Over the past couple of weeks (whilst I have been avoiding writing the next in the sustainability and wine series for these pages) there have been some interesting goings-on in the space of sustainability and wine.
One of my hobby-horses, or it would probably be better described as a hobby-sheep given the amount I bleat on about it, is wine packaging – the glass bottle. There is still a head in the sand (pun intended) mentality when it comes to the way many wine producers, and quite frankly the wine trade in general, view the container in which wine is stored. The view that heaviest is best is a throw back to a time when wine was an elitist aspiration, enjoyed by ruddy faced men wearing cravats and also quite possibly a time prior to this when more robust heavier bottles were actually favourable because they were made to be reused many times over.
But times have changed and today it is unacceptable and costly for packaging to approach the same weight as the product it holds. And without laying judgment as to ones reverence to the product inside, from a packaging perspective wine is just another fast moving consumer good with a disposable container.
These thoughts would have certainly been at the front of the LCBO’s mind this week when they announced that wine in their under $15 CAD price bracket will need to be packaged in bottles weighing 420 grams or less from 2013 onwards. As the largest purchaser of beverage alcohol in the world this new policy has the potential to not only dramatically reduce GHG emissions from the wine sector but it could also quite possibly change the way that wine is packaged and transported around the globe. But I still think that it’s a shame they didn’t go all out and decree that all table wines need to make the change as this would go a long way to changing consumer attitudes which incorrectly assume that wine in lighter or alternate packaging is inferior in quality. To their credit though, the LCBO have said that they will give buying preference to wines in the higher price categories that make efforts to lower glass weight.
Ironically this announcement comes shortly after a conversation I had with Rebecca Gibb for an article she was writing for the New Zealand Herald on wines in lighter bottles. Rebecca is an award winning journalist and Decanter’s New Zealand Wine Correspondent – she was genuinely surprised that New Zealand was not leading the way in glass light weighting. If the current status-quo is kept, residents of Ontario will need to find other options from 2013 onwards as New Zealand glass will fail to meet the 420 gram threshold by 30 grams.
Alternate packaging also crept into our conversation. I am a strong advocate for the wine industry to break with convention and embrace a new, more sustainable wine packaging solution. There are a number of solutions available now – PET, Tetra and Pouches. Yealands Estate, a sustainability pioneer I work closely with here in New Zealand, are now starting to look at plant based plastic solutions for their range of wines packaged in PET under their Full Circle brand.
So what is the big issue with glass? Well the carbon footprint and energy associated with glass is a very significant part of the product life cycle. Even in New Zealand, where we have access to a large amount of renewable energy and good glass recycling programmes (glass plants with access to low renewable energy and low glass recycling will have a significantly worse carbon footprint), glass makes up over 40% of the life cycle carbon footprint of a wine shipped to the UK. If you also include the upstream and downstream emissions from transportation (e.g. it takes more diesel and bunker fuel to transport heavier packaging) this number pushes in excess of 50% – and these numbers are from an assessment using the lightest possible glass available in New Zealand.
These numbers are incredible and must pose a massive threat to the container glass industry, well at least in the single use sense. An associate of mine made a great point the other day that glass is not actually environmentally bad, it is the fact that it is used only once nowadays that is the issue. After all the Grolsch bottle when used in Denmark must be one of the most environmentally sustainable packages in the world.
So reach for the lighter bottle, and if you are worried about the perception of it at the dinner party table, you could put to use your dusty decanter!
Roger Kerrison is a consultant who works in the Food and Beverage industry in the fields of design, development, systems and management in sustainability for Asia Pacific consultancy Aura Sustainability.