of PET bottles with solutions made of 100 percent recycled material.

Friederike Arndt

Friederike Arndt

As a freelance trade journalist, Friederike Arndt is regarded as an expert in the area of beverages. She spent a long time writing for, inter alia, the trade magazines Getränkeindustrie (beverage industry) and Getränkefachgroßhandel (beverage wholesale trade). On the blog, she reports on the latest trends and innovations in the field of non-alcoholic beverages.