Wine In A Box: The Greenest Way To Drink?

Wine Box image tetrapak

Image credit: George Ross, used under Creative Commons license.
Dear Pablo: I visited a winery called La Delizia located in Casarsa de la Delizia, north of Venice in Italy. They have started selling 3 litre boxed wines at US retail outlets. I'd like to know how the carbon footprint of La Delizia's 3 liter boxes compare to boxed wine from California, for instance, Turning Leaf Vineyards' 3 liter merlot, produced in Modesto, CA, or any other 3 liter California boxed wine. It would also be great to know how 3 liter boxed wines from other leading wine regions such as Austraila, South Africa and Chile would compare to those two.This was a question I received from a writer for E Magazine over two months ago. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to help her out but, since the story wasn't published until this week (See: Thinking Inside the Box: Winemakers Tackle Their Carbon Footprint), I was unable to write about the topic myself until now. My experience in the area of greenhouse gas emissions from wine production and distribution comes from a paper that I wrote together with Tyler Colman, author of the book A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season and wine blogger at, that was recently published in the Journal of Wine Research.

My analysis began by establishing the what information I needed, including the weights and types of packaging material, the distances traveled, and by which mode (train, truck, ship, etc.). The boxed wine (or bag-in-box as the industry calls it) begins its life in Italy, in the hills above Venice. From there it is trucked to port in a large tank, a distance of 90 miles. The wine is then shipped to the Port of Oakland in California on a container ship via the Panama Canal, a distance of 9,245 miles.From the Port of Oakland the wine is again trucked 75 miles to a facility in Ripon, California where it is packaged.

The bag-in-box (BiB) design itself is a highly engineered product, with a multilayer pouch that protects the wine oxidation and from exposure to light as well as the box, which must be strong enough to protect the bag during shipping. Compared to the weight of a glass wine bottle (620 grams), the BiB is a little bit lighter (470 grams). I was given access to proprietary information about the packaging and used lifecycle analysis to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, which added up to 1334 grams, compared to 618 grams for the glass, but it also contains four times as much wine (3 liters vs. 0.75 liters). Based on our work in the paper mentioned above, the emissions from producing a liter of wine are about 600 grams, so 1800 grams for the 3 liter boxed wine and 450 grams for the standard 0.75 liter glass bottle.

Not only does the BiB manufacturing represent lower greenhouse gas emissions, but also a lower per-unit weight. It turns out that the weight is actually one of the most important factors, especially when you are talking about a product that is consumed halfway around the world from where it is produced. My calculations show that the transportation of bulk wine to California result in 641 grams of greenhouse gas emissions, and that the trip to the East Coast adds an additional 391 grams. The total emissions for making, packaging, and transporting the BiB wine to a customer on the East Coast turns out to be 1171 grams per liter. The emissions from making, packaging, and transporting the wine in the heavier glass bottle that is shipped directly across the Atlantic come out to 1672 grams per liter.

Despite the longer transportation distance, the bulk-shipped wine in the lighter container has lower per-unit emission. If the wine were bulk-shipped to the East Coast and packaged there, the emissions would be even lower. Several wineries have undergone efforts to reduce their packaging weight recently. This can range from switching to TetraPak cartons, a thought that might repulse the wine snobs out there, to Fetzer's simple action of reducing the weight of their glass bottles by an average of 14%, saving almost 3,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Ask Pablo is a weekly column that aims to answer your pressing eco-quandries. Want to ask Pablo a question? Simply email Pablo(at)treehugger(dot)com. Wondering why Pablo's qualified to answer? As the Vice President of Greenhouse Gas Management at ClimateCHECK, he helps major corporations measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions.
Additional Resources on Sustainable Wine
French Rabbit: Savor the Wine, Save the Planet
NY Times on Boxed Wine
Yellow + Blue Wines Expands Its Use of Sustainable Tetra Pak Cartons
Drinking Outside the Box: Juice Boxes for Wine
Which Is Greener, Wine Bottle or Box? Depends on the Box

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