August 1, 2002

Pepsi Returnable Glass Bottles Are Going Once, Going Twice...

The modern world is slowly making the transition from a throw-away society into an environmentally conscious community which recycles. Unfortunately for the local Pepsi-Cola bottling company this transition may be too late for the popular glass returnable bottle line.

Pepsi-Cola Memphis Bottling Company is one of only two distributors left in the United States that manufactures the popular soda pop in glass bottle containers. The family owned company is a large supplier of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mt. Dew, Orange Crush, Dad's Root Beer and Bubble Up in both 10 and 16 ounce returnable glass bottles.

The problem is, fewer and fewer of these returnable glass bottles are actually being returned.

"Our sources for empty glass bottles are so scarce now that we aren't able to produce the returnable bottles like we need to in order to meet the demand for the products," said Pat Hudson, the Memphis plant manager. "The future of our returnable bottling line depends on the glass availability."

The declining numbers of bottles has resulted in a dramatic decline in production for the line. Currently the glass bottle line has declined 80 percent versus 10 years ago.

There are numerous theories for the declining availability of the bottles. Obviously some are lost due to the fragile nature of the glass, as bottles can be broken. More are taken out of circulation because of the nostalgic value placed on the glass bottles which are often considered collectors items or even antiques because of the declining availability. These bottles are permanently out of circulation.

However plant officials feel there likely are plenty of other bottles which simply are sitting around in basements, sheds or other out-of the-way places, collecting dust. The bottles either were ignored, forgotten or tossed out with the trash.

Compounding that problem are those bottles which leave the circulation area, being purchased by travelers, and then never returning to the region to make it back to the plant for reuse.

"We have a nice customer base using the 10 oz. returnable bottles," said company president Mike Johnson. "These folks love the nostalgic history of the bottles. But we really need everyone to bring in their bottles for redemption. Without the bottles, we can't continue their production."

The dilemma goes well beyond availability of your favorite Pepsi products in those glass bottles. The returnable bottling line currently is manned by 10 employees, whose jobs could be in jeopardy if the lack of bottles forced the stoppage of the manufacturing line.

Johnson stressed this would be the last option for the company, adding he hopes there are enough bottles out there to keep the line operational. He stated 35 percent of the production line's available time is used to fill glass bottles.

The bottle shortage could ultimately bring a halt to the historical production line that goes back to 1927 when J. Harold Johnson and his wife Muriel started the Memphis Bottling Works operation on South Market Street in Memphis. The bottling operation was granted a Pepsi-Cola franchise in 1936 but the company continued to make the trademark "Johnson Target Beverages" flavored soda pop.

Three generations of the Johnson family had led the company, which incorporated in 1956 and changed to the current name, Pepsi-Cola Memphis Bottling Company.

One hundred percent of the company's original production used glass bottles for the first 40 plus years. Disposable aluminum cans came into play in the 1960s but were not utilized at the Memphis Plant. The next change came with the introduction of disposable plastic bottles in the late 1980s. Currently the Memphis facility is producing 10 and 16 oz. glass bottles, pre-mixed five-gallon tanks and the 20 oz. and 2 lt. Plastic bottles.

The availability of the glass bottle is in consumers' hands. Redeem your bottles now, because the continuation of the bottling line depends on it.

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