Sustainable Sips: Label Waste Recycling Solutions in the Wine Industry

419

The wine industry is evolving toward a circular economy. Pioneers in this movement include viticulturists who began the transition to regenerative agriculture and wineries leading the move to renewable energy like solar fields or more sustainable materials, such as lightweight bottles and post-consumer recycled labels. Efforts are spreading from these innovators to the broader industry as the impacts of climate change increase the urgency and neighbors see the effectiveness of these solutions.

“While every industry is subject to trends, it is especially true for wine,” says Michael Garretson, who manages the RafCycle program at UPM Raflatac. “That could be because these companies are close neighbors. Driving along Highway 29 through Napa Valley, you see one winery after another. The same is true in Sonoma or Santa Barbara. They know each other; they’re members of the same organizations, attend the same conferences and events, and talk to each other. Even for a global business, there’s pride in the locale, which feeds into respect for the land and a willingness to participate in sustainability programs.”

Closing a Recycling Gap

A commitment to building a circular economy goes beyond wineries to the industry suppliers who provide the materials needed to grow grapes and make and bottle wine. Many of these companies contribute by increasing the use of cullet (crushed glass) and other recycled and recyclable materials, using non-toxic inks for labels and fostering recycling systems.

One of those efforts is RafCycle™by UPM Raflatac, a recycling solution that closes a gap in packaging circularity by recycling label-release liners that had previously gone to landfills. Release liner is the silicone-coated label backing that is peeled away from paper or film labels during the dispensing process. RafCycle’s mission is to collect and recycle this label backing after the labels or stickers are adhered to the bottles.

UPM Raflatac began implementing the program over a decade ago in Europe and has given increased focus to include North America in the last year and a half. Today, it has over 400 partners globally and is still growing.

The pioneering program received two awards this year: the Worldstar 2024 Award for “Packaging Materials and Components,” recognizing its cost efficiency, transparency and hands-on support as it helps companies meet their sustainability goals, and the 2024 Innovator Award for “Innovation in a Recovery Technology or Practice” at the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) Impact event.

The RafCycle Process

“The way it works is quite simple,” explains Garretson. “I have a conversation with an interested winery and let them know what RafCycle is, how it works and that there is no charge for the service. When they’re ready to have their liner waste picked up, we put together a milk run where the truck goes to a series of wineries until it’s full and then drops the collected liners at a recycler.”

In addition to picking up liner waste directly from the wineries, RafCycle also relies on the converters who supply wineries with UPM Raflatac labels. Through our RafCycle Partner Program, not only do converters let the wineries know about the program and connect them with Garretson, but they often become points of centralization for small volumes of liner scattered across a region. RafCycle works with converters to centralize the liners from many smaller customers at one location.

“This value chain collaboration is opening access to wineries that would otherwise be too small to participate,” says Garretson, “allowing RafCycle to serve many wineries with a single stop and increasing the volume of material that we’re able to collect.”

All liner waste collected by RafCycle goes to a network of recycling facilities internationally and domestically. The PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) liner used by most wineries is turned into rougher fiber applications like pallet strapping and industrial carpet or upholstery by manufacturers. Manufacturers buy it from the recycler after it is melted down and turned into pellets.

A company that recycles 100 tons of PET release liner avoids 31 tons of fossil CO2 emissions compared with incineration or 113 tons when disposed in a landfill. With over half of California’s 76 million tons of waste ending up in landfills and a recycling rate of 41%, according to CalRecycle’s latest report, there is still plenty of room to improve.

Becoming a RafCycle partner enables wineries to collaborate across the value chain to create a more sustainable labeling industry

Post-Consumer Recycled Liners

UPM Raflatac’s commitment to the circular economy extends to packaging materials using post-consumer recycled (PCR). Wineries can choose labels with either 50% or 90% PCR PET liners, with most choosing 90% option to aid in meeting their sustainability goals, , according to Jarod Hernandez, UPM Raflatac’s Product Manager for Wine, Spirits and Craft Beverages.

“Our original goal was to have all our papers FSC certified by 2025, and we’ve already met that mark,” he adds. “To further our sustainability mission, we have also transitioned a range of products inside our Wine, Spirits, and Craft Beverages portfolio away from consuming virgin PET liner to now being produced on PCR liner made from recycled bottles. Offering our standard portfolio in a sustainable light fills a gap that takes our winery customers closer to fully encompassing sustainability from the vineyard to the shelf.”

Here is an example of a calculation made with Label Life by UPM Raflatac. The life cycle assessment tool demonstrates the environmental impact of switching from a standard label product to one made with PCR content. Label Life is third party validated by DEKRA, lending additional credibility to the validity of its results.

For more information about RafCycle contact americas.rafcycle@upmraflatac.com. For more information about UPM Raflatac’s line of labels with PCR-backing, contact americas.support@upmraflatac.com.

Send Me Info