Home Wine Industry Spotlights Glass Reimagined: Towards a Carbon-Free Wine Packaging Era

Glass Reimagined: Towards a Carbon-Free Wine Packaging Era

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Every consumer goods manufacturer has a roadmap to environmentally friendly stewardship, with measurable goals for reducing carbon emissions, using sustainable resources and minimizing waste. With somewhere between 23% and 29% of a winery’s carbon footprint coming from the glass bottle, the challenge for the wine industry is to make the venerable glass bottle more sustainable considering that according to the latest EcoFocus® consumer trend survey, 85 % of American grocery shoppers over the age of 21 choose to buy wine in glass.

The Core Value of Recycling

Recycling glass bottles is core to a circular packaging economy since recycled bottles are crushed and cleaned to produce cullet, which goes back into the glass furnace to make new bottles. Using this recycled cullet reduces the natural resources and energy needed to produce glass. In fact, increasing cullet to 55% reduces the use of sand, limestone and soda ash in half. Since cullet melts at a lower temperature, every additional 10% of cullet used reduces a furnace’s energy use by 2.5% and CO2 emissions by 5%.

“Glass is an optimal material for the future because it is an infinitely recyclable material,” says Felix Lamolinerie, CEO of Verallia USA, the world’s third-largest producer of glass packaging for beverages and food products. “When you hear about recycled materials, it usually means they last through six or seven cycles before becoming waste. With glass, we can repeat the cycle over and over again — infinitely.”

At Verallia, cullet recycled by consumers represents 55.7% of the glass used, and it has set a goal to increase that to 66% by 2030. The company is also working on making reusable glass bottles a reality. It began a new initiative in Germany with washing equipment and bottles designed to last up to 10–20 cycles.

The Industry Shift to Lightweight Glass

In addition to recycling and reusing, the wine and glass industries are turning to lighter-weight bottles, which generate less carbon dioxide during production and are less expensive to ship.

Verallia launched Ecova, its entry lightweight range, 15 years ago. The portfolio now includes a broad range of bottle types, sizes, colors and weights, an 835-gram champagne bottle and other bottles as low as 350 grams. It has since added the mid-range Knon and ultra-premium EGO eco-designed portfolios. EGO retains the high punt and refined shape of premium bottles but is 20% lighter.

“We have spent a lot of time to make sure that we can come to our customers with a wide variety of products,” says Felix Lamolinerie. “For the entry ranges, we have 400-gram bottles; if the client prefers a deep punt, it’s already lightweighted in our mid-range, and for a premium product, the winery can choose a 600 or 650-gram bottle. So they can have differentiation across their wines while still significantly reducing the weighted average and thus their carbon footprint.”

This month, Verallia introduced its latest innovation, the 300-gram Bordelaise AIR, one of the lightest Bordelaise bottles ever made. True to Verallia’s purpose “Re-imagine glass for a sustainable future”, the Bordelaise Air 300G is the combination of tradition, innovation, and expertise; this bottle is available in three distinct glass colors: antique green, green, and flint. Additionally, it can be supplied with either cork or BVS closures.

This introduction is particularly timely given the recent announcement of the new Sustainable Wine Roundtable (SWR) Bottle Weight Accord. Nine major wine retailers, including Naked Wines and Whole Foods Market, agreed to reduce the average weight of their bottles by around 25% in the next three years. Dr Peter Stanbury, head of research at SWR, noted that “There is no practical reason why all wines should not be presented in bottles around 420g or lighter.”

Innovating Glass Furnace Technology

Verallia is committed to tackling the biggest challenge of all — climate change and global warming — by decarbonizing the way it produces glass. It is upgrading furnaces to draw power from sources with lower emissions and switching to more renewable and low-carbon fuels to run its factories. Two new technologies will replace furnaces that currently rely on 90% fossil fuel and 10% electricity. Next year, a 100% electric furnace will begin producing flint glass, followed by new hybrid furnaces that use 80% electricity and 20% gas. After that, greener sources of energy, such as biogas or hydrogen, will further decarbonize production.

“In 15 years, all of our furnaces will be either hybrid or 100% electric,” adds Felix Lamolinerie. “We are reimagining the glass of the sustainable future and disrupting the industry.”

Although wineries are experimenting with alternative packaging made from other materials, glass will always be a valued bottling medium. Not only is it unique in providing a stable, inert environment for wine to age, protecting it from external oxygen and UV light, but it also plays a role in an overall global warming context.

Verallia is determined to play a leading role in redefining the way glass is manufactured, reused and recycled to make it the most sustainable packaging material in the world.

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