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Are Glass Wine Bottles Bad for the Environment?

Glass wine bottles are a time-honored part of the wine industry. Unfortunately, they're also an environmental menace. Here's why.

Written by
Lindsey Anderson
Published

For most wine lovers, the bottle is an important part of the experience. The transparent packaging provides the perfect vehicle for aging and shipping wine, along with an opportunity to see the hue and showcase crucial label art and brand story. But no matter how sustainable the vintage is, those beautiful, elegant, and convenient glass bottles are something of an environmental menace.

If you think we’re suggesting that you ditch wine altogether, worry not: Your pursuit of a sustainable life does not mean forging your evening glass. But if the climate is of concern, a change in your purchasing habits—and a subsequent shift in industry habits—may make sipping an even more appealing prospect.

Environmental Impact of Glass Wine Bottles

When it comes to winemaking, glass bottles account for the bulk of the industry's greenhouse gas emissions—from production to shipping. Unlike cans and cardboard that can be manufactured using renewable energy sources, glass bottles demand enormous amounts of heat and energy to be produced; the combustion of natural gas and the melting of raw materials are required, emitting excessive amounts of carbon dioxide.

In addition, the protection needed to keep the fragile bottles intact in transit results in heavier packages, which means more fuel usage. To make matters worse, glass is hard to recycle. In fact, the United States, only recycles 31% of all glass products. Given that reusing the bottles is not an option, the aforementioned manufacturing and shipping processes must then be repeated over and over again.

Now, Let's Talk About the Wine Industry

The wine industry exacerbates this problem. In 2021, Americans purchased almost 1.1 billion gallons of wine, averaging roughly 4.3 billion bottles of wine sold in the U.S. each year.

So, the question is: Why can't wine producers use alternative packaging? The answer is that they can, but it's far less desirable.

From a consumer standpoint, glass packaging equates to higher-quality wine. Traditionally, wine packaged in a can, a cardboard box, or a bag appears cheaper, and wine is nothing if not a luxurious beverage. But it turns out that non-glass bottling comes with some additional benefits for those willing to sacrifice the agreed-upon aesthetic in favor of sustainability. 

As with most industries, there are some companies embracing eco-conscious methods, exploring options around differently-cased wine—and improving the optics around it. Read on to discover three non-glass ways to bottle wine for a more sustainably-minded sip.

Eco-Conscious Alternatives to Glass Wine Bottles

Fear, not wine lovers! Sustainably packaged wine is here—and it's accessible. These three packaging solutions make it possible for you to enjoy your wine sans environmental consequences.

1. Canned Wine

Cans are a common alternative to glass bottles—and they're far more sustainable, too. Cans are typically made from renewable or recycled resources, making them easier to recycle whilst increasing their eco-friendliness. Plus, a can’s small frame makes it the perfect serving size for any wine-loving individual.

Companies like Maker offer an ideal example of melding sustainability with desirability. By utilizing 100% recycled, cork-free cans, Maker packages its premium wines in material that has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than glass bottles.

2. Boxed Wine

Forget Franzia: The new guard of boxed wine is a touch more aspirational. When compared to glass production, cardboard production cuts carbon emissions practically in half and is one of the most recyclable options to date. Just be careful: Although these boxes are made from recyclable cardboard, they also typically contain a plastic lining. Make sure the product you purchase has measures in place to ensure you can dispose of it sustainably.

If you're open to trying wine in a box, Juliet is both delicious and attractive in more ways than one. Boxes of Juliet wine emit 84% less carbon than traditional glass bottles and are made from 100% recycled material. You can also slip out, rise, and recycle the BPA-free plastic lining in your curbside recycling bin with other #7 plastics. Or, get a free return label from Juliet and they'll do it for you.

3. Kegged Wine

Kegged wine is a trend with serious legs. In fact, kegs may be the most sustainable option. Why is this? According to Free Flow Wines, one keg can save up to 26 empty wine bottles. Even better news is that most kegs are made of stainless steel, making them reusable for up to 30 years. In that time, wine in kegs doesn't come into contact with the air, saving them from oxidation and increasing their longevity.

Contrary to popular belief, you can purchase finer wines in kegs. The flavor will remain consistent and the notes will remain equally as strong, preserving what many love most about fine, aged wines. From both an industry and consumer standpoint, kegs may be something of a standard for the future of winemaking.