New Wine In Old Bottles: The Greenest Way To Drink


Images via Inhabitat

Whenever there is a discussion about wine packaging, TreeHugger comes down on the side of local and refillable. We return often to TreeHugger Emeritus Ruben Anderson's article in the Tyee: New Wine in Old Bottles, where he notes that in France, wine bottles are refilled an average of eight times. Now they even have computerized wine dispensers where you can fill your own jugs with vin de table for about two bucks a litre.

It is much like filling up your car at the self-service gas station, and at 1.45 euros per litre, it is about the same price. (gas in France is 1.41 euros per litre). It isn't a new idea; Dr. Vino writes:

Astrid Terzian introduced this concept that hearkens back to a bygone era when wine would arrive in Paris shops in tonneaux and consumers would bring their own flagons to fill. But today, Terzian says, she started this scheme in fall 2008 to fill a niche, tapping into two key themes, environmental awareness and the economy.

Dr. Vino also suggests that the system is coming to the States within the year. But every time we have this discussion, people note that in the litigious USA, somebody will get sick and sue. There are people trying to do refillable bottles in America; Pend d'Oreille Winery sells wine in a refillable 1.5 litre jug. Wines and Vines writes:


The economic benefits have sweetened the environmental proposition that initially inspired the program. Since a local market for glass recyclables doesn't exist in Sandpoint, bottles were typically reintegrated with solid waste and sent to an Oregon landfill. Pend d'Oreille's program helps reduce that waste stream.

In British Columbia a lot of wineries are looking at refillable bottles.


Preliminary economic models developed by Dr. Ian Stuart of the Faculty of Management at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan in Kelowna pegged the per-bottle savings of the program at 46 cents (Canadian) per bottle (based on an annual flow of 840,000 bottles through the system). Smaller wineries typically pay between 85 cents to $1.20 Canadian (CA$1 = US$0.94) per new bottle.

In Michigan, you can bring your own bottles to Left Foot Charleys.

It's cheaper and better for the environment, obviously the greenest alternative. But what do we get peddled as green?

Boxes aren't Green

We noted earlier Ruben's wonderful article, where he questioned the green-ness of boxed wine, writing

While looking for wine in refilled bottles I had the misfortune to see one of those shrill displays of wine in Tetra Paks; this crap is being flogged as a "Green Solution." It's junk like this that drives me to the liquor store in the first place. Tetra Paks are here to save us because they weigh less, so less climate-changing diesel fuel is required to lug them across the ocean from Australia. Dear God, where to start?

He does go on, read the rest in Which Is Greener, Wine Bottle or Box? Neither.

TreeHugger Jenna, who does life cycle analyses for her day job, had a close look at boxed wine and concluded that it did have a lower carbon footprint than bottled.

Overall, the study concludes that the paperboard systems have the lowest total energy as well as the lowest greenhouse gas emissions; the glass systems have the highest total energy as well as the highest greenhouse gas emissions.

More in Hitting the Bottle or Hitting the Box? The Debate Continues

But as was noted in a post on the recycling of Tetra Pak,

Green is reusable. Green is refillable. Green is not disposable and downcylable, for the lucky 20% of Americans who have access to it, and landfill for the 80% who don't. Tetra Pak is the most elaborate greenwashing scheme ever, and they are doing a very good job of it.

(although I must point out that Pablo disagrees with me in his Defense of Tetrapak)

Others are trying to reduce their impact by putting wine in pouches, which are then put in a cardboard box. It is popular in Europe but has only six percent of the market in the USA, as everyone evidently thinks it is only for plonk suitable for rubbies. Alan Dufrêne, a wine consultant, blames the industry. "Don't put low quality wine in bag-in-box packaging," Dufrêne told wine makers. "It will only reduce its appeal." More in Which Is Greener, Wine Bottle or Box? Depends on the Box

PET Bottles were developed for the British market, so that yobs wouldn't kill each other at football games. Their claim is that they are lighter and smaller, taking less energy to ship. The 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." John isn't convinced and writes Marks & Spencer Delivers Wine in Plastic Bottles, but Is It Greener?

April wrote about Yealands Estate wine, packed in PET, noting that "its Full Circle sauvignon blanc bottles are 89% lighter than 750ml glass bottles, which means they generate 54% less greenhouse gas emissions and use nearly 20% less energy to produce than glass. " Ways to Wine: From Bottle to Box, Back to Bottle

April is also fond of wine in pouches, noting that they are a twentieth of the weight of glass, and quotes a study:

Even if 100% of wine bottles were recycled and 0% of wine pouches were recycled (because by the way, the mixed-material pouches are NOT currently recyclable) pouches would still have less environmental impact and contribute less waste.

It is a difficult issue. As Matt calculated in his post Ship or Truck Transport Makes All the Difference in Wine's Carbon Footprint , it doesn't really take a lot of energy to move wine by ship around the world. In fact, driving to the wine store probably has a bigger footprint than shipping the bottle from New Zealand. But it still takes a lot of energy to make a bottle or a box, energy that would be saved if we could refill our own jugs and bottles right from the tank. But notwithstanding Dr. Vino's optimism, I don't expect to see it any time soon.

Tags: Wine