Poll: Styrofoam or cardboard for your wine shipping?

“I have too much Styrofoam.” That was the “problem” that a wine writer confessed to while introducing himself at a recent wine writers conference.

There comes a point in the wine lovers’ evolution where getting wine from the local store just won’t suffice. We want a certain bottle, sometimes from the winery or sometimes from a store that offers a better price. So we have the wine sent by UPS or FedEx.

Of the boxes I receive, about half are filled with Styrofoam and about half with cardboard inserts to protect the bottles during transportation. In honor of Earth Day, which is the “greener” material?

My collaborator Pablo Paster calls it “a philosophical choice.” That’s because Styrofoam is much lighter than cardboard thus the box emits fewer greenhouse gases during transportation (though its manufacture emits 8.6 times the equivalent amount of cardboard says Pablo). Even though it can be recycled, it rarely is; new polystyrene is so cheap to manufacture. Thus it ends up in landfills where it takes up a lot of space and needs hundreds of years to break down. Cardboard can be recycled more readily. Both can be reused but probably aren’t reused more than once or twice.

Since I’ve expressed my opinions about the dreaded Styrofoam before, I’ll put the question to you: Which packaging material do you prefer, cardboard, with higher GHG transport emissions today, or Styrofoam, which doesn’t biodegrade?

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33 Responses to “Poll: Styrofoam or cardboard for your wine shipping?”

  1. I prefer the cardboard–takes up less space, easily stackable, and it doesn’t leave little foam bits all over your bottles!

  2. I’ll admit I voted for styrofoam for purely selfish reasons, I really feel that It keeps the wine more secure during shipping. And I can turn it on its side and use it as extra racking when I run out of space, as I invariably do.


  3. Thanks, Doc, for again raising the issue. I believe the point here is that we cannot continue to opt for short-term solutions that create long-term problems. How we package our goods has everything to do with the values we place on how we shall continue to live on this finite planet.

  4. Great issue! Whether you dislike Styrofoam on environmental, health, convenience or other grounds, we must eradicate it from the face of this planet! Also, I am allergic to it! Even though I have to cut up a lot of cardboard each week for recycling, I use the time to think of a Styrofoam-free world (and one without plastic water bottles).

  5. It’s a tricky situation. You need the best way to cushion and insulate the product, while being economical and ecological.
    I wonder why we don’t get wine shippers made out of the cornstarch peanut material that was so popular a few years ago? Or the sugar cane to-go containers that are all the rage in the SF Bay Area.

  6. Styrofoam is my preferred packing material, primarily because I can bring it into the store and we can reuse it. Cardboard usually just turns into a cat bed in my apartment, and then I have to go and cut it up for recycling. I cut up enough boxes in the store to not want to have to do it at home.

    Also, when shipping across the country, or even just in-state, it’s much easier to pack and keeps the wine in a more stable environment, temperature-wise. The shredded-cardboard inserts have no insulation, and usually end up shedding all over my apartment and myself.

  7. styrofoam yuck it gets everywhere in the house, both are recyclable I guess. I perfer cardboard tho

  8. Thea, I think you’re on to something.

    Kat, are you (and other merchants) providing incentives for your customers to return their styrofoam materials to you for additional use? Do you or the jurisdiction you’re in have a public styrofoam recycling program?

  9. winehiker –

    I saved a bunch of Styrofoam containers and took them to a big shop near me. They didn’t want them. Oy! And to think that each case costs them $12 new… I haven’t been back to that store for a while…

  10. Tyler, I too have tried that! I’ve also tried it with incandescent light bulbs, which have lead in them – but I used the phone that time.

    I’ve often mentioned to folks that styrofoam has a half-life of 10,000 years, but I might have been wrong about that. Apparently it’s got a half-life of Never according to these folks.

  11. […] you considering the type and amount of packaging in the products you […]

  12. Can the styrofoam containers be recycled?

    I have this uneasy feeling about the ability of cardboard to protect the bottles from heat and impact during transport. I have been saving the larger styrofoam containers I have received as I am preparing to move and, again, feel they will better protect my wines.

    I used to get styrofoam while in wine country, but since I bought a cooler on wheels, I find I can carry more wine and keep it cooler with a reusable cold pack.

  13. vino is not greeno
    it is expensivo
    protect your stuff
    don’t be gruff
    just send a check to green peace “O”

  14. Another round of applause for Operaman, everyone!


  15. I prefer styro for its thermal properties, and assuage my guilt by bringing empties over to a wine store that is more than happy to take and reuse them. Incidentally, they tell me NOT to bring my cardboard ones… too much breakage.

  16. As a producer who ships thousands of cases of wine a year across the country, I really wrestle with this issue. But alas, I have to go with Styrofoam. Last year, I received two different shipments of wine off the same UPS truck at the same time. Both from local wineries. One six pack was packed in cardboard, the other in Styrofoam. The bottles in cardboard were quite warm and displayed no headspace, i.e., the wine got so warm it had expanded and was pushing on the cork. The bottles in Styrofoam still had ample headspace and were somewhat cool still. Given that wine is a perishable product, that was all the evidence I needed. I’ve also heard of too many reports of breakage when shipping in cardboard.

  17. At the winery I work at, they used foam shippers completely when I started there 4 years ago. I worked hard at moving them into recycled pulp (cardboard) trays instead. There was a lot of resistance at first.

    What we found is that the 12 bottle pulp tray shippers just didn’t hold up well during shipping with UPS.

    We now use foam for the 12 bottle shippers but recycled pulp trays for everything else.

  18. I recently made the decision to switch the tasting room I run from stryo to pulp trays. Plup trays are just so much easier to store and take up little space in our already over stuffed cellar. Personally though I believe that stryofoam is a better insulator and is safer but its a risk I’m willing to take on sub-$30 bottles.

  19. I buy most of my wine in Chicago and fly home with it. I only see styrofoam inserts in the stores when I ask for or buy a shipping carton. It always protects the wine well, but my basement is now filled with empty foam cartons. The recycling is a problem.

  20. It’s too bad that some of the comments here complain of breakage with cardboard/pulp. I guess I’m lucky to never have had that problem.

    Re: insulation, do you really find that it helps? I suppose the flipside is also true: if it gets too hot in a truck all day when being picked up then it could *stay* hot in the warehouse that night.

    It’s really amazing that there isn’t a better option–one that is insulating, cushioning, and biodegradable.

  21. I’ve received a lot of cardboard packing and never received a broken or damaged bottle. I guess using soil as the packing material would be too heavy. Maybe popcorn (particularly the caramel corn variety) would work well. Might be an insulator, too.

  22. Tyler,

    How does creating a fleet of climate controlled wine delivery vans impact the environment?

  23. While I look out over a sea of styrofoam containers sitting in my livingroom, unable to be recycled by my town in Spain, I’m sad. I would much prefer to receive my bottles in a mound of edible popcorn, rice cakes or even popped wheat than styrofoam! Obviously, I realize that protecting the wine is key, but I have to imagine in 2008, we can be more creative than this.

  24. I think that Dr. Vino should stay off the Al Gore band wagon. If you are going to send me wine from somewhere in the country it had better be in EPS styrofoam. In the winter it won’t freeze the wine and in the summer it won’t toast and pop the cork. This is a no brainer for the true wine expert.
    Dr. Vino should consult Robert Parker or anyone who understands that wine is a living thing and corrugated( not cardboard- you stand corrected Dr.) is not what should be used to protect it.
    Would you recieve a live lobster from Maine in just a box. It would die. You are killing the wine in anything but styrofoam. Mike

  25. I agree with Mike above. But I found a website that carries 100% recycled foam. It will protect the temperature of your wine AND is environmentally friendly. A great idea and I am a big fan. http://www.boxvendor.com

  26. This is a good discussion to have as the shipping of valuable perishable wine in styrofoam is a reality, thank you! The solution that would most simply answer the problem would be to ask the recipient of the styrofoam container to simply return the styrofoam box to the store or winery for re-use.:) It would be so easy just to have fed-ex or ups put that empty box back on their truck. The winery or store coould even offer you a return label at the time of purchase. The carbons are already being burned by ups and fed-ex, so why not re-use these non-biodegradable styrofoam containers? How about the large volume shippers buying up these boxes or offering return labels?? KLwines.com Wine.com, Winebid.com?????

  27. I came across this by Googling but felt the need to “chime in.” While we don’t ship wine, we do a lot of electronics shipping. Even the “anti-static” styrofoam peanuts are still a bit clingy.

    We switched to “mostly” cardboard in the past few months. We “shred” it in-house using the incoming shipments and picking up unused cardboard boxes from local stores.

    What we get is not truly shredded but rather a net-looking mat that is max 15″ wide and varying lengths. It’s great to wrap around products, layer within boxes, roll up as space filling padding or you can also “pull and twist” which makes it “fluffier” making it great for filling spaces with minimal material for light packages.

    It’s been so well noticed that some of our customers have requested to receive only shipments with the cardboard packing and two local moving supply companies are now buying the material off of us and reselling.

    It stores flat, ships flat, and is highly reusable and doesn’t blow all over the warehouse when the door is opened!

    We had seen the stuff and when we couldn’t really find a place to purchase it, we ponied up several thousands of dollars for he machine.

    If you’re interested in getting some from us email me at jbrown@chimneytower.com

  28. The molded pulp has been tested and certified by UPS , FedEx and ISTA.Corrugated inserts are suspect if the board strength is downgraded.Also the outer box must be of sufficient strength to protect the total weight of the package.The problem with the 12 pack molded pulp is too light weight an outer box.It should be at least 275# double wall.Buy only tested and certified packaging.It is possible that an inexpensive insulated bag can be invented so you can ship your wine in extreme temperature environments.I will keep you posted.The molded pulp is so much cheaper than EPS and it is completely biodegradable and is made almost wholly from recycled materials. Why anyone would not use it is a mystery to me.Cheers from San Diego county!

  29. […] “Poll: Styrofoam or cardboard for your wine shipping?“ Permalink | Comments (0) | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Astor Wines says no to Styro, yes […]

  30. We get most of our wine in cardboard boxes that have a pressed cardboard type material enclosing the wines. It is biodegradable. We save the boxes and inserts and re-use them to send wine to friends and also give them to friends so they can do the same. Those we don’t use we put in the recycle bin. If possible we avoid shipping by having the wineries hold our wine until we can pick it up. Always looking for a good excuse for a road trip!

  31. What about Pulp? Pulp is the way to go. Made from recycled newspaper. Better for the enviroment that Styro. I found it on line.

  32. Any idea of where I can purchase bulk pulp wine shippers? Specifically 2-bottle, 3-bottle and 12-bottle. A winery that I am a member of still uses styrofoam and we cannot recycle it here in Santa Cruz, CA. Thank you in advance.

  33. […] styrofoam users, criticizing their contribution to our environment’s demise. Dr. Vino even conducted a poll, asking readers whether they prefer styrofoam or cardboard (70 percent voted for […]


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