New winds in wine packaging: lightweight and environmentally friendly

A lightweight glass bottle will protect wine equally well as a heavier one, but its carbon footprint is noticeably smaller. Other packaging materials are also suitable for products that will not be stored for a long time.

Packaging accounts for about a third of the climate impacts of wine – and more than 40 per cent without recycling. The lighter and more recyclable the packaging, the smaller its environmental loading. Alko’s Product Communications Manager, Master of Wine Taina Vilkuna, reminds us that, “Wine packaging is also used to create an image.

When wine is packaged in a large, heavy bottle, the desired message is that this is a high-quality project that is well protected by a sturdy bottle.”

In reality, a 330-gram glass bottle will protect wine equally well as a bottle weighing several kilos – even during long-term storage. The difference is that the carbon footprint of the lightweight bottle is significantly smaller.

Vilkuna is happy that the situation is changing. Consumers have begun to demand both lightweight and environmentally friendly packaging. Ecological thinking is also becoming more prevalent among wine producers and marketers.

Glass bottles are good for sparkling wine and long-term storage

A glass bottle is a good option when you intend to store wine for a long time, that is, from a year to decades. Glass provides excellent protection for wine. Glass keeps out oxygen, which will age wine over time.

Glass is also the best material for bottling sparkling wines. The pressure inside a champagne bottle is equivalent to six atmospheres – the same as you would find in a truck tyre. Thick glass can easily withstand such pressure.

Vilkuna notes that there is no point going over the top here either. Alko has categorised wine bottles weighing less than 420 grams as environmentally friendly packaging. For sparkling wines, the maximum weight for environmentally friendly glass bottles is 835 grams.

Plastic bottles are good for wine that will be consumed fresh

The majority of wines are bought to be consumed fresh rather than being stored in a cellar.

“A plastic bottle is a good option for wines that will be drunk relatively soon rather than being stored. The carbon footprint of a plastic bottle is also noticeably smaller than that of a glass bottle,” says Vilkuna.

Juha Viikari, Alko’s Quality Control Manager, agrees with Vilkuna.

“If you don’t intend to store wine for more than a year, other materials are on a par with glass. The packaging material itself does not detract from a wine’s quality. Plastic will let through a small amount of oxygen, but this will not be significant for short-term storage,” says Viikari.

People are starting to understand that wine does not always need to come in a glass bottle. Viikari says that a similar cultural shift has already occurred with regard to screw caps. Only 10–15 years ago, people thought that screw caps could only be used for wines of slightly poorer quality. Nobody thinks like this any more.

These days, New World wines are typically available in bags, boxes and plastic bottles. Wine culture in countries such as Australia and the USA has not been strangled by old traditions and regulations as it has been in Europe. But new and innovative wine packaging is continually being developed in both Europe and the New World.

Single-serving wine bags, flat plastic bottles and other packaging innovations

At a quick glance, this bottle looks normal. The wow effect only comes into play when you examine it more closely. It is indeed flat and has been manufactured from recycled PET plastic.

Flat plastic bottles are just one example of new innovative packaging methods.

According to Alko’s Sustainable Development Manager Laura Varpasuo, flat plastic bottles are just one example of the new and innovative wine packaging that is being launched globally. Watertight wood-fibre packaging has also been developed in Finland.

“Wood-fibre packaging is still experiencing some issues with regard to water- and airtightness. However, wood-fibre bottles are sure to make a breakthrough at some point. It would be great if they could come from Finland – the land of forests and engineers,” says Vilkuna.

Other new inventions include the single-serving wine bags that are already on sale at Alko.

“Wouldn’t it be handy to be able to buy slightly pricier wine like this? Or if you only want a glass of wine, you don’t have to buy a whole bottle,” says Varpasuo.

Vilkuna also mentions aluminium cans of wine, which are now of much higher quality.

Many new types of packaging seek to combine ecology with the familiar aesthetics of glass bottles, as the nature of the packaging itself already indicates that it is environmentally friendly.

“We have encouraged our suppliers to offer us products with more environmentally friendly packaging. When we are offered good, innovative packaging, we will introduce it into Alko’s selection. The content will, of course, still have to meet our standard criteria for selection. When it comes to industry development, we hope and believe that people in Finland are ready to try new packaging in the same way they are keen to taste new wines,” says Varpasuo.

Text: Matti Välimäki
Article pictures: Roope Permanto