Home Wine Business Editorial Expert Editorial Expert Editorial: Solving the Wine Packaging Sustainability Issue

Expert Editorial: Solving the Wine Packaging Sustainability Issue

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The vast majority of all wines should be packaged in PET. Here’s why.

By Jonathan Jarman 

In an industry steeped in tradition, change does not come easy. This is especially true when it comes to wine and wine packaging. 

In the face of ongoing environmental concerns, a growing number of media stories have cited the need for our industry to find a more sustainable package solution. And the call is validated by consumer demands. 

A recent survey from global decision intelligence company Morning Consult showed that the food and beverage industry is second, behind only the automotive industry, when it comes to consumers looking for sustainability. This makes sense, as consumers interact with food — and food packaging — on a daily basis, which increases consumer awareness of the environmental impact of this category.

And while 7 in 10 U.S. adults would consider purchasing from a food and beverage brand that prioritizes sustainability, 1 in 4 said they don’t know what makes a product sustainable. When pressed to share what it means for a food or beverage brand to be sustainable, a product’s packaging was the second most common response from consumers.  

The first was, “I don’t know.” 

PET is the answer

This desire by consumers to do the right thing — to look for packaging that is best for our environment — can create both opportunity and confusion. It also creates a situation where it’s time to be honest. We must provide consumers the right packaging for the right situation. And the majority of the time, that packaging is going to be plastic. 

Specifically, Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. 

Mischaracterized as unsustainable and environmentally damaging, the PET bottle is often the poster child for waste and litter. But recent studies confirm the significant environmental advantages of PET versus other materials. It’s also perfect for the wine industry. 

Studies show that anywhere from 80% to as much as 95% of all wine purchased domestically is consumed within 48 hours. If this is truly the case, then the vast majority of all wines should be packaged in PET. Here’s why:

Sustainability. The attributes of PET wine bottles were highlighted in a report from McKinsey & Company, the Climate Impact of Plastics. It found PET bottles have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions because of their lightweight properties and the low amount of energy required to produce them. By contrast, aluminum cans produce twice the emissions of PET bottles, and emissions from glass bottles are three times higher. The average 750ml PET wine bottle weighs 85% less than the same-sized glass bottle, for a total saving of eight pounds per case. Extrapolate this to shipping costs and the savings can be dramatic.

Flexibility. Consumers are looking for flexibility not only in their packaging, but in where they can enjoy their wine. PET is shatterproof, making it ideal for poolside, hiking, the beach or any of the countless locations where consumers want to enjoy wine. Tradition is not a sufficient reason to limit access to wine when PET removes these barriers. 

Recyclability. PET packaging is 100% recyclable and can be made with up to 100% recycled material. Neither glass nor aluminum can make this claim. This recyclability embodies the circular economy: a framework where a product is manufactured, used, collected and recycled over and over again. When people recycle properly, it results in less waste, more reusable recycled content, and decreases the need for virgin PET. 

Support for PET

Diverse organizations have aligned to reduce plastic waste and increase recycling rates. This alliance includes the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the World Wildlife Fund, The Recycling Partnership, the Association of Plastic Recyclers, the US Plastic Pact and many, many others. This impactful work is making significant strides. The National Association of PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) recently released its 2022 recycling report. It showed that, across North America, PET recycling rates have increased to 36.8% (up 7.6%, from 34.2%, in 2020). 

Adherence to tradition — and failure to embrace science-based studies — will significantly impact our industry. It’s time to look at what our consumers want and to be honest with the answer. Each packaging material has an application specific time, place, and use. The market is telling brands that, when it comes to sustainability for their wine packaging, the time is now. The science is telling us the packaging is PET.

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Jonathan Jarman

Jonathan Jarman is an experienced marketing manager, packaging engineer and designer. Driven by a passion to solve problems and create new things, he takes pride in rethinking challenges and developing great products. As marketing manager for the spirits and wine segment with Amcor Rigid Packaging, his goals include increasing recycle rates for PET, helping customers break into new markets and creating packaging solutions that excite customers. In addition to his primary job functions, he and his team have been recognized by Amcor for outperformance in the area of customer focus with the annually awarded Amcor Outperformance Award.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I challenge the assumption that because consumer drink wine within 48 hours of purchase that using plastic is the solution to sustainability. It may be lighter in weight but there’s significant progress and usage of lighter weight glass bottles throughout the industry.
    Another false assumption is that PET bottles are recyclable, therefore, recycled. Ask the soft drink industry about this one.

    First and most important – PET is created using fossil fuels, although plant based is emerging. PET while recyclable, is usually not. As of 2020, about 27% of PET is recycled in the US. That means the rest goes in landfills where it does not biodegrade. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for bacteria to decompose plastic in a landfill. And lets remember all the bottles found in streams, rivers, the oceans! Then there’s the energy used to produce the bottles….

    Second. The 3-tier distribution system sees wine warehoused for months or even years after bottling before it hits store shelves. Six months is the longest time wine can be stored in PET bottles before air seeps in and oxygenation occurs. That’s not much time for the mass brands that would adopt PET as a significant source of their packaging to get into the hands of consumers.

    Third: Wine ages best in glass bottles. The material does not impact the quality of the wine, the length of storage can be years to decades. Glass can be recycled over 25 times and at a far cheaper price to remelt for reuse. In the US – about 33% of glass bottles are recycled annually. In Europe it’s well over 80%. And most importantly, consumers consider recycled glass safe and clean.

    I for one do not want more plastic in our environment. And personally, would not buy wine in a plastic bottle.

  2. The points you make about the advantages of PET bottles are true. the problem I have found in looking at switching our wines to PET bottles a year ago, is that the producers of the PET bottles are using virgin material and not recycled product so the impact is not as great, producing more new plastic for the environment. We decided to stay with glass until there is a producer of PET bottles from recycled material.

  3. Karen,

    I appreciate your thoughts and understand your concerns.
    Your distinction between recyclable and recycled is excellent. I agree. One of the struggles of manufacturing something that is indeed recyclable is seeing consumers dispose of it incorrectly. A material issue or a behavior issue? Yes, recycling tech and infrastructure is also improving and as you note, bio-based resins are developing. One very encouraging shift in recent legislation will have significant impact on behavior- California SB1013 will include wine and spirits bottles into their CRV program. By January 2024, all of these bottles will be required to be made with 15% recycled content. Additionally, this will encourage consumers to recycle and encourage brand owners to make their packaging more recyclable. This bill and other bills around the country are requiring higher and higher percentages of recycled content as we move toward 2030.

    Yes. Fossil fuels are used to produce PET. Independent, third party analysis tools take this into consideration when comparing packaging materials. This analysis also considers the fossil fuels and energy required to convert the materials of origin into the final package. This is where things become interesting- From a fossil fuel and greenhouse gas production standpoint, combining material extraction, production and transportation, the delta between the lightest weight glass bottle and a PET bottle is significant. See https://napcor.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/NAPCOR-37678_LCA_Executive_Summary_3.2.23.pdf

    Your second point is well taken. We are transparent with our customers and provide years of data supporting our shelf life claims. We fully expect our customers to choose the material that suits their specific operational needs, application, storage requirements, consumer behavior etc.. Amcor employs a highly effective O2 barrier that delivers up to 18 months of product protection. We have been producing PET wine packaging for nearly two decades and for our customers (the big producers) 18 months is more than adequate.

    Per your third point- Yes, absolutely. Wine intended for the cellar is meant to be in glass. No question. That is a significantly small percentage of the entire market vs what is consumed within days or weeks of purchase.

    Fundamentally, I understand the perception. I welcome the discussion and as I said before, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in discussing further.

  4. Anthony,

    Feel free to reach out to me and I will connect you with a sales rep in your area. We will ensure any customer that needs recycled content in their wine bottle to meet California’s CRV recycled content requirement will be ready. If you need more than the minimum, we’ve got a solution for you.

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