The Grape Debate 01/24/11
Plastic-bottled wine is now better for our earth than glass-bottled wines. But, is it really the greener choice?
If you’ve found yourself standing in front of the Woolworths wine selection of late, you might have noticed the plastic wine bottle. Plastic?! I hear you ask. Yep, a wine bottle not made of glass, but plastic.
Intrigued, you might have read the labels on these bottles, all pointing to their eco-conscious, green reasons for turning to plastic. According to the Woolworths Good Business Journey 2010 report, the plastic bottle has “several green benefits: an overall reduction in shipping weight – and therefore carbon emissions – as it’s 80% lighter than a 750ml glass bottle; less energy consumption in its manufacture, compared to glass; and its smaller size results in savings in both transportation costs and storage space.”
I’ve seen both Backsberg and Woolworths offering this newly-packaged wine in plastic, claiming that the carbon footprint of the wine production process is reduced when compared to the manufacture and distribution of the glass bottle. Food24 says that Backsberg is the first winery to “reduce the packaging and transport of wine” which “contributes significantly to our carbon footprint”. It is therefore a greener choice than the common wine-in-glass bottle.
I follow the green trend to find alternatives to plastic packaging, and if you follow the plastic bottle debate, you will know that the use of plastic is questionable. It is not only filling up our landfills at an alarming rate (plastic takes years to breakdown), but is also filling up our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gigantic floating rubbish dump of plastic… Bizarre eh?
I drink my daily water out of a BPA-free bottle, rather than reusing a plastic water bottle. I do this so I can potentially avoid plastic that leeches chemicals into the water. Also, I don’t want to contribute wherever possible to polluting our earth by throwing away plastic water bottles – what an expensive and wasteful exercise!
So when I saw these plastic wine bottles under the label “greener” and “better for the earth”, I questioned this. What happens if the bottle is exposed to heat/sun during the distribution process? What happens to all the plastic bottles once the wine is finished? How many of us really recycle and will be encouraged to do so with these wine bottles?
Interestingly, when comparing the carbon footprint of glass versus plastic, plastic comes out tops according to this study and comparison, but no factors such as recycling or leeching are taken into account. Another study graphs its findings, showing you the impact of glass versus plastic. It claims that PET 1 bottles, used for wine, are safe and protected against leeching… Both studies therefore support the fact that plastic-bottled wine is a better choice than glasss for reducing the carbon footprint of the wine process and production. If you don’t recycle though, you could be contributing to the pollution problem…Question that you need to decide for yourself is, is simply reducing your carbon footprint good enough in purchasing this wine, if you don’t recycle?
There are also a whole bunch of cultural concerns to take into account – Will the traditionalists stay true to the established feel and weight and look that glass gives wine? Does plastic make wine more accessible, or does it ‘cheapen’ the concept? For example, if given the option between boxed wine or glassed wine – wouldn’t you rather choose the glass wine? If you look at the string of comments on Food24 it becomes apparent that many are in favour of this new concept.
Personally, what I would love to find out, is how much profit is made using PET bottles for wine rather than glass, if any at all. Is it purely a green choice, or is there some margin of profit involved? It seems a great marketing point, I mean, wouldn’t you rather take a light-weighted Sauvignon Blanc in your picnic basket rather than a heavy glass one that needs to be lugged around? And isn’t it cool to say to your friends you are being oh-so-green by reducing your carbon footprint drinking plastic-bottled wine, new to South Africa? Indeed it seems like the perfect marketing tool… If it is cheaper to manufacture PET-bottled wines rather than glass and call your wines “green”, then I have a feeling you’ll have to start getting used to the idea as more wineries jump on the band wagon.
After all the considerations and questions I had, the only conclusion I can draw is that although buying plastic-bottled wine reduces your carbon footprint, there seems to be little research into what happens to the plastic once the wine is consumed. At the end of the day, it is your sipping preference, lifestyle and impact on the earth that you need to consider before taking the gulp.