Marks & Spencer Delivers Wine in Plastic Bottles, but Is It Greener?


"Marks & Spencer is the first UK supermarket to convert its 25cl wine bottles to environmentally friendly plastic. Photo: Christopher Thomond" Image & caption credit:Guardian

Alcoholic beverage distributors have long wanted to sell small bottles of wine into sports venues, at the beach, and for picnics. In part, it's been a hard sell because of the perception that people will smash glass bottles, ruining the venue. Plastic containers may help change that perception. To speed up access to the market, wine sellers are now offering 'green' plastic bottles, starting with the "mini" sized ones. This wasn't drop-in replacement, as standard PET plastic bottles are permeable to oxygen; and oxygen is the enemy of fine wine and quality beer. (Glass also seems to keep the chill on longer; but that's a story for another day.)Finding just the right material to scavenge oxygen as it moves through a plastic bottle wall, serving as an indirect 'barrier,' has been the Holy Grail of wine & beer bottlers for years. Google "oxygen scavenger polymer bottle" and you'll see a deluge of patents. Someone must have recently found the Chardonnay Grail, I'd say, having just read Marks & Spencer's mini wine range goes a shade greener with plastic bottles. One might assume that these "greener" bottles would be compatible with existing PET recycling processes. Or...not.

From an Environmental Leader story on the same topic: Marks & Spencer Converts Glass Wine Bottles to Eco-Friendly Plastic

It took two years to produce the MLP PET for wine bottles, which is made with two layers of polyethylene terephthalate and a barrier material in between that blocks oxygen from entering the bottles.
Would such an oxygen barrier layer be a barrier to PET recycling? We are not told by either source; moving my bovine excrement detector (B.E.D.) needle toward the brown zone.

Plastic is much lighter than glass, which saves money and energy for bottle distributors. Who knew? One more excerpt from Environmental Leader coverage:

The mini bottles are 88 percent lighter than glass bottles, and use less energy to manufacture than glass bottles. The lightweight plastic bottles also reduce distribution emissions.
Do plastic bottles embody less energy than bottles made largely of recycled glass? Again, this is not specifically addressed. Needle moving farther.

A burning question.
In Europe, burning plastic bottles for "energy recovery" has long been counted as 'recycling.' Bogus; but they do it. If the balance sheet of energy inputs and outputs includes an "energy recovery" credit for bottle burning, no doubt plastic bottles will win out over glass on energy, regardless of recycled content, glass being non-combustible. On the other hand, burning plastic bottles for energy recovery increases the carbon footprint substantially. To size 17 D+ no doubt. Detector needle way into the brown zone.

Scaling is everything.
As bottles become smaller, packaging increasingly dominates the total proportion by weight and volume of the item. Consider a small bottle of perfume, for example. Perhaps 70% of the weight of the small perfume bottle is packaging. You pay more per unit purchased and consume more packaging per unit purchased. Apply this principle to the wine "mini bottle' which has more plastic per cc of wine sold than a liter bottle does.

Why is it consumer marketers are so focused on "individual servings" - as in the mini-bottle. It's more environmentally 'friendly' and just plain friendlier to share a full liter with someone. Guessing it's a marketing technique to work around the public-drunkenness-acceptability thing. But honest officer, I only had a mini bottle; so how can you possibly accuse me of streaking across the field?

Let's see if the mini makers have anything to add.

Tags: Bottled Water | Wine