Wine bottle recycling is low – but some bottles getting lighter

The EPA reports that 28 percent of glass packaging was recycled in America in 2007. If you think that’s low, consider the number for wine (and liquor) bottles: 15 percent.

It’s a bit of a puzzle why wine (and liquor) bottle recycling rates are so low nationally. While some municipalities require bottle recycling, many more clearly do not. The consumption pattern of wine is amenable to recycling, it would seem, since it’s consumed in a dining room or restaurant: Unlike single-serve water or soda bottles, corks are generally pulled only a few paces from a recycling bin.

Hopefully this rate can rise. The NYT reported that in April, House Democrats introduced a proposal to place a five cent deposit on all beverage containers. (If that ever sees the light of day, hopefully unreturned wine bottles will not see the deposit go to the wholesaler rather than the state’s coffers.) Even though deposits are small where they exist now, the EPA report indicates recycling rates for glass beer and soft drink bottles are more than twice that of wine (and liquor) bottles at 34 percent.

Meanwhile, wine producers are slimming the weight of their bottles. Jancis Robinson once posted a “name and shame” list of heavy bottles. But now the pendulum is starting to swing the other way, if somewhat slowly compared to other drinks. Overseas, Torres is slimming their bottles. Fetzer Vineyards, one of the largest American winemakers, has announced 16 percent lighter bottles. Why? Not only are lighter bottles cheaper for the producer to buy, but the lower mass means lower carbon dioxide emissions during transportation.

On a related note, longtime readers might be interested to note that the paper that I co-authored on the carbon footprint of wine has been published in the current issue of the Journal of Wine Research.

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23 Responses to “Wine bottle recycling is low – but some bottles getting lighter”

  1. I know green glass is a common glass that isn’t accepted in some recycling programs/centers. And since that’s the major glass used for wine bottle production that doesn’t help with the ease of recycling.

  2. Boisset is using lightweight glass this year for our Beaujolais Nouveau from Mommessin and Bouchard Aine et Fils. Since the wine has to be airshipped over, we are are doing all we can to lighten the load and reduce our carbon footprint!

  3. I’ll second what Robert said. I live in a rural municipality in Pennsylvania, and we have no curbside recycling. In order to recycle, we have to transport our recyclables to a nearby collection point. We do so, but it’s a minor annoyance, risking drips and stains in our cars (a hatchback and wagon).

    But the recycling centers near us don’t accept green glass, which is the great majority of my wine bottles (and many of my beer bottles). So we save those up, and take them to my parents’ house, because their curbside recycling accepts green glass. But you can see we’re getting a bit removed from “chuck it in the conveniently located bin.”

  4. I’ll offer a weird and obviously anecdotal data point from flyover country. I used to have a neighbor who was embarrassed to put her wine bottles in the recycling, but felt bad not recycling them. So she asked for permission to put them in my bin, as there were usually a few bottles clanging around in there already. (What does this say about my reputation?)

    Obviously I didn’t mind, and she didn’t do it that often. But occasionally I’d take the dog out in the morning before I was fully awake and see a strange wine bottle, thinking, “I don’t remember drinking that…”

    I have no idea how big this impact might be, but if you’re in an area that’s staunchly anti-alcohol, or you’re an underage drinker, or (god forbid) a secret alcoholic, then you might have reasons to not put your empties in the curbside bin.

  5. States with bottle bills recycle about three times more bottles and cans (around 75% or more) than states without. Some bottle bills include wine bottles. We need more states to pass these or for there to be a national bottle bill to cover all beverage containers. More info:

  6. This post reminded me of the news I read back in June regarding the new fine for recycling in San Francisco.

    Already the town does such a great job, but their standards go even higher with a fine of $500 to anyone who chooses not to recycle. It speaks a lot to their value of the cause.

  7. The bit about the lighter bottles is good news since I’m always surprised when I read about how big the carbon footprint is just from wine. I’m wondering though if anyone knows a wine offset service they can recommend?

    I found something called Belgrave Trust that kinda does, but I’m trying to find a site dedicated to just wine collections so I can really get into the details.

  8. Interesting/funny stories about recycling efforts!

    @Steve do you have a thought as to why wine bottles have such a lower recycling rate?

    @Dylan, yes, SF points one way to get it done.

    @John – are you looking to purchase carbon offsets to offset your wine collection? Generally, there’s more of a market for such things as plane travel etc. But CO2e is still CO2e.

  9. There are some fairly large metropolitan areas, such as Houston, who do not require recycling. There’s no shortage of space for landfill and its cheaper for them to send it to the dump. Texas is a big wine market nationally and if that’s the local sentiment I can see why it would make a big dent in the recycling figures.

  10. More and more scientific evidence indicates that increased CO2 in the atmosphere has little effect on global temperature. All this effort by the wine industry and its customers to reduce the humans’ carbon footprints is futile for the justifying reasons.

    Meanwhile, increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have been scientifically shown to benefit plantlife. I assume this benefit would apply to vine growers. Why fight it?

  11. What about wine in an aluminum bottle….? I saw and tasted a wine called THINK in an aluminum bottle. ligter (about 50% less than conventional glass bottle) and 100% recyclable. Not only does this seem practical, but it tastes good and its even a little fashion forward. it was about $9.

  12. I’d second what mph wrote, adding that in my (sub)urban municipality, curbside recycling programs only recently began to accept colored glass (green, brown, blue, etc.). Until then, I saved empties and carted them a “few” cases at a time to the local recycling center. I doubt, though, that many of my neighbors went to the same trouble — a suspicion strongly reinforced by the amount of glass (and cans) that I saw put out as trash while out for early AM dog walks.

    Another factor that may figure in quite heavily, especially given the wine & spirits weighting of the data…. In my experience, disturbingly few bars and restaurants recycle. This, I hope, is not the case in states with bottle bills. But here in the greater Philly area, where there are no recycling requirements, an amazing amount of glass is tossed out with the trash.

  13. Marc – Aluminum, although light, takes a lot of energy to make.

    David – Great dedication! Pity they make it so hard for you. Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Interesting….

    I would have thought glass takes more enery to make. does anyone no this for certain?

  15. Can I sell my empty wine bottles to anyone? I have been saving them now for several months, and would hate to just throw them away. Is there not a MARKET for the empties, and not just a recycle bin? That seems like SUCH a waste, when these bottles are in great condition, and could be sanitized and reused by small wine companies.

  16. Thanks for this discussion! I’m in Walla Walla where a fair amount of wine is consumed / sampled etc. It’s maddening that wine bottles are “staged” for recycling at the local dump. Glass is too expensive to truck to a facility outside the city where actual recycling can occur. Residents have perception that glass is recycled. It’s still sitting in a land fill!

    On another note – at our last bottling, I was all set to use a new, light weight eco-glass made by Saint-Gobain. The glass was even to manufactured in Washington State which meant further reduction on carbon footprint but the initial production run had problems. I’m optimistic that this product will be great for our winery. I firmly believe that using lighter weight bottle will have a positive impact on consumers who are looking to reduce and reuse in anyway possible.
    Here’s a blog post about eco-glass from Wine Conscience

  17. if your near Houston, i’ll buy them. i’m trying to sanitized and reused bottles for my new product.


  18. As a home winemaker, the only bottles that get recycled are the ones I can’t use for my wines. These are the labels that are etched or painted on the glass.
    I wonder if there is a Phd thesis in how the amateur wine and beermaking hobby affects recycling efforts, CO2 production, etc.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

  19. Where there is mandatory or voluntary recycling, it always applies to households but less often to commercial establishments. I’m wondering if the consumption of wine/liquor outside the home compared to other items in glass bottles is higher, and therefore one reason for the difference. Since most bottle bills cover beer but don’t cover wine/liquor bottles, this would be another reason. It could also be the wine/liquor crowd cares less about recycling, although I don’t think that’s it. So the obvious solutions would be stronger bottle deposit laws and increased recycling collection and mandatory (enforced) recycling laws.

  20. Does anyone know where to find USED-EMPTY small glass (plastic would work, too) liquor bottles, like airline size, 50ml or so would be just perfect!
    I am all about recycling and I would like to use them to give away samples, to promote my new product. I have been hunting for little bottles and have had no luck finding them, I would hate ending up buying brand new bottles when I am sure there might be tons of these to reuse and recyle =(
    Thank you!

  21. […] “Wine bottle recycling is low – but some bottles getting lighter” Permalink | Comments (0) | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Talking PET, Paks, & pouches […]

  22. Well there is something better coming Wine Bottle Renewing, it turns out glass recycling uses a lot of fuel to melt the glass, making it not as green as it seems, so why not take a cue from the old soda bottles and reuse them. Check Wine Bottle Renew

  23. I’ve done some more thinking on this, and the answer to the problem and to the difference is bottle bills (deposit-refund laws.) Of the ten bottle bill states, only Maine and Iowa include wine in their programs. If all ten bottle bill states included wine bottles, I believe the wine bottle recycling rate would be consistent with other glass bottles. When you look across the board at all beverage containers, the bottle bill states recycle 70-95% of containers covered in their programs, while non-bottle bill states recycle around 30% or less. Since more beverage containers are recycled in the ten bottle bill states than the other 40 states combined, if we’re serious about recycling containers, we need more states to pass deposit-refund laws, or even better we need a national bottle bill like many European countries have and Australia is talking about. All Canadian Provences have deposit programs on non-alcoholic and/or alcoholic containers. Of the ten Provences that DO include WINE in their programs, the recycling rate is around 80% or higher.


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