What Is a Bottle Crate?

B. Turner

A bottle crate is a vessel used to transport beverage containers from bottling plants to stores. While the classic milk crate has long served as one of the most popular ways to transport bottled beverages, modern manufacturers rely on many bottle crate designs to meet their needs. Some are designed to hold just a few units at a time, while others can hold dozens of bottles. A bottle crate may feature individual openings to separate each bottle from others, or may simply feature an open design to hold bottles closely together. Manufacturers often collect and reuse these crates for years to help keep shipping costs low.

A glass bottle.
A glass bottle.

The concept of a bottle crate likely dates back to the milk delivery man. Before modern refrigeration and grocers became widespread, dairies delivered milk to customers at home each day. These original crates were made of wood, and contained just a few reusable glass bottles. As manufacturers began to introduce new bottled beverages, like soda or water, they turned to more durable metal crates.

Bottles are moved to crates at a plant, which are then used to move large quantities of bottles to various locations.
Bottles are moved to crates at a plant, which are then used to move large quantities of bottles to various locations.

Metal crates were designed to hold larger quantities of bottles than traditional wooden milk crates. They often consisted of an open-wire design with a handle, though some featured solid walls made from sheet metal. Over time, companies switched to plastic bottle crate designs to cut weight and maximize the life of the crate.

Today, most bottle crates are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This hard, durable plastic can be used for decades, and is highly resistant to damage caused by moisture or impact. They are also surprisingly strong, and are often designed to carry many bottles in a single load.

For glass containers, manufacturers often include some form of separation within the bottle crate to keep the bottles from crashing into one another. This means that the crate can only hold bottles of one size. Removable inserts can remedy this problem, and may be removed when plastic bottles are used in place of glass.

While manufacturers often do their best to reclaim and reuse these crates, they typically face losses due to theft from both retailers and consumers. Store owners or shoppers may take these crates to store items at home or in the shop, costing manufacturers a large amount of money each year. Another trend is to repurpose these crates in furniture, including simple stools and tables, as well as designer pieces.

Larger bottle crates might be made out of sheet metal.
Larger bottle crates might be made out of sheet metal.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - In a geography class I had last year they actually talked about those crates and how they have become an important way of combating illness. Not only because they guarantee safe drinks (although most people wouldn't be able to afford them regularly anyway) but because they offer a regular and safe way of transporting medicine.

Since they are run by the Coca-Cola company on a regular schedule along a massive scale, they provide a way to ship medicine from a central point, without having to worry about it being delayed, or even costing extra (since the medicine fits into the crates without needing to remove any bottles).


@ana1234 - I imagine it was something to do with convenience, because in most poorer parts of the world they still have that system, with soda at least. I visited a few countries in West Africa a few years ago and all the tiny convenience stores there had crates of glass bottles with various sodas delivered and exchanged for crates with empty bottles.

A truck would then drive the empties to a factory and clean them and refill them. It was actually a pretty good system and I drank a lot of soda there, because it was almost guaranteed that those sodas were safe to drink.

Bottled water was not so safe, because it was common for the bottles to be refilled with contaminated water and resealed for sale.


My grandmother had nine children living at home at one point and I can still remember the milk crates she used to have for the milk man (although she didn't need to use a whole crate by the time I came along). I'm just barely old enough to remember the milk man coming past and the sound of the horn.

I'd always be the one sent down to put out the old bottles so that we could get new ones. I've never really thought about it before, but that was probably a much more environmentally sound strategy than everyone buying plastic containers. I wonder why they stopped.

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