STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Germany, where beer consumption is up - beer consumption is up as temperatures remain unusually high. This is a climate change story in a sense, I suppose. And it's good and bad news for the beer industry. While the breweries have more than enough beer to go around, they say they are running out of bottles because customers are not returning them quickly enough. Esme Nicholson has more.
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ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Germans love the environment as much as they love their beer. That's why beer bottles are recycled here. There's a small deposit on each bottle, which customers get back when they return it to a store like this one. There are about 4 billion beer bottles circulating somewhere in Germany. But as Germans drink more and empties pile up, trouble is brewing for the beer-makers.
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CHRISTIAN SCHUSTER: (Through interpreter) We've had a beer bottle shortage since the middle of May.
NICHOLSON: Christian Schuster of the Greif Brewery in Bavaria appeals to customers on public television.
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SCHUSTER: (Through interpreter) We can't get hold of used ones fast enough, and ordering new ones takes time. I'm having to send out my delivery guys out to look for empty bottles.
NICHOLSON: Niklas Other, editor-in-chief of Inside, a drinks industry magazine, says marketing departments are to blame for the bottleneck.
NIKLAS OTHER: (Through interpreter) Every city, even every village in Germany has its own brewery. They used to use and share the same bottles, just with different labels. But now many bottles and crates are different, branded to stand out from the rest.
NICHOLSON: The Californian craft beer company Stone Brewing has found a solution. Their Berlin plant is selling its beer in cans. That's a daring choice in Germany. Drinking beer out of a can here is often considered uncouth.
THOMAS TYRELL: Well, we think it's best for the beer because there's no light ingress. And over time, there's some oxygen oxy permeations through the lid of a bottle, which the can doesn't have.
NICHOLSON: That's Thomas Tyrell, a master brewer for the Californian craft beer-makers. He says the biggest misconception about cans in Germany is that they're environmentally unfriendly. And he points out that their cans also carry a deposit. Recyclable cans only make up 7 percent of the German beer market, which is otherwise dominated by bottles.
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NICHOLSON: Like these ones being opened outside a kiosk in Kreuzberg. Thirty-year-old Marcel Hillebrand has just bought his second beer and, like everybody else, is heading to the bridge, beer in hand, to watch the sunset.
MARCEL HILLEBRAND: (Through interpreter) I only drink beer out of a can if there's no other alternative. A bottle is much more civilized. A can is ergonomically wrong, and the beer warms up too quickly. But mainly, it just looks cheap, cheap and a bit trashy.
NICHOLSON: When it comes to bottle trash, this part of Berlin has a system in place.
GEORGI VALENTIN: (Singing in foreign language).
NICHOLSON: Twenty-nine-year-old Georgi Valentin sings to himself as he drops discarded bottles into a shopping cart. In broken German, Valentin explains that he's homeless and that collecting bottles in Berlin is better than returning to his native Romania. As he speaks, the smiling kiosk owner hands him a crate for the empties.
VALENTIN: (Through interpreter) These are my colleagues. They help me - very good guys. I do this every day. I get about 7 euros for a full shopping cart of empty bottles.
NICHOLSON: The 7 cent deposit on each beer bottle may not be motivation enough for some beer drinkers this summer. But for people like Georgi Valentin, it's a lifeline. And thanks to him, there's no shortage of empty bottles at this kiosk.
For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin.
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