Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Alternative Wine Packaging

Most wine lovers have a working familiarity with the economics of wine, and with Earth Day approaching it is worth taking a look also at the ecology of drinking wine. Sarah Trubnick is the co-founder and wine director of San Francisco's The Barrel Room. She is also deeply passionate about the effects of climate change on the wine industry and wine regions, and the world of alternative packaging.

Trubnick says research shows that packaging contributes over 40% of wineries' emissions worldwide, mostly due to the production, recycling, and packaging of glass bottles. She says 73% to 83% of consumers express willingness to pay more for wine that has been packaged sustainably. Also, 90% of these consumers drink wine they purchase within a week, so it seems that wine drinkers would embrace less costly packaging even if the containers are not meant to age wine.

Glass bottles are probably not the ideal packaging for wine, anyway. Trubnick cites figures which show the production, use, and shipping of glass bottles accounts for 68% of the carbon footprint of the wine industry. She says the manufacture of new bottles absolutely guzzles energy. From the smelting of sand to the melting of recycled bottles, temperatures of around 1,700 degrees are required. Also, recycling of glass doesn’t happen as often as you might think. Only about 25% of glass bottles are recycled in the US. The rest end up in landfills. Glass bottles are also heavy and oddly shaped, which makes shipping them cost more and require protective padding.

Trubnick offers some alternative packaging options. Canned wines are very costly to produce, but are extremely recyclable - and usually, they actually are recycled. She says that 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today. Cans are lightweight, easy to stack, and not fragile, making shipping much more efficient.

Kegs are fantastic options, if the situation allows for them. PET bottles - a type of plastic that can be recycled infinitely - and paper bottles tend to reduce carbon footprint 80-90% over glass bottles. They aren’t great for long-term storage, but most wine is drunk pretty much immediately.

Hands down, Trubnick says, the best option on the market today is the bag-in box - "BIB" for short. The bad image BIBs got from low-quality wine, improper filling and premature oxidation are issues that have been rectified, she says and BIBs are now being used for high-end wines. Jason Haas of Tablas Creek in Paso Robles recently put out a $95 boxed wine, and it sold out almost instantly. 

Trubnick says BIBs have low production energy cost, are lightweight and stackable (leading to lower transportation energy cost), can store wine for 8 weeks after opening and can last on a shelf for 12 months without any detectable quality change. They are extremely recyclable and reduced cost all around is generally passed on to the consumer. Also, there is very little product wasted.

Here is Trubnick's breakdown of actual carbon footprint in terms of grams of CO2 equivalent per liter of wine in each package:

- Glass bottle: 675g CO2e/L

- PET bottle: 245g CO2e/L

- Can: 190g CO2e/L

- BIB: 70g CO2e/L

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