Retro, reusable soda bottles Valpo man's mission for environment

2011-04-17T00:00:00Z Retro, reusable soda bottles Valpo man's mission for environmentBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Brent and Beth Barber's 2-year-old daughter Catherine has never seen a plastic soda bottle in the refrigerator of the Valparaiso couple's home.

For the past seven years, fizzing refreshment in the form of soda pop has always been served up in glass bottles by the Barbers.

"Actually, Catherine hasn't even tasted what soda is yet, because she's too young," said Brent, 42, a 1987 graduate of Chesterton High School.

"And because of how much better soda tastes coming from a glass bottle instead of plastic or a can, it's a good thing she's waiting for her first taste. Because if you've ever had soda chilled in a glass bottle, it's quick to get hooked."

Every day is Earth Day for the Barber Family, especially on the topic of beverage behavior.

"If you think of what the word recycle really means, it stands for two things: reduce and reuse," Brent said.

"And the fact that returning to the world of deposits and drinking from glass bottles is really retro cool, is a bonus."

Brent's thirsty return to the ways of the past began in 2004, when wife Beth said he could transform their basement into a retro family room space, complete with full-size arcade games and signage. The only thing missing was a soda machine, which he found on eBay when he was the $300 top bidder for a 1960s working Coca-Cola vending machine dispensing glass bottles.

The next quest was to find out where to get bottles to stock up on soda pop for replenishment.

"I drove out to the Chicago suburbs to pick up the soda machine after I won it, so I figured if I had to drive a distance to find a soda plant that still did glass bottles, I didn't mind it."

Even though glass bottle soda is still sold in most grocery stores as "nostalgia conversation pieces" on a limited basis, the price is much higher than the bottled soda he grew up with.

"I did some research and found myself on a 1,100-mile road trip up to Wisconsin and Minnesota trading in 26 cases of returnable-refillable pop bottles," he said.

"I had to go to eBay and antique stores to get enough 6.5-ounce and 10-ounce bottles and wood crates to get what I needed refilled. When going right to a bottling plant, you have to bring in enough empties to purchase full bottles since the bottles are worth so much."

When Brent goes to the Winona, Minnesota Coca-Cola plant, which is the last glass bottling plant in the U.S., for his refills each summer, he said he gets crates of 24 bottles filled with fresh soda for just under $8 a crate.

"It just makes sense that returning to the way things used to be can be very practical," he said.

"Most of the bottles that I get back as returnables are from the 60s, 70s and 80s and have probably have been reused at least a 100 times during the decades that they've been sanitized, sterilized and refilled. It's a much better option instead of plastic bottles taking up space in landfills."

Barber's other favorite stop during his soda pop pilgrimage for refills is the Twig's Beverages bottling plant in Shawano, Wis.

"Twig's makes this bottled soda drink called Sun-Drop, a popular drink in the South and in Wisconsin. It's made with pure sugar, and little citrus pieces can even be seen floating around in the soda. It's so much better than Mountain Dew or Mellow Yellow."

Barber said holding to tradition, the few remaining glass bottling plants use the original recipe for their soda products used exclusively just for glass bottle product. And each of these uses pure cane sugar, rather than the corn syrup key ingredient in most of today's conventional soda.

In 2006, Barber created a web site to help others with their own quest of finding soda pop in glass bottles. Today, his site gets between 700 and 1,000 page hits a day.

"It's amazing how something so old can be so new to so many people from so many generations," he said.

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