At first, I started with the dumpster-diving in the alley behind the main restaurant strip - after a few trips of nasty gloves, stink, spillage, and ending up with a paltry amount of bottles (3/4 of which were clear Caronas), that sucked. Asking the restaurant/bar owners around here elicited a totally unexpected response - they nearly all were confused by the request and (this is the part I find baffling) WEREN'T SURE IF THEY WERE ALLOWED TO GIVE AWAY THEIR EMPTIES. Best I can figure, they are concerned about potential minors getting their hands on the bottles (although I'm in my 30's and balding). Also, none of the restaurant owners around here separate their bottles from their trash!!! WTF???? Although I did find an Irish pub that had some nifty bottles in their trash - Unibraus, various jeroboams, funky-shaped imports like Duvel, Golden Draak, etc.
After about a month of this (i.e. several 5-gallon batches of beer), I was driving our munchkin to school and noticed that the French-American club a few blocks from our house had their trash out - a large pile of big bags.....and a small WALL of beer cases. Lo and behold, they place empties back in cases to reduce mess inside! A couple had cigarette butts in the bottles, and of course most of the Caronas had stale lime wedges - all had the last dregs, but it was so nice to just open a case, swap the screwtops with the poptops from the next case and end up coming home with intact, dry beer cases with 6-pack dividers full of good poptop bottles! I may have to go through 18 cases to come home with 1 or 2 cases of good empties - but no gloves, no mess, no stick or trash, etc. I just wish the club members didn't like macroswill so much (although the Michelob Lite bottles were coming out in poptops for a couple of months....back to screwtops now though). It's a nice setup....twice a week (if I'm so motivated), I can stop by their pile on the way home from dropping off our son at school and spend 5-10minutes scanning the cases and usually end up with at least a couple of 6-packs-worth, sometimes as much as several cases. Of course, the brewlab has been running continuously for a year and a half now, so I'm needing to get new empties only when I give away cases as gifts. Plus, all of the Bud and Bud Light cases have been storing as stacking well in my cold room - and when a handle tears, I just grab a new case in the morning. I have so many boxes, SWMBO now has a wall of her knitting stockpile separated into cases on shelves and loves it.