Plastic push for wine

It’s got a bad rep for many reasons, but one winery owner thinks plastic is the way forward for more sustainable bottling.

An increasing number of wineries around the globe have now outlined plans to reach net carbon zero. It makes sense – if businesses are serious about positive climate action, they will have to do something about the most prevalent manmade greenhouse gas emission – carbon dioxide.

According to a study conducted by International Wineries for Climate Action, the combined impact of packaging and transportation accounts for more than 40% of a given winery’s climate emissions, with glass being the most important factor.

In Romania, the Cramele Recas winery has developed a potential solution – a glass-realistic, multi-barrier PET bottle, 65% of which is made from plastic recycled from local rivers like the Danube, the sea, and landfill.

“It takes three times less energy to make these plastic bottles than glass, because the temperature required to manufacture them is much lower, and 10 times less energy to transport them across the bottle’s lifespan,” explains Philip Cox, co-owner of Cramele Recas.

“These bottles weigh 50g, most lightweight glass bottles are 400-500g, so each bottle is less costly to ship and you can fit 33% more of them in a truck, because most trucks that transport wine are two-thirds full because they’re so heavy.”

The environmental benefits of making the switch to PET could be monumental, but it’s not easy to convince everyone that the change is good. First, despite the environmental costs, glass is viewed as a more environmentally friendly material than plastic.

“Plastic isn’t thought of as good for the environment,” says Cox. “There’s been a lot of bad publicity about plastic, and we have to try to convince people that plastic may be bad, but glass is even worse.

“A year ago, plastic bottles were more expensive than glass but now, because of how much more energy glass production requires and with the cost of energy rising, glass bottles have doubled in price in the past 12 months so now plastic bottles are ten cents cheaper.

“The ecological issues surrounding glass production make it really not sustainable. There are between three and seven times more product lifetime CO2 emissions for glass than for PET, particularly in the situation where the energy market is in turmoil and looks likely to continue so for quite some time.”

But even beyond the perceived environmental factor, conventional wisdom dictates that a good wine arrives in a heavy glass bottle, not a lightweight plastic one.

“We still have to convince people that there’s quality in a plastic bottle,” says Cox. “Right now, we’re just starting the trailing.

“In a German supermarket, we are placing glass bottles on one side and plastic bottles of the same wine on the other to try to convince the retailers that people will still buy them.

“It’s early days so far as we have not discussed it with many retailers yet, but one did say that they thought it may detract from the premium image of the wines, another one was worried about deposit return schemes being hard to manage. I would say both companies are selling wines in the £5.50-7 price point, which is a price point that is practically going to disappear now due to the cost increases of glass bottles.

“In the end, much as they might not like it, retailers will have to decide either to continue with the premium image of glass and move up pricing by around 40-50p per bottle, or go to recycled PET and hold current pricing more or less stable.

“My thinking is that to make this work, you have to make it as close in appearance to glass as possible. People say about cans and paper bottles and, while they’re all interesting ideas, when someone is in a shop, they’ll see our plastic bottles and I don’t think they’ll be as scared of it.”