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End of the 'glass cheque': Irn-Bru puts cap on returnable bottles

AG Barr will stop accepting the iconic glass bottles for refund at the end of December 31, 2016.

Glass cheque: End of Irn-Bru bottle return.
Glass cheque: End of Irn-Bru bottle return. Karrie Gillett/PA Archive/PA Images

As Scots celebrate the end of the year with the traditional whisky or three, another more family-friendly national tradition will quietly fade into the night.

For 110 years lovers of Irn-Bru have been dutifully returning their empty glass bottles of the fizzy drink to shops for some money back, which was most recently 30p.

The glass cheque was a feature of many a Scots childhood, with kids using the refund to supplement pocket money.

But in August AG Barr, who make Irn-Bru along with a number of other drinks, revealed they are ending the scheme, with the final bottles being refunded as shops close on December 31.

Irn-Bru bottles waiting to be cashed in.
Irn-Bru bottles waiting to be cashed in. Thomas Nugent

The company blamed changing culture, as more Scots recycling their bottles themselves.

Barr say there has been a significant reduction in the number of bottles being returned in recent years with 90% of bottles returned in the early 90s, but now only half of bottles sold are being returned.

"There has been a significant shift in peoples recycling habits over the past few years," they said.

"Kerbside recycling has improved significantly and as a result there has been a reduction in the number of our glass bottles being returned to retailers, as people choose the convenience of recycling at home.

"We now only receive just over half of our bottles back."

The drink is now internationally popular.
The drink is now internationally popular. Andrew Milligan/PA Archive/PA Images

The iconic drink was launched in 1901 as Iron Brew and the glass bottle return was introduced four years later as a response to the great loss and damage sustained by them through the non-return of bottles and siphons.

In 1947, they changed the name of the drink to get round regulations which proposed that brand names should be literally true. While the drink did contain Iron, it was not brewed so A.G Barr launched the phonetic respelling of the brand.

By 1985 there were 100m bottles of the orange elixir being sold every year and the brand was firmly established within the national consciousness.

While the brand is now a truly international phenomenon, it remains firmly rooted in Scotland, with its witty and unusual marketing campaigns reflecting the stranger sides of Scottish life.

A particularly famous campaign for Christmas saw a retelling of iconic cartoon The Snowman with the titular character preoccupied with his friend's can of the drink.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yZOab5gl-4 | youtube

Reflecting on the place of the bottle return, AG Barr said the decision to end the scheme had not been taken lightly.

"It has been a difficult decision to move away from returnable bottles which have been part of Barr's heritage for well over 100 years.

"We have been committed to providing this service for far longer than other leading brands and we hope that our consumers will understand our decision.

"We know how much our consumers love the taste of their favourite soft drink flavours in our iconic 750ml glass bottles.

"This significant investment allows us to continue to offer our consumers their favourite products in the glass bottle that we all love, well into the future."

But for thousands of Scots, the end of the buy-back scheme marks the end of an era, as the final glass cheques are cashed in.

Irn Bru vans December 31 2015
Andrew Milligan/PA Archive/PA Images

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