Boxed wine vs. bottled wine – what’s the footprint?

I recently read this article in The New York Times, urging winemakers to produce their wine in boxes instead of bottles to reduce the carbon footprint of transport.

First, I must confess that we often have a glass of wine with dinner, and we often purchase boxed wine. It’s not a big quality downgrade for us, because we very seldom pay more than $9.99 for a bottle of wine. In the box, our price comes down to around $5.50 per 750ml.

But I did question the overall environmental effect of boxed vs. bottled wine. The article generated many comments, which also were interesting. Here are some of the issues.

Cork

One comment said that eliminating cork stoppers would be damaging to the environment. I thought this was interesting, because my understanding was that plastic “corks” came into vogue (along with more screw-top bottles) because cork was becoming too limited to satisfy the market. But this article addresses this issue and says in fact, cork harvest is necessary to sustain cork forests, which contribute to the planet’s biodiversity.

Transport

Most people — and sources — agreed that it is more resource-efficient to transport wine in boxes than in bottles. Boxes are a lot lighter, are unbreakable and can be stacked, eliminating additional packaging to transport the bottles. One reader asked why wine can’t be transported in kegs or casks, and we bring our own bottles to fill (like growlers at your local brewpub?). Great idea. I’m sure some law forbids it.

Waste

Several commenters remarked on the recyclability of wine boxes vs. bottles. Most of us can drop a bottle in our recycling bin. Some pointed out that bottles can easily be melted; others pointed out that colored glass has less demand among recyclers; others asked why we can’t wash and reuse wine bottles (great question).

As for recycling the bag and box, the spigot can’t be recycled, unless it could be used by different plastic manufacturers. The cardboard box can be flattened and put in the bin. (One commenter said manufacturers should make it easier to break the box down … now that’s nitpicky detail-oriented.)

This site mentions that a winemaker says bag-in-box is easier to recycle than glass. Other than that anecdotal evidence, I haven’t found much information about recycling.

Plastic contamination

“My” brand of wine box says it uses a #7 plastic, which is a no-no. Or it might not be. Or it might be. Now why did I have to go and read that? From a personal health perspective, glass is probably a lot safer.

Concentrated alcohol content

Perhaps my favorite comment was this one — he actually makes valid points, although I can’t vouch for his mathematics:

I only drink hard alcohol as it is much more environmentally friendly. Four to five shots of Jack Daniels or other fine American and proudly made in the US-of-A liquor gets me just as drunk as whole bottle of wine, with a greatly reduced carbon footprint. I figure that my intake alone helps keep some 250,00 cars a year off of the roads. Environmentally concerned drunks should not be drinking wine at all; stick to the real booze. Oh, and keep yourself off the roads–that helps save the environment AND keeps you and others safe.
โ€” Philip Alexander, North Brookfield, NY

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3 thoughts on “Boxed wine vs. bottled wine – what’s the footprint?

  1. Tys says:

    There’s also the discussion of what in the US is ‘box wine’ vs what’s in other countries, wine that is in those boxes like Soymilk… tetrapaks. those seem to be recycleable, and don’t use #7 plastic. Easy to crush, easy to stack…

    I’m with Philip, ‘drink, don’t drive’ and the re-use crowd. I’m actually saving wine bottles from store purchases to clean out and put my own home-made wine in… the first vines went in the yard last spring.

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