Monday, February 25, 2013

Reusing Bottles

So it's time to bottle my beer. Brilliant! I've been collecting bottles for AGES. I've got boxes of the things all over the place (though they're a little inaccessible at the moment).

Only... Well, I started bottling and heard that god awful crack of breaking glass. Uh-oh. It turns out that certain beer bottles - mainly those with twist tops - are purposely made to be difficult to reuse. Heinekein and Tuborg bottles (the ones I've got most of) have their ridge set just a little higher than usual to make using a twin lever capper difficult on them.

The last time I was in India (nice place to visit, wouldn't want to live there) I found myself a little frustrated when buying a drink. It turns out that to have a glass bottle, you'd have to drink it in the store, and give them the bottle back. The alternative was to buy a plastic bottle, pay a little more for it, and be able to leave the store.

In fact, all of their glass bottles felt a little strange. Oddly thick. Scuffed to all hell. The bottles are reused. I know we've got a big thing for recycling at the moment but there's a cost to recycling. In the case of glass, it's a carbon footprint. The sorts of temperatures needed to melt down a bottle and reconstitute it as the same sort of bottle is massive - just "slumping" a bottle - melting it until it's flat - takes around 770°C, and that's without getting it hot enough to melt different pieces of glass together.

Sure, it's less carbon than making new bottles, but it's still huge. Compare that to the cost of making thick bottles that can be reused and washing and sterilizing them between uses... Of course there's a whole logistics thing in there but how hard would it be to have a collection centre? Perhaps utilize the local dairy?

Of course, we tend to be just a little bit precious here. We couldn't possibly have scuffed bottles... We all seem to be in this weird kind of commercial version of saving the environment. We're encouraged to recycle without any sort of mention about reuse or reduce. Think about some of those computer goods you buy. How much packaging does a microSD card or usb stick really need? If you go to the supermarket, there are other such goods. Things like porridge. Sure, you could buy the great big bag that would take a month to get through, OR there's the individually packaged servings... Even beer, despite coming in cardboard boxes, does my head in. Why? Look at the labels. Some brands use a plastic label.... just so that the bottle continues to advertise their brand well into the future (forever).

So there's this whole accepted lack of social conscience. It's perfectly okay for these companies to insist on bottles that can't be reused and it all seems to be hidden behind their need to advertise and sell to us.

Anyway, so with the whole bottling beer situation I stopped. Time to start experimenting. A few more broken bits of bottles later, a quick trip to the $2 shop for cable ties (I figured putting a cable tie on the neck on the bottle would change the spacing), looking at things like rubber bands,  tearing apart a rubber glove, trying insulation tape and we (I was doing this with someone else) had a solution. I wish I could take the credit of the eventual discovery (I at least contributed by suggesting insulation tape was an easier material to work with) but that credit goes to someone else. It seems that the problem is where the metal comes in contact with the glass. So a bit of insulation tape to the top of the jaws (pointed out in the image to the left), and I managed to bottle the rest with only one broken bottle.

How well the seals hold is a whole other issue (I'll find that out in about a week).

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