Led by Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), the glass industry has approached the government for a ban on use of second hand glass bottles used for packaging liquor, except beer on the grounds that the practice is unhygienic.
The liquor industry, while rebuffing this demand, sees this as a ploy by glass manufacturers to increase sales.
Speaking to The Financial Express, Assocham secretary general Jayant Bhuyan said, "Use of second hand bottles in certain sectors like distilleries could be unhygienic. We are not targeting any sector as such. We have just raised a genuine concern in the interest of consumers."
All India Glass Manufacturers Federation secretary Manohar Lal said, "Only beer and soft drink bottles are designed to be cleaned and reused. Most liquor bottlers do not have adequate means of cleaning the bottles hygienically. There is actually no effective mechanism for cleaning and maintenance of hygiene in the distilleries.
The glass manufacturers and Assocham have send representations to the industry ministry, the ministry of food processing, health and family welfare ministry and environment ministry seeking a ban on use of ‘market bottles’ by distilleries.
Mr Bhuyan said, "If we intended to attack liquor manufacturers, we would not have said that second hand beer bottles can be used by the industry. The United States and European countries do not use market bottles and there are regulations against its use. Even developing countries are moving over to fresh bottles." The liquor industry sources say that World Health Organisation (WHO) norms are also against the use of market bottles for liquor.
The Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC), however, has termed the demand for a ban as a malicious campaign by glass-makers. CIABC secretary general Pramod Krishna said, "Its a campaign by glass bottle manufacturers who are going through a recession and have not invested in upgrading their technology to make thinner bottles."
He said "distilleries of CIABC members use state-of-the-art washing facilities before bottling their products in ‘market bottles.’ This is a worldwide practice. With a high alcohol content of 42.8 per cent in a bottle of liquor, there is no likelihood of any bacterial growth or sustenance of any microbes."
CIABC has sent representations to the ministry of environment saying that if market bottles are not used, then there will be an environmental problem. The liquor industry claims that reusing bottles is a worldwide phenomenon and there are no health hazards. Mr Krishna said, "We are not talking about the US and Europe where premium brands are sold, but developing countries like India where regular brands make up for large sales volume. If the glass industry is comparing things to the US and Europe, then it should be noted that these countries use plastic bottles and aluminium cans for packaging."
According to glass industry sources, the difference between fresh and market bottles is Rs 2. The liquor industry says that if market bottles are not used, the price of packaging will increase which will mean additional cost to the manufacturer. Rs 2 per bottle translates to a huge amount for the liquor companies as many of them are selling as high as half a million cases per annum.