Eco logical

Packaging design expert Kevin Shaw reveals some sobering facts about the environmental impact of wine bottles

Next year is the 20th anniversary of Stranger & Stranger. Yes, we’re having a party and yes, your invite is in the post.

We’ve created brands for everyone from Michel Rolland to Diageo, our job numbers run into the 4,000s, and throughout all of those jobs do you know how many times we’ve been asked to consider the environment? Nine. When we are asked to do something even remotely eco it stands out so much we all comment on it.

Guess how many times we’ve been asked to create an unusual wine bottle? Four. I remember Jeremy Clarkson commenting on Top Gear that, because their cars have changed little in the past 50 years, Porsche designers must be the laziest in the world. It’s not true – wine bottle producers are. The design of the wine bottle – two designs if you count Burgundy and Bordeaux shapes – has changed little in the past 300 years and similar-size bottles have even been found in Pompeii when people were having one last drink in AD79.

Incidentally, do you know why wine bottles are the size they are – 75cl was the average volume of air exhaled by the guys who use to blow the bottles.

We don’t blow bottles by lung anymore but we’re still using those same measures for almost 40 billion wine bottles a year.

This past year we tried to address some of these issues head on and developed a few new energy-efficient brands for wines, the highlight of which was getting a brand launched on the US market called Paperboy in a bottle made out of compressed recycled board. Safeway was progressive enough to offer its support for a launch and Whole Foods was on the phone shortly afterwards.

To produce a paper bottle takes only 15% of the energy that it takes to produce a glass bottle. When empty the paper bottle only weighs an ounce, which means you can pick up a case of wine with one hand. Trucks are filled by weight and, when shipping wine, often travel just over half full. With paper bottles they can be filled to capacity. 

Do you know how much energy is spent just shipping the empty 40 billion bottles to the wineries to be filled each year? No, neither do I but it must be a lot. Empty paper bottles can be shipped stacked like egg cartons. I could go on.

Of course a paper bottle is pretty cutting edge radical but you’d be amazed at how even the smallest changes can add up.

A few years ago we started working on Jack Daniel’s and Jose Cuervo and the 12-bottle cases are small. Square bottles, you see, have no dead space between the bottles. The wine shelves would be 11% shorter if everyone used square bottles. Hundreds of thousands of trees would be saved in outer cardboard alone. I could go on again.