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Beer makers struggle to find bottles as coronavirus fears shut down recycling efforts

 Spotlight Cabaret server,Taylor Cherryholme disinfects tables on the restaurants roof-top patio on Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Edmonton.
Spotlight Cabaret server,Taylor Cherryholme disinfects tables on the restaurants roof-top patio on Saturday, May 16, 2020, in Edmonton.

With recycling programs suspended around the country due to coronavirus fears, one of Canada’s largest beer brewers says it is struggling t o find enough bottles to keep up with production.

In mid-March, Ontario’s beer retailing behemoth, The Beer Store, announced it would stop accepting empties from March 19 to March 31 in an effort to protect employees from being exposed to the coronavirus. The suspension expired Tuesday, but the chain of 450 stores didn’t respond to questions about whether it would resume collecting used bottles and cans, though it said on its website that new information on its recycling program was pending.

Combined with other recycling programs around the country, including B.C. Liquor Stores, also being on pause, the supply of industry standard beer bottles has decreased significantly just as a wave of panic buying boosted demand, said John Sleeman, founder of Sleeman Breweries, Canada’s third-biggest brewer.

“We don’t have enough bottles in our plants to run at normal levels,” he said. “But we’re still producing beer. We still have bottles, just not as many as we would like.”

George Croft, the veteran beer executive at the helm of major Ontario craft brewer Waterloo Brewing Ltd., said he isn’t having issues currently, since his company bought new bottles “very early on” in anticipation of disruptions due to COVID-19.

“As we recognized what was going on around the world,” he said, “we went out and bought new glass.”

Sleeman still has glass bottles in inventory, and has been working to procure new ones from manufacturers, but it’s been a challenge to source enough bottles to keep up with the volume of beer plants are producing, he said.

On top of that, Sleeman has had higher-than-expected demand for its beer, set off by either outbreak-related hoarding or because most are isolated up at home and “with all of the stress and everything else, perhaps sitting and having a beverage,” Sleeman said.

The process of making a beer bottle is relatively short and simple, but manufacturers already have production schedules and commitments to other clients in other industries.

“The glass companies don’t just make beer bottles,” Sleeman said. “They make pickle bottles and milk bottles and all kinds of different things. Mason jars and everything else. And so it’s not as easy just to say, ‘Listen, can you make me some more beer bottles?'”

Sleeman Breweries, owned by the Japanese beer giant Sapporo Holdings Ltd., is a part owner of The Beer Store, along with U.S.-based chain Molson Coors Beverage Co., and Belgium-based conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, as well as 27 other smaller breweries. Both Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch did not make a spokesperson available for comment.

Sleeman said there have been ongoing discussions about when the right time would be to restart bottle collections, though he said he hasn’t put pressure on The Beer Store.

“Looking after people’s health is paramount,” he said.

British Columbia’s Liquor Distribution Branch is continuing to suspend returns of empty bottles and cans, though the “risk transmission was rated as low by health officials,” according to an emailed statement. “This action was taken to ensure the comfort and safety of our employees.”

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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