It’s estimated that Australians consume around 1.7 billion litres of beer annually – enough to fill nearly 670 Olympic-sized swimming pools. That’s a lot of beer, but also a lot of packaging.

Sustainability is a priority for many Australian breweries, and craft brewers Stone & Wood Brewing Co and Two Birds Brewing are walking the walk when it comes to sustainable packaging and recycling, allowing them to support local industry, provide jobs and, most importantly, reduce their carbon footprint.

Opting for more sustainable packaging and product stewardship is making the brews more palatable to an increasingly environmentally savvy customer group.

Unlike other packaging, glass bottles are recycled within a closed-loop recycling process, all on Australian turf. Stone & Wood and Two Birds are two breweries with direct relationships with glass packaging manufacturer O-I Australia that have leveraged this connection by implementing further initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint, such as taking direct responsibility for glass waste streams, reducing travel distance and supporting their local communities.

It’s a great example of like-minded companies working together for the greater good to make sure our backyard stays beautiful.

Here in Australia we’re a thirsty bunch. O-I Australia manufactures and supplies Stone & Wood alone with more than 17 million bottles per year.

The breweries collect glass waste from the production process, but now rather than putting them into the co-mingled recycling bin, they’re collecting them on-site to ship directly back to the manufacturer, O-I Australia. Glass packaging and its infinitely recyclable life cycle is one of the best examples of a closed-loop or circular economy in action.

Stone & Wood’s sustainability manager James Perrin says that a truly closed-loop process is one that has no waste. “At the end of a product’s life it’s able to be used again at the start of the production process.”

Perrin says that businesses need to be responsible, not just for the product they’re putting out into the world, but also for the impact that they’re having environmentally via their waste streams. Byron Bay-based Stone & Wood is working with suppliers to increase the recyclability of its products, as well as trying to source materials that are made from more recycled content.

“Our glass bottles are made from around 70% recycled content these days and our carboard cartons consist of more than 50% recycled content,” says Perrin.

Two Birds Brewing’s co-owner and brewer Jayne Lewis says, “for us closed-loop recycling is a type of recycling that is without a mysterious middle period. Materials aren’t sent offshore. Instead, they stay local. Our glass is manufactured, used and recycled again and again right here in Australia, allowing every Two Birds bottle to be made with at least 50% recycled materials.

“We’re lucky in that our glass bottle suppliers are less than a kilometre away from our brewery in Spotswood, Victoria. We receive our bottles from O-I, fill them with our delicious beer and get them in venues and retailers around the country. Once recycled, the materials from the bottle can be back at O-I, made into a Two Birds bottle, then filled with beer and back in a customer’s fridge within as little as 30 days!”

The glass factory has been at Spotswood since 1816, and, as glass is infinitely recyclable, it’s possible that some Two Birds beer bottles might contain glass made in Melbourne more than 100 years ago.

Both breweries agree that we all have a responsibility to implement more sustainable processes where possible, whether that’s by supporting closed-loop recycling or other initiatives that result in less plastic, less chemicals and fewer carbon emissions.

“When we refer to brewing good beer, of course the quality of our product is our highest priority but ‘good’ goes beyond the attributes of our beer,” says Perrin. “We believe it is our responsibility, as the local brewer, to positively impact our communities. Not just because we care as people and want to do the right thing, but we actually see it as good business. Consumers increasingly make decisions based on sustainability and if industries don’t adapt then they run the risk of losing market share.”

Both Two Birds and Stone & Wood believe that where possible, breweries should aspire to a closed-loop process. “Beer drinkers are really conscious consumers,” says Perrin. “They care about where their ingredients came from, how the beer was made, and who brewed it, so it really makes sense for breweries to be focussing on sourcing and recycling ethically and sustainably too.”

Perrin and Lewis both recognise that there are barriers for breweries. “I think breweries do care about this stuff and do their best,” says Perrin. “However unfortunately in many cases they might not have access to resources to be able to create closed-loop supply chains. It’s something that is expensive and time consuming to do, whereas in some parts of Australia it is a cheaper option (or even the only option!) to landfill their recyclables.”

“There are a lot of cans in the market, which ultimately means a lot of recyclable material is being sent offshore,” says Lewis.

“As a business, sustainability is something we’re continually trying to work on. We’ve got a lot more work to do, but we’re proud of both our work with O-I, and some of our other sustainable measures, such as monitoring our water use to keep usage rates below the industry average, or donating our grain wastage for farm use.”

In 2017, O-I Australia worked with Stone & Wood to shift the manufacturing of the embossed Stone & Wood glass bottle from its Sydney plant to its Brisbane plant, saving more than 200,000 kilometres of truck travel per year. Perrin says that working with O-I has shown that the two organisations are very much aligned.

“To be able to work with a like-minded business on re-using that waste stream as a resource directly back into our product is amazing.”

“We’ve worked with O-I since the beginning, so around eight years,” says Lewis. “Being so close to us here in Spotswood, we’ve been able to get our team really engaged with the partnership. O-I have been able to provide us with sustainability training and give us access to the resources we need to share the good of glass!”

To find out more about recycling glass and O-I Australia, please visit their website.