Conscious Container | Reducing waste by reusing beer bottles

Caren McNamara at a Conscious Container booth. | Courtesy Conscious Container

How many empty beer bottles do you recycle a week? Imagine the impact to the environment if every beer bottle in every household was reused. Caren McNamara is on a mission to make that happen. While doing so, she hopes to make a difference not only in our community, but in California, Northern Nevada and possibly the country.

McNamara launched the Conscious Container business on Earth Day at the Village at Squaw Valley earlier this year. Her goal is to collect, clean and reuse glass bottles.

“Initially, I was tired of throwing glass jars and bottles away. I reused as many of them I could at home. I had boxes and boxes of them. I thought what can I do about this?” says McNamara.

We continue to fill our landfills; 76 percent of glass bottles ended up in landfills in 2016. Collecting and reusing bottles will have a huge environmental impact.”
–Caren McNamara

She signed up for a class with the Sierra Business Council called: “How to Start a Business.” After the class, she began her due diligence. She attended wine symposiums to explore the reuse of wine bottles, but found that they were too particular. She talked with people in the recycling industry. She explored the craft-beer world. This is where she found collaboration.

“It’s the right industry. They have a mindset that is cooperative and collaborative,” says McNamara.

Collecting craft beer bottles at Truckee’s Music in the Park. | Courtesy Conscious Container

She calls the craft-brewing industry a “keystone industry.” She started working with people in the industry to figure out how to go about refilling glass bottles. The practice is done in numerous continents across the globe, but according to McNamara, big business did away with refilling bottles in the U.S. some time ago.

Phase 1 started in Truckee. McNamara set up booths at the Truckee Farmers’ Market and Music in the Park, both in Truckee Regional Park, to spread the word. She set up six collection locations and just added three more at ski resort locations: Northstar, Squaw and Alpine Meadows. She collects the bottles herself.

Phase 2 is a partnership with Tom Young of Great Basin Brewery in Reno and Sparks, Nev., with an incentive-based program at the Sparks brewery. People bring empty bottles back to either of the two pubs and receive credit toward food or drink at the brewery.

“Pilot two is significant with the incentivized collection model,” says McNamara. Nevada unlike California does not offer a refund on recycled bottles. Conscious Container has partnered with Bayern Brewery, Inc. in Missoula, Mont. It has a bottle-washing facility at its brewery where 700,000 bottles are cleaned and refilled annually. It, too, uses incentivized models and is the only craft brewery utilizing this model on a large scale according to McNamara.

“There is no infrastructure to collect and preserve bottles in our area. Glass bottles are broken and recycled,” explains McNamara.

McNamara is working with Tahoe Truckee Sanitation Agency to explore collaboration and innovative ways for source separation to collect 12-ounce, longneck bottles for reuse.

“One of the sources of our waste problem is in not separating our recycling,” says McNamara. “And they are open to work with the idea to create a refillable marketplace. We continue to fill our landfills; 76 percent of glass bottles ended up in landfills in 2016. Collecting and reusing bottles will have a huge environmental impact and a monetary value to the breweries that will save thousands of dollars.”

McNamara also has her sights on changing policy in California to shift consciousness to reuse instead of recycle.

“Changing policy is going to be an essential part of this reuse solution, particularly in California. We need policies, which move refillable bottles to the top of the list of waste deviation solutions,” she says.

“Even the largest glass manufacturer in the U.S. has stated, the environmental benefit of the refillables market is nothing less than staggering,” she adds.

How can you help? Save your empty beer bottles, rinse them out and bring them to the nearest collection drop. McNamara picks them up and delivers them to a facility for reuse.

Conscious Container collects all empty craft-beer bottles in California, which are bottles with pry-off caps with no branding in the glass. In Nevada, they only collect 12-ounce, brown, longneck craft bottles. |

Collection locations

Blue Coyote Bar & Grill
Glenshire General Store
New Moon Natural Market
Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company
The Pour House Wine Shop
Zanders Spirits Etc.

North Tahoe
Alpine Meadows Recycling Center
Squaw Valley Recycling Center

Reno & Sparks
Great Basin Brewing
IMBÎB Custom Brews
Lead Dog Brewing Co.
Seven Troughs Distilling Co.