Move on from glass bottles

It’s time for wineries to offer greener packaging.

B.C. wineries need to reduce their carbon footprint by replacing glass bottles with greener packaging. Glass bottles account for almost 30% of the industry’s lifecycle GHG emissions. This impact can be largely eliminated by shifting to alternative forms of packaging, such as cans, pouches, bag-in-box, PET bottles, kegs and aluminum growlers.

B.C. wine producers are strenuously resisting change. Currently, almost all B.C. wine is sold in 750 ml single use glass bottles.

Twice recently, in industry plebiscites, B.C. wine growers voted to keep in place archaic laws that prohibit the use of alternative packaging for B.C. VQA wines. The result of these plebiscites, because of the interplay between the VQA rules and the BCLDB’s quality assurance rebate rules, is to effectively make it cost prohibitive for commercial wineries to offer wine in alternative packaging.

This has to change. Government policy should not disadvantage any winery offering greener packaging.

B.C. wine producers have to stop perpetuating the myth that good wine has to come in a heavy glass bottle with a deep punt and broad shoulders. There is nothing wrong with the use of PET plastic, bag-in-box or aluminum cans for day-to-day wines. Glass should be reserved for collector wines intended to be cellared.

Ninety per cent of wines are consumed within two weeks of purchase. The modern consumer wants products that align with his, her or their environmental values and goals for healthy living. But they are not being offered the products they want by B.C.’s VQA wine producers.

B.C. wineries need to start offering consumers greener packaging. Those who do will not only receive accolades from their customers but will avoid the skyrocketing costs and supply issues associated wth sourcing glass containers. At a minimum, they need to start using lighter (300- to 500-gram) bottles with a high “cullet” or recycled content.

The preferred alternative is eco-flat bottles made from 100% recycled PET, the material currently used for pop bottles. These bottles are energy efficient to manufacture and to recycle and are compact and light to ship. They weigh on average 87% less than conventional bottles and take up 40% less space. Recycled PET produces 79 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and uses 90 percent less energy to produce. PET is the most commonly recycled material in the world, with a recovery rate of 75% for the return of PET beverage containers in Canada.

Another alternative is bag-in-box containers. They are five times lighter than the equivalent volume of glass bottles and use six times less carbon and energy to produce and dispose of. Bag-in-box cuts carbon emissions by 84 percent relative to using glass bottles.

If wine producers do not step up and voluntarily offer consumers more environmentally friendly packaging, regulators will have to step in and force change. If this happens, the outcome is likely to be far more cumbersome and far less than ideal than if industry designed and implemented solutions.

One way for regulators to go would be to mandate reusable bottles, as they have for beer bottles. The average beer bottle in Canada is reused 17 times.

Bottles would have to be made more durable, shapes standardized and there would have to be a return to the use of water solvable glues for labels. But wineries would suffer the burden of collecting, cleaning and storing returned bottles.

All this—and evidence from other jurisdictions—shows that such a refill program would be relatively ineffective as only a fraction of glass bottles are actually returned and refilled.

Consumer insistence on greener packaging, together with cost pressures, will force B.C. VQA wine makers to shift away from glass bottles within the next two to three years.

It will be interesting to see who in the industry steps up to provide leadership on this important issue.

Al Hudec, Oliver

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