Wine packaging: Six inspiring recycling initiatives

by | Apr 23, 2019 | Article

At a time when the global environment is under considerable strain, industries worldwide look to reduce their overall carbon footprint. How does the wine industry measure up?




Packaging wine involves the science, art and technology of bottling, enclosing or protecting products in the best medium for distribution, storage, presentation of goods for sale and consumption.

The majority of wine produced and sold globally is packaged in glass. Traditionally, glass is an excellent medium that serves the practical, aesthetic and quality protection requirements of a bottle of wine well.

In recent years, however, wine retailers have become progressively more conscious of environmental issues. This is driven primarily by legislation, and more recently by significant consumer awareness.

The terms ‘carbon footprint’, ‘environmental impact’ and ‘sustainable practice’ are now well known and understood by the consumer and have a direct and increasingly important influence on the purchasing decision.

Consequently, wine producers have to consider the best possible production and packaging choices for minimal environmental impact to be successful in the South African and international markets.

Environmental concerns, plus cost management due to the global economic crisis have increased sustainable development, although critics still argue that initial higher costs are incurred to implement sustainable practices.

Where packaging material cannot be reused, the next best choice would be to recycle.

SIX inspiring recycling initiatives:

Put a cork in it …

In January this year, closure specialist Vinventions launched what it claims is “the world’s first truly circular wine closure recycling initiative” in collaboration with industry partners SABIC and Unilever. The project will involve turning used wine closures into “entirely new wine closures”.

Vice-president of sustainability at Vinventions, Michael Blaise, said, “Today, recycling simply means the collection and reprocessing of used product into other, usually less-demanding products. Currently, wine closures from Vinventions are partially recollected and transformed into recycled products like sparkling coolers, and swimming pool liners.  While this adds valuable additional lifecycles after our wine closures’ first product life, it is achieved by down-cycling the materials. In principle, this new level of circular economy allows the opportunity for an endless repeat of the recycling circle. In other words – endless circles of life for our wine closures.”


Plastic bricks

Imagine if all of the country’s unrecycled plastic waste, which currently totals roughly 1.1 million tonnes per year, could create thousands of jobs, while simultaneously cleaning up our environment and help build homes, hospitals, schools and roads?

A new invention created by Donald Thompson, CEO of The Centre of Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC) – called the EcoBlock – is an innovative environmentally-friendly product which incorporates regenerated waste plastic particles combined with a standard sand-cement mixture to produce a highly-resistant, durable cement. The EcoBlock is a hopeful solution to the dire plastic pollution problem in South Africa. While this is unrelated to wine, we can’t help but ask the questions: How can such an innovation inspire the wine industry to do something similar?

[Ed note: Ok, so while this doesn’t relate directly to the wine industry, we thought it was important to mention as the SA wine industry tends to use a lot of plastic to package and transport wine. Make sure your plastic is recycled wisely…]


Letterbox wine

In 2018, a slim line wine bottle by RPC M&H Plastics – made from 100% recycled PET for the mail-order market – was named Best Recycled Plastic Product of the Year at the Plastic Industry Awards in London. The bottle is 87% lighter and 40% spatially smaller than a normal wine bottle which, together with the fact that its letterbox size ensures no missed deliveries, reduces carbon emissions from the wine supply chain.

The bottle is also fully recyclable, enabling further bottles to be produced from it and provide a closed loop solution in line with circular economy principles.



Pass on the glass …

One of South Africa’s leading wine and spirit producers and marketers, Distell, launched a campaign in 2010 to lighten its impact on the environment with the introduction of a returnable-glass project. Dubbed ‘Give Back, Get Back’, the glass recycling initiative aims to accelerate glass bottle returns and, in the process, curtail waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut down on the use of electricity. The project spans across all product categories in which Distell is involved, covering 63 different products across nearly 150 bottle sizes. Each bottle that’s eligible for the recycling initiative carries a recognisable logo featuring a bottle encircled by an arrow. The Give Back, Get Back programme works through liquor retailers and through a network of over 1 600 bottle merchants nationwide, who return the bottles to Distell.


Célie Couché, who launched the Bout à Bout reuse scheme.

Bout à Bout reuse scheme

Innovative wine bottle reuse projects have emerged in European wine regions with producers of all sizes now involved in moves towards establishing a circular economy of wine. Wine bottles can be reused at least seven times to substantially lower the carbon footprint for wine production and prevent waste. Collecting used bottles from wineries, restaurants, bars, hotels and supermarkets, then transporting them to washing plants for cleaning before returning them to bottling lines, allows producers to reuse bottles instead of buying new ones. The region of Styria in Austria pioneered wine bottle reuse in 2011, when it launched a collection system using the Styrian wine bottle (which is taller than a standard 750 ml wine bottle and instantly recognisable for consumers).



Bag it, box it

According to The Drinks Business, leading online retailer Amazon UK has seen a robust 212% growth in sales in bag-in-box wine this year as consumers in the UK are embracing this trend. Bag-in-box packaging is an environmentally-friendly alternative to glass. In Scandinavia, boxed wine makes up half the shelf space with the government having thrown its weight behind the sustainability message, recognising that boxed wines offer 100% recyclability, lower transport cost and emissions. South African wine lovers are on trend and becoming aware of the benefits of boxed wine. This has led to an increase in local boxed wine sales. “We’ve seen a significant 34% growth in sales for the Drostdy Hof 3-litre bag-in-box wine compared to the previous financial year,” says Frans Booysen, marketing manager of accessible wines at Distell. According to, liquid packaging solution specialists, with less material used per unit and more products shipped per pallet (6 000 x 20 litres), bag-in-box has a lower carbon footprint. Once the bag is used, part of it can be recycled and the balance can be incinerated.



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