Why Some German Brewers Are Begging You To Return Your Bottles

German beer drinkers may soon need to switch to canned brands as the nation's breweries are faced with a looming bottle shortage. The New York Times reports that trade problems caused by the war in Ukraine, where many breweries' bottles are manufactured, as well as rising energy costs needed to make new bottles — also exacerbated by energy-rich Russia's invasion of its neighbor — have led many small and mid-size breweries to the brink of disaster.

Business Insider explains that several glass factories within Ukraine have been destroyed or forced to shut down and operational plants have had their shipping cut off by persistent Russian blockades of trade routes to western Europe, a situation which has also led to record-breaking food inflation and shortages around the world.

German Brewers' Association General Manager Holger Eichele told Business Insider that the issues, compiled with a post-pandemic shortage of delivery drivers noted by German news agency DW, has driven the cost of bottling beer up by 80% in the past year, an expense which could drive up prices on the potentially limited bottles of beer which do make it to consumers.

Bring back your bottles

To curb the bottle shortage, German breweries are attempting to take advantage of the nation's bottle deposit system, a plan which requires the cooperation of beer drinkers. As Business Insider explains, German shoppers pay a deposit on bottles at the grocery store, which can be reclaimed in the form of cash or store credit by returning them for recycling. The deposits range from 8 to 15 cents per bottle, so while their value can add up in a country which Statista reports consumed 91.6 liters of beer (24.2 gallons) per person in 2021, the New York Times notes that many Germans prefer to let bottles accumulate before bringing them back all at once for a bigger payout.

Currently, there are about 4 billion glass bottles circulating in Germany, and breweries are begging for them back, with one brewery telling The Times, "Every empty crate that comes back prevents us from having to buy a new one."

If enough bottles aren't recycled, DW reports that the nation's small breweries may not be able to sell their product heading into a summer where outdoor beer drinking was projected to finally return to pre-pandemic levels. Alternatively, breweries could follow the model of one Scottish manufacturer, who The Guardian notes has made the choice to switch to cans instead of bottles to combat rising costs. The Guardian notes, however, that switching production methods could also increase prices or drive away loyal customers who see bottles as a higher-class option.