Images by Andrea Laue
Caren McNamara gestures to tall stacks of pallets filled with boxed and shrink-wrapped used brown beer bottles as evidence that the business concept driving her startup company, Conscious Container, makes sense. Now the company is preparing to take some big steps to bring the concept into a full-scale reality.
“Refillable glass systems are out there,” said McNamara, who worked as a manager for a major technology company before founding Conscious Container. “The equipment is out there. The technology is out there.”
The company focuses on the replacement of single-use glass bottles through the adoption of refillable bottles by brewers and other beverage-makers. Headquartered in Truckee, it works for the moment in warehouse space at the Great Basin Brewing Taps & Tanks Production Brewery in Reno.
In the past couple of years, Conscious Container has successfully developed a couple of systems to collect empty craft beer bottles from consumers. Great Basin Brewery, for instance, serves as a collection point in Reno. In Truckee, Conscious Container works with the town’s California CRV redemption center.
In two years, the company’s pilot projects have collected close to 24,000 bottles and demonstrated that consumers are eager to recycle.
At the same time, Conscious Container has shipped about 17,000 bottles to Montana’s Bayern Brewing for washing and refilling. Even though recyclable bottles aren’t engineered for repeated refilling, Bayern has gotten a second use out of them.
But 17,000 bottles is less than an hour’s work for a full-scale industrial bottle-washer, the sort of equipment the Conscious Container management team envisions at the heart of a fully developed company. That’s going to require substantial investment for the two-year-old company as it scales up to handle washing millions of bottles a year.
Another big job: Convincing craft brewers to adopt refillable glass bottles, which are sturdier than the recyclable glass that’s currently the industry standard. Refillable bottles cost a little more upfront, McNamara said, but brewers can recapture the additional cost as the bottles are reused time and again.
Conscious Container was invited to explain the concept of
The company also is working with California legislators and regulators to ensure that refillable bottles receive the same treatment as recyclable bottles under state law.
The company’s vision isn’t limited to craft-beer bottles. McNamara said the same collection and washing strategies can be used with wine bottles as well as bottles used for other beverages such as kombucha.
Ultimately the company’s leaders envision a network of regional collection and bottle washing facilities across the United States to reduce the costs of shipping glass bottles.
Unlike most other companies, Conscious Container isn’t motivated exclusively by the desire for financial profit. Its legal structure — technically, it’s a “Benefit Corporation” — requires that the company’s leaders give equal weight to social benefit as well as profits in their decision-making. An annual summary of its social benefits is posted on the company’s Web site.
“We have to do business differently,” McNamara explained.