The Carbon Footprint of a Bottle of Wine
THERE’S MORE TO A CARBON FOOTPRINT THAN TRASH
Know the Flow calculated the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine and found it’s around 1.28kg CO2. That’s about the same as driving 3 miles in a Honda Accord.
When talking about wine, the discussion typically revolves around region, vintage, or a particular vintner. Rarely does it touch on production of the bottles, the energy it took to power equipment at the winery, or mode of transportation. But, the journey your wine took is just as important as where it came from, even if it doesn’t affect the bouquet.
Let’s take a look at what really goes into (and comes out of) making a bottle of wine, cradle to grave.
The production of “raw materials” – grapes and packaging
A bottle’s impact starts at the very beginning: the winery. According to Know the Flow, the production of “raw materials” accounts for about 0.80kg CO2 out of the total 1.28kg. This also includes packaging production, but first let’s talk about the vineyard.
Grapes don’t require as much tender love and care as some other crops so fertilizers don’t make up a significant percentage of their impact. In their study of the winemaking process, The Academic Wino found that a winery’s impact mostly derives from the electricity necessary to run all of their equipment as well as the ethanol emitted during fermentation.
With that in mind, how can you minimize your program’s impact? Look for wineries throughout the world that are instituting more sustainable viticulture practices, using energy efficient equipment and avoiding environmentally harsh chemicals. For example, New Holland Agriculture’s ECOBraud is employing field mapping software to optimize fuel usage and turning off certain actions – like the shaker systems – when they’re not necessary.
The type of packaging used – bottles versus bulk
Sustainable Wine Growing estimates that almost half of the wine bottle’s carbon footprint comes from the production and mishandling of packaging – and 85% of that packaging is glass. According to The Academic Wino, “The wine itself only accounts for 40% of the overall volume of a case and often needs to be stored in climate-controlled areas to avoid spoilage.” There’s still a certain romanticism associated with the beauty and heft of a wine bottle. But, transporting cases comes at a price.
One of the best ways to reduce your program’s carbon footprint is by opting for lighter bottles or ditching the glass altogether. According to wrap.org, a 20% reduction in a wine bottle’s weight would save 100g of CO2 emissions per bottle from packaging production and transportation. A 40% weight reduction would save 234g of CO2. This is why alternative packaging methods, such as boxes, kegs, or lighter bottles are catching on. Switching to an on-tap dispensing system that serves from kegs will reduce your program’s overall carbon footprint by up to 96% over 20 years.
How the juice is transported – method and container
Colman and Paster did a study of different transportation methods. They found air cargo is the worst and shipping by sea is the most efficient. That means that if you live on the east coast of the United States, California wine received via air transport will have a larger carbon footprint than French wine sent via cargo ship. Or, as The New York Times puts it, “A Napa Valley wine can emit 2.6 pounds of carbon dioxide on its journey […] to San Francisco. But the same bottle making the truck trip to Connecticut would emit 5.7 pounds of carbon dioxide in total. Ship it by air and its footprint would quadruple because it takes so much fuel to keep a plane aloft.”
Shipping wine in bulk packaging greatly reduces its emissions. Whether in tanks of juice that will be bottled later or kegs you can directly serve from, lighter packaging lets you ship more of the actual wine at a time. For the biggest reduction, source wine in bulk from your very own state.
What happens to the wine and packaging once it’s sold
Trash is the most obvious culprit of environmental harm. Altogether, a case of wine leaves behind about 18lbs of trash. Most people have beefed up their recycling practices but, on average, only 20% of glass is actually recovered. And that’s not counting the labels, corks, and shipping materials.
Triple Pundit estimates that “wines sold by the glass account for up to 80% of wine sold in restaurants, which equates to approximately 600 million bottles per year.” Replacing just a fraction of that with kegs or other bulk packaging would save millions of bottles from the landfill.
Stainless steel kegs eliminate waste because they can be cleaned and reused over and over. Some companies are making recyclable kegs out of recycled kegs in an attempt to close the waste loop. These plastic “bag in ball” kegs don’t need to be washed or returned, which cuts down on transportation emissions and chemicals from cleaning. Whether plastic or stainless steel, most kegs hold over 2 cases of wine each, saving 36lbs from the garbage heap.
Alternative packaging also eliminates waste from spoilage and breakage so no juice ends up down the drain.
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
When building your wine program, make sure you consider wine from all angles. Why not take a step toward reducing your carbon footprint by sourcing local wine or installing an on-tap dispensing system?
It can be easy to get caught up in tradition – a beautiful bottle with the right weight just oozes class. In an industry so rooted in tradition, it’ll be a long time before any broad changes take hold. But, as the market calls for more sustainable practices and grows hungry for novel experiences, bottles will loosen their grip.