The refillable beverage container appears to be vanishing. For a variety of reasons, distributors are increasingly choosing to sell their products in one-way packaging. Several countries have implemented policy measures such as taxes on one-way containers to try to maintain the refillable container, but many of these seem to have failed. There remain very few thriving refillable systems, and most of those are industry-specific.
At the turn of the century, the share of the total beverage market for drinks sold in refillable containers across European countries was 41%. As of 2015, this had decreased to only 21% of the European beverage market.
But this Europe-wide statistic does not tell the entire story. Many countries in Europe, for example France, Italy, and Greece, never had a comprehensive refillable beverage container system in the first place, and so their inclusion within this statistic makes the shift towards one-way containers look more gradual. If we single out those countries where there was once a thriving refillable system, we can see just how rapid the decline of the refillable bottle is, and how close we are in those countries to seeing it disappear altogether.
In some countries, the shift away from refillable occurred before the turn of the century and one-way containers are now very dominant.
It is worth noting that in Germany, it is only very recently that overall sales of beverages in one-way packaging eclipsed sales in refillables, and it is likely that there will continue to be a strong refillable system. Beer is still sold mostly in refillable glass bottles, and while one-way PET is now the most popular container for carbonates and water, there are still significant sales of each beverage in refillable bottles (glass and/or PET).
Of the 34 countries included in this study, there was only one--Croatia--where a majority of beverages in the beer, carbonates, and water categories, were sold in refillable glass or PET packaging. When looking at the chart below, Croatia appears to have been heading in the same direction as the other countries (with refillables gradually being taken over by one-way containers). In 2005, the country passed a law that applied fees to distributors of beverages in one-way packaging. Although this has not reversed the trend completely, it seems to have prevented--at least for now--further decline in market share for the refillable container.
The decline of the refillable bottle is not only happening in Europe, but in North America as well. In Canada, nearly all packaged beer was once delivered in refillable glass bottles that were shared amongst several distributors. By the early 2000s, imports and cans had gained an increasing share of the market, and today cans are the dominant container type for packaged beer. The refillable bottle, on the other hand, appears to be on its way out, with only 38% market share.
This downward trend in Canada is particularly striking when examined in the context of Quebec, where there is currently a quota in place that requires brewers to sell 67.5% of their product in refillable containers. Although these percentages are by volume (as opposed to units), it certainly indicates that the quota has not been adhered to.