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Beer crisis averted as Ontario retailer set to restart bottle recycling program

Labatt will increase its use of beer cans during the bottle shortage as they are easily supplied.
Labatt will increase its use of beer cans during the bottle shortage as they are easily supplied.

The Beer Store, Ontario’s main beer retailer, will lift its ban on customers returning empties next week after some brewers started struggling to find bottles .

Last month, the retailer announced it was putting its massive recycling program on hold from March 19 to 31 in an effort to protect employees during the coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, the chain told the Financial Post that it will slowly start to reintroduce the program on April 6.

The Beer Store will only accept empty returns at 71 of its 450 stores across the province, so it can make sure its employees have “substantial quantities” of personal protective equipment, which has been in short supply even for health-care professionals across the country.

Stores will limit customers to one cart of empties per visit. The chain will also set up drive-thru recycling systems at seven distribution centres every Sunday starting April 5.

Labatt Breweries of Canada, owned by Belgium-based multinational Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, said it’s planning to shift even further toward cans, anticipating further possible disruptions in bottle supplies.

“With the recent pause in the Beer Store’s successful deposit return program, and while TBS works to restore full operations of the program, it is quite possible that there could be a bottle shortage,” Labatt said in a statement on Wednesday. “ We have anticipated this and have developed a contingency plan for such an eventuality.”

The Beer Store provides used bottles to participating brewers, which then sterilize and reuse them. But beer cans, though returnable, aren’t reused. That means brewers already receive regular shipments of new cans from manufacturers. Labatt said it simply plans to use more cans.

“Approximately 60 per cent of beer sold in Ontario is already packaged in cans and we will increase this proportion as needed while the situation persists,” Labatt said. “We are confident we can source all the cans we need for the foreseeable future.”

Labatt is a part owner of The Beer Store, along with U.S.-based Molson Coors Beverage Co., and Sleeman Breweries, owned by Japanese beer giant Sapporo Holdings Ltd., as well as 27 other smaller breweries.

John Sleeman, founder of Sleeman Breweries, earlier this week said the closure of several large recycling programs in Canada had left his plants without enough bottles “to run at normal levels.”

The disruption in beer bottle recycling appears to be a big brewer problem. Jacques Dalpé, president of United Bottles and Packaging Inc., said only big brewers typically have the sanitization equipment necessary to accept used bottles directly from The Beer Store.

Dalpé’s company washes and distributes used bottles, as well as new ones, to craft breweries and microbreweries that don’t have such equipment.

Before The Beer Store’s announcement Wednesday, Dalpe said if the slowdown in bottle returns continues, “it will absolutely mean that there’ll be less bottles to wash.”

• Email: jedmiston@nationalpost.com | Twitter: jakeedmiston

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