- Current debates about the climate impact of wine in glass bottles is heating up as studies show that the CO₂ footprint of wine in glass can be up to 10 times more than alternate packaging
- Several first-mover companies are offering innovative solutions in terms of material, form and delivery options. These range from premium recyclable Bag-in-Box to cardboard bottles with plastic inserts to stainless-steel kegs.
- Recycling and circular design is central to their business model with certification to verify the reduction in emissions along the product cycle Acceptance is increasing in the off-trade for environmentally conscious consumers. For the on-trade, there are many advantages in terms of flexibility, availability and reduced packaging waste, while being able to offer more wines by the glass.
- The trend is to premiumize the wines in these formats and shake off the earlier perception that plastic and paper packaging is only for simple wines.
In the past, it was considered environmentally conscious to buy drinks in glass bottles instead of plastic bottles or cans. In the meantime, glass no longer has a good reputation, at least in parts of the wine world - rightly so unfortunately, since in the vast majority of cases it is disposable glass.
Life Cycle Assessment of the Various Containers
An "ecological study of different packaging systems for beer" conducted by the IFEU Institute in 2010 confirmed that the returnable glass bottle (with 25 refills) had the best CO₂ balance with around 150 kg CO₂ equivalents per 1,000 litres of product. The disposable glass bottle, however, came last in the study with 350 kg, well behind the disposable PET bottle (240 kg) and the aluminium can (300 kg). These values all referred to 0.5-litre beer containers.
According to a 2019 study by climate protection expert Dr Helena Ponstein, the packaging accounts for 57% of the greenhouse gas emissions of a bottle of wine, the glass bottle alone for 47%. A study by Gaia Consulting, commissioned by Finnish alcohol monopoly Alko in 2018, puts the CO₂ emissions of 0.75l glass bottles at just over 600 g/l, while 0.75l PET bottles are around 245 g/l and 3l bag-in-box at around 70 g/l.
So it's time to take a closer look at alternative packaging options for wine.
Oliver Lea, Co-Founder and Managing Director, The BIB Wine Company
How high is the share of wines above 10 €/l in your bag-in-box sales?
If we talk about retail prices, it’s 100%.
Do you sell more through off-trade or on-trade channels?
We sell the majority of our wines directly to end consumers, a small part via on-trade/gastronomy. This market is growing, however, because you can clearly see the advantages in terms of flexibility, availability and reduced packaging waste, while at the same time you can offer more wines by the glass.
You also offer so-called "recycling bags" free of charge in your online shop, which customers can send back to you with the packaging leftovers. How does this work and what percentage of customers use this service?
Customers can add a free recycling bag with every order. This is then delivered to a specialist recycler who uses a carbon-saving process called 'carbon induced pyrolysis' to break down the bags and recover crude oils that can be used to make new packaging (or other goods). It is a repeatable process and we hope that one day we will no longer need our own system as something like this will be taken over by national/local recycling systems. Until then, however, we are happy to be able to trial the system. The uptake is good, but there is a delay in returning inlay bags and taps as most people save up and send them back collectively, 10 at a time. But we do the same with our taster boxes (Editor's note: BIB Wine offers tasting boxes for online wine tastings, which consist of a narrow package of six 100 ml plastic bags of wine) and the uptake here is over 80 per cent.
What is the CO₂ saving compared to an average glass bottle?
The CO₂ footprint is ten times lower than a normal glass bottle, but to put it in figures: about half a kilo on the bottle. In the UK, if we put all still wines in bag-in-box as well as sparkling wines in cans, we could save 750 mill. kgs of CO₂ emissions each year, which is roughly the amount we would save if there were 350,000 fewer cars on our roads. We refer to figures from studies commissioned by the Finnish alcohol monopoly Alko in 2018 and 2019.
Visually spectacular and already present on the market with renowned partners such as Château Galoupet or Accolade, are the flat plastic bottles from Packamama - some of which are also available as "letterbox wine" in a parcel mailing format that is designed to fit in any conventional letterbox. The company originally started under the name Garçon Wines and still operates partly under this name with its own wine brands.
In order to have a name for the packaging business that is less reminiscent of a wine producer, and thus could cause confusion, the packaging division was rebranded as Packamama, after Pachamama, the goddess Mother Earth for many indigenous peoples of South America. According to the company, Packamama bottles are made of 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which would put them far ahead of most disposable PET bottles.
Packamama: 77% Less Emissions
With regard to the CO₂ savings, Packamama refers on the one hand to the lower emissions during transport, since the plastic bottle, at only 63 gm, is significantly lighter than an average glass bottle. The flat shape also saves space - a relevant factor in times of container shortages in logistics. On the other hand, reference is made to a study by Franklin Associates from 2009, according to which even new (non-recycled) PET causes 77% less greenhouse emissions during production than glass and also requires 59% less energy.
A reduction of 46 - 53% CO₂ emissions on the product cycle.
On the entire product cycle of a wine bottle from its partner companies, Packamama indicates a reduction in CO₂ emissions of between 46 and 53%. According to CEO and founder Santiago Navarro, the recycled PET is obtained from various sources that are certified to the highest standards, depending on the place of production.
But isn't there a risk of increasing environmental pollution when consumers take the lightweight bottle on picnics, for example, and then dispose of it improperly in nature? Whilst he agrees that pollution from any packaging material is not acceptable, that is not the urgent problem at present, says Navarro, who sees global warming as having a far greater effect than pollution from plastic waste. He thinks "we will burn before we drown in any material".
The Cardboard Principle
When it comes to ecological packaging, one quickly thinks of cardboard as a material; brown, matt cardboard in particular is associated by many with organic, eco or sustainable. In the wine sector, too, there is packaging that works with cardboard (and a little plastic).
Relatively well-known and already established on the market is the Bag-InBox (BiB) principle, where the wine is sold in a carton whose interior is lined with a thin PET tube that draws a vacuum when wine is removed from the container via a plastic tap, thus preventing oxidation. Wines in BiB thus remain stable even after opening and can be drunk over a longer period of time.
Mostly, simpler wines are sold in these containers, but now leading companies like Bibovino (France) or The BIB Wine Company (Great Britain) are venturing into the topic of premium wines in BiB.
Frugal Bottle: 84% Less Emissions
The "Frugal Bottle" from the company Frugal Pac has been on the market since 2020. It combines the principle of the BiB (cardboard outside, thin PET inside) with the shape of a classic Bordeaux bottle. The company promises a reduction in CO₂ emissions of up to 84% compared to a conventional glass bottle. In addition, the emissions are one third lower than with a pure PET bottle. This is based on studies by the certification company Intertek.
The bottle consists of 94% recycled cardboard, currently mainly from Germany, and only 6% plastic (inlay bag and spout/lid) - according to the company 100% recycled PET. The weight is given as 83 g/bottle. Since the two materials, cardboard and plastic, have to be disposed of separately in order to enter the correct recycling cycle, the company has illustrated a three-step guide to the correct separation of the two materials on its website. Frugal Pac does not see much danger from carelessly discarded packaging either, as they believe consumers are responsible enough.
Wine in the "Frugal Bottle" remains stable in terms of taste and gas exchange for at least 12 months, according to test studies. Cantina Goccia from Umbria was the first winery to try out the bottles; in the meantime, other producers and brands have joined, also from the spirits industry.
"The first paper bottle wine proved so popular that it sold out completely on two occasions, with one retailer – Woodwinters in Scotland – selling its entire stock in one day. Today, our three paper bottle wines are sold in many European countries, including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy, Scandinavia, the UK and beyond to Japan and Canada.”
On Tap – Kegs
Wine on tap, from large stainless-steel barrels (called kegs) like beer, has been around in the restaurant trade for a while, but so far it has been more for lower qualities and "spritzer wines". The Frankfurt-based start-up Ebb & Flow Keg wants to change this and premiumise this form of packaging. They use classic stainless-steel kegs with a capacity of 20 l instead of plastic kegs, such as those offered by the company KeyKeg, even if they have a better CO₂ balance in the short term, as Ebb & Flow founder Philipp Neveling admits. In his view, this is put into perspective in the long term by the reusable use of the stainless-steel kegs, while the plastic kegs including inlay bags (similar to bag-in-box systems) have to be disposed of and recycled after use.
Flow Keg: 40% less emissions
The company provides its partner vintners - mostly low intervention producers - with the necessary filling equipment so that they can fill their wine into the kegs themselves. For the main target group of restaurateurs, the keg can simply be connected to a conventional beer tap.
This was analysed by the agency Zero Waste Your Life in 2021, which certified a CO₂ saving of 40% for the system compared to a 600-gram glass bottle.
Customers currently receive the kegs without having to pay a deposit. A deposit system is not ruled out for the future, but the reusable system works very well in the current framework, they say. The customer hardly has any price advantages over the same wines in glass bottles; Ebb & Flow rather wants to score points by simplifying the service when serving by the glass. Although the issue of sustainability is central, it hardly plays a role in marketing, admits Neveling. Nevertheless, new customers keep approaching the company of their own accord because they identify with the concept from this point of view as well.
It is encouraging that many concepts theoretically offer good opportunities to reduce the CO₂ footprint of wine. However, the market acceptance of alternative concepts will still have to be proven. Consumers, companies and legislators must ensure that functioning recycling cycles are created and used worldwide.
Realistically, the near future for wines that can age still belongs to the glass bottle; a Château Pétrus in the "Frugal Bottle" is rather difficult to imagine at the moment. However, for the much more numerous wines that come onto the market young and primarily fruity, retailers and producers could make a small contribution to climate protection within the scope of their possibilities - and think about alternative packaging.