Winemakers are increasingly adopting sustainable production practices as society embraces socially and environmentally-responsible methods. However, when it comes to the future of sustainable wine, simply adapting production to include techniques like carbon sequestration and water conservation is not enough. The time has come to address the elephant in the room: the traditional wine bottle.
Wine bottles are heavy, spatially inefficient, and generally not made from recycled materials. In fact, the biggest portion of a wine bottle’s carbon footprint is a result of its packaging—not production or transport. If we are to build a sustainable industry, the vast majority of wine packaging needs to innovate.
Let’s take a deep dive into why the wine industry should make moves towards more sensible packaging options – and how it can be achieved.
Where Current Packaging Falls Down
As most can surmise, the glass bottles that we have been using to package wine since the 17th century are far from sustainable. Innovation has largely been lacking in this field, especially compared with the evolution of packaging with other consumer products.
Wine bottles are heavy and often carry a sizable carbon footprint in production, transportation, and disposal. They often require extra packaging to transport without damage, which adds to the already heavy load of waste.
When it comes to carbon emissions, it’s difficult to think of a container that could be less efficient than the wine bottle, given its material, weight, and shape. According to an audit conducted by Jackson Family Wines, glass bottles account for the single greatest contribution to the company’s carbon footprint, coming in at almost half of the total – largely due to the energy used for producing the bottles.
Wine expert Jancis Robinson is even speaking up about the issue, and recently published an article highlighting the environmental impact of the wine industry (including packaging) and how consumers and producers alike need to tackle the climate issue head on.
Alternative packaging options such as cans, pouches, and boxes are already trickling onto the marker, but these options do not cater to the majority of instances in which wine is drunk. Wine is typically enjoyed at the dinner table and shared socially amongst friends; a can just doesn’t’t work in that environment. The current solutions occupy a small space in consumer drinking habits (drinking wine from a can while on-the-go or at a festival, for example) but they do not provide a credible alternative to the 750ml bottle we know and love.
So, what exactly is the alternative?
How Can We Make Wine Packaging More Sustainable?
Many traditionalists see the classic wine bottle as a custom to be respected if not revered. Yet, a number of players in the industry are still beginning to speak about the need for innovation in this area.
As a result of their audit, Jackson Family Wines, which owns 40 wineries, reduced their bottle weight by two ounces (around 57g), resulting in a reduction of overall emissions by 4%. The company was initially concerned about the market impact of a lighter bottle, but later found that “nobody seemed to notice.”
While these changes are certainly a step in the right direction, the fact remains that in order to create a truly sustainable wine packaging solution, all of the fundamental issues of shape, weight, and material need to be addressed.
One company leading the way on this front is Garçon Wines, who devised a flat bottle.The design still retains the traditional features and beauty of a standard wine bottle (a round shape from one angle and a long neck) but are 40% spatially smaller than glass bottles.
They are made from recycled PET material which is more lightweight and eco-friendly than glass, and is 100% recyclable after use. PET wine bottles are responsible for 77% less greenhouse gas emissions than glass and are 87% lighter than a 500g round glass bottle. In fact, each bottle saves more than 500g of CO2 across the supply chain due to its innovative shape and material.
Virgin PET is not a realistic alternative to all wine bottles, specifically lacking the properties for prolonged aging. However, PET can certainly provide a solution for the majority of wine produced – that which is drunk soon after bottling. The material is a moderate barrier to oxygen, and studies show that so long as the wine is drunk within six months to a year after bottling, consumers should have no concerns around oxidation.
A Fresh Approach To Packaging Unlocks Other Opportunities
Prioritizing efficiency in packaging solutions also unlocks other unexpected opportunities to drive sustainability and customer experience. The current inefficiency in wine packaging no doubt contributes to the hesitation of many winesellers to sell their products online—new solutions can make this easier and more cost-efficient.
For example, thinner bottles made from PET like those of Garçon Wines can be packaged to fit through letterboxes – reducing the carbon footprint of delivery and making life easier for the customer as the chance for a failed delivery is diminished.
So, is this the end of the wine bottle as we know it?
The company is also certified as Frustration Free Packaging (FFP) by Amazon which aims to “optimize the consumer experience by collaborating with manufacturers worldwide to invent sustainable packaging that delights customers, eliminates waste, and ensures products arrive intact and undamaged.” Going forward, minimizing packaging waste will be key in limiting environmental impact, appealing to conscious consumers, and driving customer experience.
So, is this the end of the wine bottle as we know it? Almost certainly not. While most of the wine drank globally today is consumed soon after purchase, more expensive collectors’ bottles that are purposefully aged will remain in the market. For these, the material must be glass and they are unlikely to be transported and delivered in bulk—so sticking to the traditional model will likely be the case for the foreseeable future.
However, if the wine industry is to move towards a more sustainable future, drastic changes in its inefficient packaging must take place. This shouldn’t be seen as a necessary inconvenience for producers: More sustainable packaging means not only less environmental impact and increased appeal to conscious consumers, but it also results in serious cost savings for the producers themselves.
Emilie has cultivated her palate through gaining her Diploma and Certified Educator from WSET, Certified Sommelier from CMS, HEG Certificate from Cordon Bleu, and is currently a Master of Wine Candidate. As Head of Education Asia & MEIA, she develops programs for front line staff across China, where her team trains thousands of drink enthusiasts across Asia. She currently serves as China Eastern Airlines Official Wine Consultant for First and Business Class.