6 Green Ways to Bottle Wine

The truth behind wine packaging


Winemakers continue to make many decisions that impact the environment well after the wine has been made. Both container choices and closure choices have implications on both the wine’s quality and carbon footprint. This might seem inconsequential at first, much like the roll inside of a roll of toilet paper, but when they are multiplied across all consumers of wine they can definitely add up. The roll inside the toilet paper can as well, but I moved on from there, try to keep up.

Today, we’ll take a look at the various containers used for the sale of wine and consider the implication of each on both the wine and the environment. One has to keep in mind that shifting from one form of container to another is an expensive proposition, accounting for much of the resistance to and denigrating of various alternate forms of containers.

Photo courtesy Tricia Wang via Flickr/CC

The wine bottle

The wine bottle is the classic wine container. It’s generally strong, recyclable, recycled, neutral and adds considerable heft to a package of wine. This helps to protect the wine from sudden changes in temperature. In addition, wine bottles can be colored to help protect wines from harmful UV rays and light.

On the negative side, glass is heavy to ship, is irregularly shaped, not inexpensive and breaks with some frequency. In general, each of these issues is less important as the bottle size goes up, so there’s a powerful reason to be buying more magnums! For cellarable wines, I can’t foresee anything ever challenging the dominance of the glass bottle. Regardless, this does not make it the best container for every wine!

Photo courtesy chahayes via Flickr/CC

The plastic bottle

The plastic wine bottle is floating out there on the fringes, and for good reason. Take a glass bottle, remove all the positive attributes, make the negatives worse (with the exception of durability) and voila, plastic wine bottle.

These are expensive, are made of plastic and probably will end up in a dump. Seriously, the best use for one would be to drill a pair of holes in it and donate it to your favorite college student.

Photo courtesy mrlerone via Flickr/CC

The wine can

While still a relatively new phenomenon, wine in cans is probably here to stay. Though the name is a bit of a misnomer, since the can is actually lined with food grade plastic, the can offers considerable protection to the wine, blocking out light as well as oxygen. Cans can be made from post-consumer waste and are generally recycled at a high rate.

On the negative side, cans ,while recyclable, can be expensive. This is particularly true when produced in the relatively small batches these wine cans have been made in. Also, the aluminum can is a good conductor of heat with little glass, offering minimal protection against rapid changes in temperature.

Photo courtesy Petezin via Flickr/CC

The wine bag

Some producers have pretty much done away with the box and are now selling pouches of wine. Like cans, these pouches are good for blocking out light and do a very good job of preventing oxygen from interacting with the wine, but offer minimal protection against temperature fluctuations.

They are awfully convenient though, and are economical to ship since the bags weigh next to nothing. I do not believe that the bags are recyclable.

Photo courtesy monojussi via Flickr/CC

The bag in box

The bag in box is generally similar to the simple bag. There are some additional costs involved, but the main difference between the wine bag and bag in box is the volume of wine stored.

With the increase of wine found in a typical bag in box, the issue of rapid temperature swings is somewhat ameliorated. Also, the generally smaller size of the bag in relation to the volume of wine means less trash. The box of course can be recycled. Bag in box wine also has a mighty fine reputation for lasting weeks after opening, a distinct benefit. The opposing side to this is that the life of the wine before opening might only stretch out to a year or two, making this a poor choice for long term storage.

Photo courtesy Wineberry

The keg

Kegs of wine, primarily for wine by the glass programs, are catching on big time. Kegs are the ideal storage vessel for this type of use. They are big,have significant thermal mass, are reusable as well as recyclable, are lined with food grade plastics to keep the wine fresh and untainted, and protect from light and oxygen. Also they are dense, allowing for reduced shipping costs. What more could you ask for?

Well if there is a drawback, that is it, that there is more. There are gallons of wine to use and a relatively expensive and specialized dispensing system to deal with. Since wine wouldn’t like the CO2 used for most draft beer systems, nitrogen is typically used. Still, for its limited use, there is no better way to ship and sell wine. If this country begins to allow bulk wine sales, where we can mosey on over to the local store with bottles in hand to fill up on the wine du jour, I would expect kegs to absolutely explode. Bad choice of words, but you get the picture.

Photo courtesy Guttorm Flatabo via Flickr/CC

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  • Snooth User: Kyle Graynor
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    455797 7,460

    Wait, there's really no benefit to the plastic bottles, and they're expensive? I would assume that they would be LESS expensive!

    I've had great experiences with boxed wine, with it lasting for over a week without any negative changes in taste. If bagged wine is the same (I assume it would be, since it's just sans the box), then I should definitely start looking into that.

    Oct 20, 2011 at 12:21 PM

  • Snooth User: kme2010
    482454 14

    "...The roll inside the toilet paper can as well, but I moved on from there, try to keep up."
    I'm up! I'm up!
    Recycled ANY [paper] roll, wedged between the wires, will keep your budgie, parakeet, parrot, lovebird happy for hours on end. [Better yet -- while they last! -- our condo-dwelling friends regularly collect unloved doorstop-size telephone directors (phone books, yep), which our African Grey readily devours, a book a week.] Extra bonus points for phone books: the drifting newsprint shreds have a static charge which attracts bird dander and keeps her corner of the living room clean...
    Oh, and, back on topic [a bit] -- she much prefers destroying used corks to snapping bottle caps with her hookbill.
    As for yours truly, when the contents finally catch up to the concept, I am all for doing the box. I "pour"my salad's EVOO from a five litre fusti sitting on an open shelf in my kitchen. Why not the glass to go with it?

    Oct 20, 2011 at 12:41 PM

  • Snooth User: vin4u
    255696 30

    Gregory, shame on you for allowing such obvious misinformation on alternative packaging to be published on Snooth! Plastic (PET) for wine bottles has been the choice for airlines for over 5 years now. The trend is growing into production of 750ml PET wine bottles that are very suitable for the beach, pool, concert venues and other places where glass is prohibited or undesirable. The plastic (PET) is food contact grade, FDA and EU compliant and contains an oxygen barrier that protects wine for up to 2 years. See http://www.outdoorwino.com for a current example of this remarkable package. The package uses less energy to produce than glass and saves 1/3 in weight in shipping. Also no breakage!

    Oct 20, 2011 at 2:10 PM

  • Snooth User: istephen
    565932 8

    Here in Ontario, we also have wine in TetraPaks.

    I am concerned about non-sparkling table wines still being packaged in very heavy glass. It isn't justified, in light of the climate change crisis. Similarly, why is so much aluminum being used in packaging, when it's not currently recyclable. (In any case, it's more environmental to NOT overpackage in the first place).

    Oct 20, 2011 at 3:50 PM

  • Wine in a box?

    Is that like cigars in a bottle?


    Oct 20, 2011 at 3:50 PM

  • Snooth User: gardenchic
    950605 137

    I hate the tetra paks, i refuse to buy them, bottles for me, call me old school, great, i am old, I WANT MY BOTTLE AND CORK!

    Oct 20, 2011 at 5:35 PM

  • At Municipal Winemakers (in Santa Barbara, CA) we have refillable wine growlers. A liter bottle, customers take them home and bring them back to be sanitized and refilled. Also, at $20 for a refill it's good for the wallet too. http://www.municipalwinemakers.com

    Oct 20, 2011 at 6:18 PM

  • Why not recyclable glass bottles? The milk industry did it and ...I remember buying gallon size bottles of wine from the Napa Valley wineries like Sam Sebastiani.in the 40's-50's. Of course , we brought our own clean jugs. With a little bit of design and planning a system can be both green and economic.

    Oct 20, 2011 at 6:18 PM

  • Snooth User: gardenchic
    950605 137

    we take our glass wine bottles back, i am in ONTARIO CANADA,,,some times it is a bit embarrassing,,,, how much do you drink??? i like it tho,,,they pay 5 cents, well each bottle is different.

    Oct 20, 2011 at 7:22 PM

  • considering wine sales are regulated by state, not sure we could as a country could introduce regulations on bottle / container production...I've only ever had wine out of a bottle but after reading this will specifically seek out one of these alternatives. Thanks GDP! -- Tina

    Oct 21, 2011 at 9:44 AM

  • No mention of Tetra Pak --- how come?
    Nay Saywell, Maine

    Oct 26, 2011 at 11:58 AM

  • I run a small Organic Fruit Winery in Maine; Shalom Orchard.
    I would love it if there was a few varieties of
    a 'standardized' wine bottle (I mostly use Bordeaux)
    That I could get from the recyclers, thoroughly
    clean and sanitize and reuse! I do recycle my
    own bottles for my own consumption, but then
    I know what was in them, and know they were
    promptly and thoroughly cleaned. I don't know
    how the Public would like the idea of reusing
    Wine bottles... Jim

    Oct 26, 2011 at 6:34 PM

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