Ways to Wine: From Bottle to Box, Back to Bottle


Photo via Yealand's Estate.
When a winery says it is striving to become the world's most sustainable, and then says it plans to ship its organic sauvignon blanc in PET plastic, well, it definitely needs more explanation. Are we going to have that wine bottle versus box debate all over again, with a plastic bottle added to the life cycle analysis? The answer, at least at Yealand's Estate, seems to be yes, we are.

Photo Yealand's Estate.

Plastic bottles produce less CO2

New Zealand's Yealand's Estate says 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. As TreeHugger Jenna noted here, in a life cycle inventory analysis of delivery of 1,000 liters of wine, glass comes out worst and Tetra Paks fare best.

Full Circle says it has gotten around wine critics who sneer at plastic for wine because of the damaging effects of oxygen on taste and quality by having a "best by" date 18 months after bottling. The company says it is using "oxygen scavengers" in a layer inside the PEt bottle to keep the sauvignon blanc tasting as it should. However, this skirts an issue which has followed the PET bottle industry - possible phthalate or estrogenic chemical leaching from the bottles when they are exposed to heat and light.

But Yealands maintains that wine in PET plastic is going to become more popular as we all try to reduce the carbon emissions of the products we use. Exporting the sauvignon blanc in PET plastic allows 72 cases of wine to fit on a pallet as compared to 56 cases of glass-bottled wine.


Guinea pigs and recycled glass

Yealand's owner Peter Yealand has tried quite a few strategies to make his New Zealand winery sustainable, including using sheep instead of mechanical mowers to keep rows free of weeds. The sheep developed a taste for the grapes, however, so Yealand then experimented with guinea pigs, which proved unfeasible for the 1,000-hectare winery. Now he's trying miniature babydoll sheep, which at 45/60 centimeters tall shouldn't be able to reach the vines, Yealand says. He also uses solar and wind power at the winery, pine needle oil for herbicide, and harvests stormwater for irrigation.

All these practice have earned the winery a carboNZero local certification by New Zealand's Landcare Research organization, which means the winery has measured and offset all of its CO2 emissions since its first day of operation.

Back to the bottle
Now that wine comes in so many different packages - glass bottle, plastic bottle, Tetra Pak, and bag-in-box, it may seem difficult at in the shopping aisle to determine which vino is earth friendliest. As Pablo Paster notes, weight really matters when we are talking carbon footprint, even when wines are shipped long distances. Plastic may end up being the CO2-friendliest option for lower weight, especially the wine bottles get recycled. Now we just have to wait for the life cycle inventory folks to catch up with their take on glass versus box versus Tetra Pak versus plastic.

Note: A recent study (cited in comments) suggests PET plastic does not leach into carbonated or still water even when subjected to high temperatures over long times.

Read more about what you should drink your wine from at TreeHugger
Which is Greener, Wine Bottle or Box? Depends on the Box
Which is Greener, Wine Bottle or Box? Neither
Hitting the Bottle or Hitting the Box? The Debate Continues