Wine in cans. Wine in boxes. Wine in recycled plastic bottles.
Wine packaging has diversified in recent years. Still, chances are, most households will serve wine in a glass bottle at their holiday tables this year. Even with expanding alternatives, glass bottles remain a dominant share of the market.
That’s why, as we approach the holiday season and one of the busiest months of the year for wine sales, we’re unwrapping an issue close to our hearts: why the packaging of a bottle of wine—notably, the glass in a bottle of wine—matters to the climate.
Packaging is a significant source of emissions in the wine life cycle.
From vine to table, the process of making wine is complex. Each step in the process can be a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—emissions we’re tackling as part of our mission to decarbonize the wine sector by 2050.
As it stands, packaging and transportation are some of the biggest culprits: combined, they account for over 40% of wineries’ climate emissions (an average calculated from IWCA members’ GHG emissions data).
Emissions from packaging largely come from outsourced glass production. The heavier a bottle, the higher its environmental impact; the less recycled glass in a bottle, the higher its environmental impact. In absolute numbers, emissions from wine glass bottles are small relative to the total scope of global emissions across industries. Still, in the context of wine, tackling emissions from glass is imperative to achieving net zero emissions in the sector.
Transportation is important to mention because it’s so closely linked to packaging. Wineries don’t produce glass bottles themselves. Glass bottles have to travel to the bottling location. Bottles also travel to market after filling. The farther the bottle is shipped, the higher the climate emissions. Secondly, the weight of a bottle affects the cargo weight of a shipping/trucking container. Reducing bottle weight by even just a few grams has a huge impact in a container that transports thousands of bottles.
Glass bottles can be one of the most sustainable packaging options—if done right.
Glass bottles are one of the most sustainable packaging options for the wine industry long-term because they meet quality, aging, and durability standards, and are recyclable.
That being said, the wine and glass industries must continue improving the sustainability of glass packaging. For example, the glass industry can use more recycled cullet in their bottles and switch their furnaces from fossil fuels to renewable electricity. Wineries can redesign their bottles to reduce their weights and purchase glass from more sustainable suppliers. Some wine growing regions are exploring refillable bottles.
Many of IWCA’s members have pioneered innovations in this space, resulting in hundreds of tonnes of glass saved yearly. We are committed to accelerating similar transitions across the wine and glass industries.
Consumers also play a part in wine sustainability.
Consumers might be at the end of the wine supply chain, but ultimately, this gives them an important role. Consumers can vote with their feet—purchasing wine from climate-conscious wineries—and call upon their favorite wineries to mitigate their climate emissions. Consumers are ultimately also responsible for proper recycling of a wine bottle post-consumption (in places where recycling infrastructure exists—an issue for another time!).
Unfortunately, many consumers are unaware of the role they can play. Many lack information or have misconceptions—for example, that a heavier bottle means higher quality wine (it doesn’t). We are excited to see growing awareness about climate change and wine amongst consumers and media, including about the packaging issue (check out this recent piece by The Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre about why he’s now including bottle weight in his wine recommendations—and it features IWCA member Symington Family Estates!).
Through collective action, we can decarbonize the wine sector.
As we approach the end of the year, we at IWCA raise a glass of (sustainable) wine to celebrate progress by our member wineries and others in driving climate action and awareness. We know there is more to do to decarbonize the wine sector by 2050, and we hope you will join us in our mission.
If you're a consumer: don't skip over those bottle weight specs, and look into your favorite wine's commitment (and actions!) on climate and sustainability as you stock up this holiday season.
To fellow wineries: we urge you to measure your climate footprint to identify what specific actions, such as reducing bottle weights, will mitigate your winery’s climate emissions. And if you share our vision of a climate-positive wine sector, please contact us to learn more about how to join IWCA as a member winery!