The latest in sustainable drinks packaging

What will the drinks packs of the future look like? Lucy Britner reports from the recent Act for Change symposium in Bordeaux

Glass. That’s the answer to the question: What will be the main type of packaging for wine and spirits in 2030? In June, Lulie Halstead, co-founder of Wine Intelligence IWSR; Rob Malin, founder of When in Rome; Damien Barton, co-manager of Bordeaux’s Barton Family Wines; and James Law, director of brand development at East London Liquor Company, took part in Vinexposium’s Act for Change symposium panel discussion about the future of sustainable packaging. 

Halstead sets the scene with some sobering stats about consumer attitudes towards drinks packaging and sustainability. In the UK, while 56% of regular wine drinkers have a high connection to sustainability, only 17% have a high connection to sustainable wines, she explains. 

And Halstead’s slides also reveal that 59% (across Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, the US and the UK) believe that glass bottles are a sustainable form of wine packaging. 

“Why do consumers think glass is sustainable? Because we recycle it,” Halstead says. “And if we’re doing a physical action, we remember it much more.” 

But when it comes to bag-in-box, only 37% regard the format as sustainable. Malin, whose When in Rome brand is packaged in bag-in-box and now also paper bottles, says he was a little shocked by the revelation. 

“It brings it home that we still have work to do to convert consumers to the formats we use,” he says. “Thirty-nine per cent of the wine industry’s emissions come from single-use glass bottles. Our mission is to convert consumers to formats that have a carbon advantage.” 

Malin says his new paper bottles have a plastic lining, much the same as bag-in-box, and that the development of the packs “taught us an awful lot about the way consumers perceive packaging”. 

“We tried a PET bottle, which was a fabulous solution, but we found it really difficult – consumers struggle with the perception of that product. People really bonded with the paper bottle and the carbon footprint of it is six times less than a single-use glass bottle.” 

For Barton, glass isn’t always single-use, and he works as part of Sustainable Wine Solutions on a bottle return scheme, which operates through London’s Borough Wines. The bottles, identifiable by a white stripe of paint, can be returned, sterilised and reused around 30 times. He ships his wine in bulk to the UK so the bottles can be refilled in market. 

WEIGHT ISSUES

The Barton dynasty has been making wine in St Julien for about 200 years and Barton says he began to examine the weight of glass bottles as well as the transport from production to consumer. 

“That’s where the carbon footprint is,” he says. “You have organic producers who brag about being organic but then they have a bottle that weighs 1kg empty, which makes no sense at all.” 

Even though Barton’s scheme makes it clear the bottles are returnable, he says the expectation of getting 80% back falls very short and the producer currently only gets about 20% back. 

“There’s work to do there,” he admits. “There’s a lot of work on education first to understand that sustainability is not in the vineyard in terms of organic, it’s somewhere else. And also, that it’s great to buy a sustainable bottle but it only works if you bring the bottle back.” 

At East London Liquor Co, there’s no need to return a bottle. The company will refill any clean 70cl spirits bottle with its product and put its label and duty stamp over the existing label. 

Law tells the symposium that ELLC didn’t want to create more new bottles than absolutely necessary when there are plenty in existence. 

“We thought, you know what, there are enough bottles in the world. And we know that in the US, only 13% of glass liquid containers get recycled, which is absolutely insane,” he says. 

“In the UK, 85% of glass that is recycled doesn’t get turned into new bottles, it’s actually used as an aggregate in building more roads.” 

ELLC’s refilled bottles have been making an appearance on social media but Law says he’s yet to hear from any of the original brand owners. 

“There’s almost a built-in force field that stops that happening as long as we don’t abuse their IP or call them out for any particular bad behaviour, which we would never do. We’re not here to trash the competition. We’re just here to give consumers an opportunity to reuse those billions of bottles that already exist.” He also mentions greenwashing and adds that some of the big companies’ profit-over-planet approaches will have to change. 

As the session progresses, talk turns to the relevance of the glass bottle. The panel praises Jancis Robinson for including bottle weights in wine reviews but Halstead points out that her research finds some consumers believe heavier bottles contain more wine. 

When in Rome’s Malin also highlights the complex relationship consumers have with quality perception and bulk products such as bag-in-box. He says that, although the latest paper bottle has a larger carbon footprint than his bag-in-box, it’s an important stepping stone. 

“We made the bottle the shape of a glass bottle and people just relate to it more.” 

Both Barton and Malin agree that some appellation rules will have to change to accommodate more packaging options – and governments will need to get more involved – but for now, the conclusion is that by 2030, most wine and spirits will still be packaged in glass bottles. Though if Barton and Law have anything to do with it, they will be refills. 

 

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