The deadline for compliance is fast approaching. Are you ready?
By Jeff Siegel
One of the biggest changes in the California wine industry since the end of Prohibition begins on Jan. 1, 2024, and it looks like many of the state’s producers either don’t know about it or aren’t prepared for it — or both.
The change is SB 1013, the state’s new bottle bill, officially called the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act. It will require updated labels for all wine bottles as well as bottle refunds, mandatory recycling and all the paperwork associated with all of that.
Yet ask around, and many of the state’s wineries remain in the dark.
“The first I heard of it was today,” one multi-hundred thousand-case winery owner emailed his top-level staff. “That’s when a wine writer asked me about it. He said he asked four producers and all of them, including me, could not explain it to him.”
Plates are full
It’s a bit understandable, in an “it’s harvest time, we just came out of the pandemic, and I have other things to worry about” sort of way. Or, as one small Central Coast producer emailed: “I have not learned a thing about that new law at this point. Once our harvest is over, I plan on drilling down on it.”
On the other hand, that’s not going to help much come Jan. 1.
“There are a lot of compliance issues,” agrees Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute and one of the country’s leading recycling experts. “But if you look at this in terms of climate change, it’s one of the most important things that wineries can do. Agriculture, including wine and grape growing, is one of the industries most vulnerable to climate change. So this is the perfect opportunity to do something that can make a difference.”
By the numbers
There are nine key bits that wineries need to know to prepare for the bottle bill on January 1:
- The second-tier — that is, distributors and wholesalers — will pay a per-container refund value to the state. That includes $.05 for containers smaller than 24 ounces; $.10 for a container larger than 24 ounces, and $.25 for wine and distilled spirits “in a box, bladder, pouch or similar container.”
- The system is set up so that no one is actually out any money…in theory, anyway. Retailers will reimburse wholesalers for the deposits, and consumers will reimburse retailers when they buy the product – in much the same way that consumers pay bottle deposits for soft drinks. Consumers will get their deposits back when they recycle the bottles at certified recyclers and retailers, while the recyclers and retailers will get their money back when they send the bottles to certified processing centers. The processors will be reimbursed by a state fund.
- Producers must register with the state agency administering the program, CalRecycle (there’s an online form at the Cal Recycle site). Then a CalRecycle agent will contact the winery to complete the process. Note that the state’s recycling program differentiates between a company that is a bottler and one that is a packager; wineries are classified as bottlers. This should be beneficial to wineries in the long run, since packagers have more stringent recycling requirements, says Collins.
- The new labels — which are the winery’s responsibility — must include the recycle value messaging and some sort of state identification; this measure details placement and visibility requirements. The new labeling deadline is July 1, 2025, though the program starts next year. The new labels will likely look much like current national brand beer bottles that include a list of state initials and the refund amount. Some beer bottles, in fact, already have a CA CRV emblem. There are labeling examples on the CalRecycle website. Wineries are responsible for getting label approval.
- Even out-of-state wineries that sell wine in California must register. If the winery sells through a wholesaler, then the process starts with the wholesaler. If the winery sells DtC, then the bottle bill states that the direct shipper permit holder is considered the beverage manufacturer and distributor.
- The winery’s wholesaler may well be its best friend through all of this. For one thing, since the refund program starts with the wholesaler, it needs to know enough to handle refunds for all of its customer wineries. Second, since many wholesalers are bigger than most wineries, they should have more resources to devote to the bottle bill changes and can share that knowledge with their wineries.
- The CalRecyle website is surprisingly thorough and written in English that is mostly bereft of bureaucratese. The labeling information, for example, is direct, well-written and to the point, and the sample labels make sense.
- No, this isn’t the EU QR code thing. That’s the requirement for wines sold in the European Union to include a QR code that links to nutritional and ingredient information and that goes into effect at the end of the year (with some exemptions for older vintages). Or, as the same winery head emailed his staff: “We’re not going to have any room on our back labels for any of our excess verbiage.”
- It’s still unclear how tasting room bottles will fit into the process; the legislature is debating some changes to the original bill. A spokesman for the Wine Institute said tasting room bottles will likely go into their own recycling efforts.
Success in Oregon
For those who wonder if the bottle bill will make a difference, consider the example of Oregon.
Recycling rates for glass bottles are about 33% nationwide. But in Oregon, it’s more than three-quarters and the overall recycling rate is more than 85%, says Eric Chambers, who works for the agency that oversees that state’s recycling program. And though the Oregon program doesn’t include wine bottles, Chambers says he doesn’t see why that would be a deterrent to an effective recycling program elsewhere.
California wine producers are about to find that out.
Note: On Sept. 14, 2023, this article was updated with additional information (bolded).
Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”