Boosting bottle circularity: right first time retail bottle returns – Dutch Brewers Association



Company Name / Department Dutch Brewers Association
Contact Person

Eric Veldwiesch, Marco Willemars

Location Online, field work
Study programme(s)

Industrial Engineering

Community CDT
Start Date

September 2022

Housing arranged by company No


160 EUR per month (based on a 18h week. If you work more hours, it’ll be higher). 

Company Description

The Dutch Brewers Association (Nederlandse Brouwers) is the branch organization for the biggest 14 brewers of the Netherlands. Together they produce 95% of all the beer for the Dutch market. Our most well-known members are Heineken, AbInbev, Grolsch and Swinkels Family Brewers, but also large MKB-companies like Gulpener, are member.

In the way to become a fully sustainable and circular sector, we are working together on sustainability topics of which circular packaging is an industry best practice. Together we run a system of refillable/ reusable glass bottles, the most sustainable packaging for the retail market.

Project Description


The Dutch beer market has a long tradition of circular supply chain cooperation. Since the introduction in 1985, brewers are sharing a commonly managed reusable bottle, the “BNR30cl”, with a capability of 40 reuses in its lifetime. As a result, the bottle return chain has been simple, effective and very sustainable. A packaging best practice to be proud of.

From 2005, brewers have drifted away from the standard bottle and have introduced individually branded bottles. Additionally the grown popularity of specialty beers, has increased the number of specialty beer bottles in the market.

Problem description

This diversifying reusable bottle landscape is driving complexity in the return chain. The impact of increasing numbers of foreign bottles in crates is big: bottle losses have increased, cost of complexity is substantial for all parties of the return chain, due to the need to sort, separate and exchange bottles and crates. As a result the circularity of the system (although still a best practice) is under pressure.


A program is running by the Dutch Brewers Association (NLB), addressing the 5 steps in the return chain:

  1. Consumer,
  2. Return vending Machine
  3. Store return process
  4. Return Distribution centre
  5. Intake and processing at breweries.

Two BEP and a Msc. project have worked on definition, measurement and analysis of the store return process. A number of interventions at the retailer level (a poster, a training, a data-driven recommendation, …) are already selected to be tested.

This new project starting in September aims to conclude the analysis phase and recommend improvements for implementation, rollout and replication. More specifically answering the question: which of the interventions work(s) best, what is the impact and what is the business case of a full scale rollout.

Goals of the Project

The objective of the full program is to improve the return quality of bottles in crates, aiming to increase bottle circularity by 40%.

The scope of these this project will be ‘right first time’ bottle return, addressing the root cause of the issue at the store level, aiming to improve sorting quality, reducing half of the non-conformities


  • A clear toolkit of tested and (economically) feasible interventions measures that can be implemented, and will deliver proven results

    Essential Student Knowledge

    • FMCG, supply chain processes, strong analytical (excel) and project management skills


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