Wine Sustainability: The Glass Bottle Problem

This past spring, food and wine writer, Samantha Maxwell, made the following observation in an article for VinePair: “Sustainability is a buzzword in every industry, but when it’s used in reference to wine, there’s an immediate association with organic vineyards, biodynamics, and the ever-elusive concept of ‘natural’ wine. Until recently, every time I carried my clanging, beautifully labeled bottles from the nearest natural wine shop home in my canvas tote, I would revel in my eco-friendliness knowing that I had avoided the mass-produced juice I used to drink straight from the spigot when I was in my college years”.

But is natural wine really the answer? Are we as responsible and environmentally savvy as we think? Maxwell goes on: “As it turns out, I am not the wine-sipping environmental warrior I had imagined myself to be. Because while responsible farming practices may be important in producing wines that have a minimal negative impact on the environment, sustainability in the wine world comes down to the packaging just as much as the wine itself. And though glass may appear to be the better option, those pretty bottles you keep long after the wine has been consumed are not that great for the environment.”

The truth is that for all of the opportunities to reduce the footprint of winemaking, many ignore (or are just ignorant to) one of the biggest problems. In fact, Sarah Trubnick, founde rof Northeast Wine Company and owner of The Barrel Room in San Francisco, says that of all the packaging options for wine “glass is the worst, hands down.”

Yes, there are situations where glass packaging is required. An age-worthy wine, for example, shouldn’t be sold in boxes or cans. But young, ready-to-drink wines? Wines that are being picked up on the way to a picnic, party or relaxing night at home? There’s no reason those can’t be packaged in other materials. 

And indeed we’ve seen increasing popularity in canning or boxing wines, but the standard still seems to be the glass bottle…and that’s a problem; a problem that starts with the production of the material itself. Glass must be smelted, a process that requires natural gas. Immediately, glass is in the red on the sustainability front.

Trubnick, who is a known entity in wine but who’s background is in science, explains that glass isn’t as recyclable as many think. Whereas aluminum is easy to recycle, “you’re looking at maybe a third of the glass in your glass bottle being recycled.” And that is, of course, if the bottle makes it to the recycling center to begin with. As of 2018, the EPA found that less than 40 percent of glass wine and liquor bottles made it into the recycling bin. Perhaps because of their weight or the space they can take up in the bin in comparison to cans and cardboard boxes, perhaps for some other reason. In either case: bottles aren’t consistently disposed of properly. And yet, they are still the ‘standard’ vessel for wine.

Here at Skolnik Industries, you will love the environmental benefits when you use our stainless-steel wine barrels. Note that our stainless-steel wine barrels are durable, reusable, easy to clean, and 100% recyclable at the end of their service life. Check out the full line of our Stainless Steel Wine Drums here.

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