We’re sure that when the first wheel was made, someone wondered out loud if it would work better if it was a hexagon shape. So it is with wine bottles. First we had plastic bottles, now someone has decided wine will be more environmentally friendly if it is delivered in paper bottles.
It’s a noble idea, but let’s just get one thing out of the way quickly – unlike glass and liquids, paper and liquids don’t mix well. That’s why the ‘paper bottle’ is actually lined with plastic. So your wine is not packaged in compostable paper, it’s really packaged in plastic which may contain Bisphenol-A (BPA) or other chemicals.
Glass is not a chemistry experiment
Glass wine bottles do not need plastic linings to keep their contents safe and drinkable. Unlike plastics, glass does not react with the contents of the bottle and no substances are leached into the wine. And in glass, the wine can stay fresh for many decades. A study by the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV) in Bordeaux, France, found that the flavour and chemical composition of white wine changed within six months of being packed into single- and multi-layer PET bottles, or a bag-in-a-box. In glass bottles, wine actually tastes like wine, not a chemistry experiment.
The paper bottle’s makers argue that their version is lighter than glass bottles and therefore it reduces emissions – particularly during transport. Paper is lighter than glass, even when it comes with a plastic lining. But weight is not the only issue consumers should consider. Research by UK-based resource efficiency experts WRAP (see Study Reveals Carbon Impact of Bottling Australian Wine in the UK in PET and Glass Bottles) showed that “… the higher CO2 emissions arising for PET from manufacture offset much of the savings obtained from its low weight.”
When talking about weight and comparing materials, a number of parameters must be taken into account in order to compare like with like. For example, is the packaging locally produced? Is it fully and effectively recycled locally or exported to third-party countries for processing? What is the recycled content of the packaging? The list of parameters goes on and on. Simply claiming your material is the most environmentally friendly doesn’t make it so.
Glass is the consumer’s choice
Unlike plastic, glass is made from sand and other naturally occurring raw materials. It is produced in local glass factories, near to where it will be filled. Glass is also 100% and infinitely recyclable in an effective local bottle-to-bottle system. And talking about weight, glass is now much lighter and stronger than it was 20 years ago. New glass bottles weigh about 300 g, a saving of 40% in just two decades, and the industry is working hard to make them even lighter and stronger than ever before.
There’s also the matter of style. Can you really see yourself ordering wine in a paper bottle at a restaurant? Perhaps you can start by asking for plastic glasses next time you go out to see how it will feel. Glass adds class!
Switching from glass to plastics in the name of the environment makes glass the scapegoat. But it doesn’t necessarily reduce waste or the impact of packaging on the environment. By using arguments such as weight or breakability to define a ‘greener choice’, packaging decision makers are neglecting the bigger picture, and the voices of their consumers.
A recent independent survey of more than 8,000 consumers across 17 European countries found that 74% prefer glass as their packaging material (InSites, 2010). A clear majority (65%) choose glass because it best preserves the taste of the food or beverage it contains. And for special occasion beverages, 79% of respondents choose glass. This is one of the main reasons why wine producers pack their vintages in glass bottles.
But what do you think about buying your wine in paper bottles? Are they all they are cut out to be? Vote for your preferred type of wine bottle on Facebook and let us know:
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