Missoula's Bayern Brewing wants your empties 

Bayern Brewing owner Jürgen Knöller strolls down the beer aisle at Pattee Creek Market, gesturing to bottled six-packs: Full Sail, Big Sky, Great Northern. "We can take this one, this one, all these," Knöller says, singling out a dozen or so brands.

"Are your guys able to handle all this?" asks market owner Jim Edwards. "You're going to get swamped."

"We want to," Knöller answers. "I need 50,000 bottles a week."

Knöller plans to reuse each one. He just dropped $400,000 on a bottle washing machine from Germany, and expects to have it running by early June.

Knöller finishes setting up a display for Bayern's new ecopack, a collapsable waxed-cardboard box that holds 24 bottles and four cardboard six-pack carriers. Bayern wants to make it easier for people to collect packaging, and easier for the machine to sort bottles so staff don't have to.

Bayern launched its latest sustainability campaign a few weeks ago and Knöller's slowly been introducing the ecopack to grocery stores around Missoula. Bayern's been collecting bottles through taproom word-of-mouth for years and trucking them to Billings for recycling. But Knöller estimates 2.5 million Bayern bottles still end up in the Missoula landfill each year.

"They could [be reused], theoretically, eight to 10 times," he says, adding that for German breweries, reusing glass has been the norm since the 1980s.

Knöller says in the long run, the bottle washer will cut down not only on the volume of glass at the landfill but on the carbon footprint of running truckloads to Billings. Bayern hasn't advertised the ecopack widely yet and it's already sitting on 12,000 reusable bottles.

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Bayern's paying 5 cents per bottle and 10 cents per carrier—a total of $1.60 for each full ecopack. The brewery does have a few stipulations though: bottles have to be clean, they have to match the type Bayern distributes in, and—Knöller can't stress this enough—they have to be returned to Bayern's taproom. Otherwise, you won't get paid.

Edwards wonders aloud if Missoula will really embrace Bayern's reuse campaign. "How does the saying go?" Knöller replies. "Big hat, no cattle?"

From now on, Knöller will be counting cattle in empty six-packs.

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