Wine packaging :
The end of glass bottles ?

November 1rst, 2023

Scheduled for the 3rd Thursday in November each year, the arrival of the Beaujolais nouveau is a great indicator of the popular fervour surrounding wine in France. While many of us have wine-drinking habits that are part and parcel of our daily lives and social lives, do we have the opportunity to reflect on its environmental impact?

An odd carbon footprint

A closer look at the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine reveals a surprising fact: Wine is one of the few products whose packaging pollutes almost as much as the product itself. Indeed lthe energy-hungry glass bottle accounts for 40% of the total carbon footprint (1.3kg), despite the fact that it can be recycled. The cardboard packaging of the cubi is 4x less polluting than glass, offering an interesting alternative for reducing pollution while consuming the same product. Another option, which is in vogue in large cities but still marginal, is bulk wine, which saves on packaging without abandoning the glass container. These options show that it is possible to consume differently, but can we really imagine the French abandoning the bottle of wine in favour of more sober alternatives?

A stubborn cultural barrier

The French attachment to wine is also a strong attachment to the bottle. According to a 2022 study by Dynata-Sowine , 75% of them only drink wine in this format. This preference for the bottle is all the more surprising given that 80% of bottles are consumed immediately after they are put on the market. Is it necessary to put wine in a container that can last for 100 years, when it will be consumed just a few days or even a few hours after it has been marketed?
What's more, consumers of cubes (16%), bulk wine (6%) or cans (5%) would cite price, volume, quality and convenience as the main criteria explaining their preferences. Environmental issues therefore seem to be particularly far removed from the concerns of wine consumers, despite the fact that 86% of French people say they want to better integrate environmental impacts into their consumption choices. Ecological efforts are less obvious for wine than for other product categories, probably because this beverage is associated with a long tradition of consumption. This cultural brake seems to be found in other ecological debates around wine, such as that of organic or thermodynamic wines. Despite their environmental virtues and supposed health benefits, they meet with a great deal of reluctance from traditional consumers and are struggling to appeal to buyers outside their urban, gentrified target group.

Glass, an omnipresent enemy?

Looking beyond the case of wine, we can see that glass is little questioned for its ecological impact, whatever the product. Indeed, while consumers are beginning to worry about the environmental impact of products and the excesses associated with over-packaging, the type of packaging does not seem to be the subject of ecological considerations. Worse still, there is a great deal of vagueness surrounding the environmental impact of packaging, with glass seeming to enjoy a sober and circular image compared to plastic, which is naturally the subject of more finger-pointing. While glass can be recycled more easily, its very high energy consumption in both manufacture and recycling should not be underestimated, which inevitably casts a darker shadow. According to Welow's data, glass packaging is on average 4 times more polluting than its plastic or cardboard equivalents. A striking example of this error of judgement would be a consumer who decides not to buy a plastic soda bottle in favour of a bottled artisanal apple juice, which is considered to be more environmentally friendly. While the contents are indeed more natural, less processed and less chemical, the carbon footprint of the glass container is enough to make this purchase heavier in terms of Co2 emissions!

What efforts can you make without forfeiting your pride in being French?

In order to estimate the impact of ecological efforts around wine, we have identified and analysed three monthly consumption scenarios:
- That of the average French wine consumer, with no consumption effort
- That of the wine consumer who stops consuming glass in his food products, but does not reduce the number of bottles of wine or beer
- That of the wine consumer who stops consuming glass in his food products and only allows himself to buy bottles on exceptional occasions (i.e. 1 bottle of wine and 1 bottle of beer per month). The wine consumer who stops using glass in his food products and only buys bottles on exceptional occasions (i.e. 1 bottle of wine and 1 bottle of beer per month). We can imagine that he consumes cubi and bulk in the context of informal consumption (family, friends, table wine) but that he buys fine bottles for special events.

Data and sources:
- CO2 emissions from glass per volume of packaged product: 0.497 kgCO2eq (Agribalyse, based on the European glass recycling rate of 77%)
- CO2 emissions from cubes per volume of packaged product: 0.13 kgCO2eq (Agribalyse)
- CO2 emissions from plastic per volume of packaged product: 0.11 kgCO2eq (Agribalyse)
- CO2 emissions from cardboard per volume of packaged product: 0.1 kgCO2eq (Agribalyse)
- CO2 emissions from aluminium per volume of packaged product: 0.25kg CO2eq ( Agribalyse)

The results of our analysis indicate that the leverage for reducing CO2 emissions associated with glass is particularly important for wine and beer consumption, since it enables a reduction of 1.4 kgCO2 per month, or 40% of the consumer's total consumption.1 Reducing glass for food products is an interesting ecological effort, but secondary in terms of impact, since it enables us to avoid 0.8 kgCO2, or 23% of the initial footprint. So, has time come to put down the bottle and go for the cubis ?

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