Writing in a recent edition of VinePair, Samantha Maxwell makes the following observation: “Sustainability is a buzzword in every industry, but when it’s used in reference to wine, there’s an immediate association with organic vineyards, biodynamics, and the ever-elusive concept of “natural” wine. Until recently, every time I carried my clanging, beautifully labeled bottles from the nearest natural wine shop home in my canvas tote, I would revel in my eco-friendliness knowing that I had avoided the mass-produced juice I used to drink straight from the spigot when I was in my college years”.
Maxwell continues: “As it turns out, I am not the wine-sipping environmental warrior I had imagined myself to be. Because while responsible farming practices may be important in producing wines that have a minimal negative impact on the environment, sustainability in the wine world comes down to the packaging just as much as the wine itself. And though glass may appear to be the better option, those pretty bottles you keep long after the wine has been consumed are not that great for the environment.”
Sarah Trubnick, founder of Northeast Wine Company and owner of San Francisco’s “The Barrel Room”, has a background in science but is now firmly entrenched in the wine world. She says that of all the ways wine can be packaged, “glass is the worst, hands down.” And although age-worthy wines may require glass packaging, there’s no reason that young, ready-to-drink wines couldn’t be packaged in other materials.
Glass’s lack of sustainability has many causes, but it all starts with the production of the material itself. While cans, plastic, and cardboard can be produced with renewable energy sources like hydroelectric or solar power, glass must be smelted, a process that requires natural gas. This automatically puts glass at a disadvantage on the sustainability front. But it doesn’t end there. An ability to be recycled is also an important consideration. Trubnick says that recycling aluminum is significantly easier than recycling glass. In fact, when you throw a glass wine bottle in the recycling bin, “you’re looking at maybe a third of the glass in your glass bottle being recycled,” she says. And that’s if those bottles are even recycled in the first place. As of 2018, the EPA found that less than 40 percent of glass wine and liquor bottles made it into the recycling bin. Considering that bottles are so heavy, some consumers don’t even bother hauling them to the bin. Cans and cardboard boxes, on the other hand, are easier to smash and break down, respectively, making them simpler for consumers to dispose of properly.
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