Astor Wines says no to Styro, yes to plastic sleeves

I got a few wines from Astor Wine & Spirits in Greenwich Village via UPS the other day. When I opened the box, there was no Styrofoam. There weren’t any cardboard inserts. Instead, each bottle was wrapped in an inflatable plastic sleeve. It was the first time I’d seen this.

Styrofoam is popular with retailers and wineries shipping wine because it cradles and insulates the bottles. While it is ultralight, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of the shipment, it essentially never biodegrades. I always try to bring my Styro shippers back to a store so that they can be used again before their life taking up space in a landfill. One store, Grapes the Wine Company, actually includes a pre-paid label so consumers can return the empty box back to the store via Fedex for reuse and a store credit. Corrugated cardboard inserts are recyclable but they are quite heavy, increasing the carbon footprint. Pulp inserts are light and biodegradable.

The plastic sleeves that Astor uses, branded as Air-Paq, are both light and recyclable (though they are resin code 7, which many municipalities don’t recycle). Their staff inserts the bottles in the sleeve, then use a gizmo to inject the air and seal the sleeve (you can see a scintillating demo video here).

Reached via email, Andrew Fisher, owner of Astor, pointed out that it is much more space-efficient in their shipping area than Styrofoam, since there is just a plastic roll and a compressor. He elaborated, “Since Astor produces its own electricity and recaptures the waste heat to provide heating and cooling for our space, it seemed both incongruous and inconsistent to cling to Styrofoam shipping materials.”

Each bottle rests in an independent sleeve from the others so it can also be separated and used again for your wine travel needs. Or, if you have two boys like us, they each can put them on a hand and have a sword fight!

Related: “Poll: Styrofoam or cardboard for your wine shipping?

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19 Responses to “Astor Wines says no to Styro, yes to plastic sleeves”

  1. Those are awesome!

  2. Has anyone been able to establish how well these inflatable shippers protecte against extremes of heat and cold? For all its failings, styrofoam is remarkable good at maintaining an equable temperature.

  3. First found these in Chile last year for shipping wines home I’d bought at cellar door shops. Packed the sleeves in an inexpensive cooler and checked as luggage, made for a well insulated shipping container. The sleeves are still fully inflated a year later and I reused them this week.

  4. I support both your efforts to reduce landfill waste and your efforts to drink wines from Jasnieres! Which bottling did you buy?

    Full disclosure: Domaine de Belliviere is distributed by the competition here in Chicago and I buy it anyway, though more often than not Chambers Street in NY has the best deals.

  5. For traveling with wine in checked baggage we found a product called Wineskin. It’s essentially bubble wrap inside a thick gauge flexible plastic bag that is sealable and essentially leakproof. It’s a great tool for packing wine for travel and not worrying about a broken bottle leaking all over your clothes.

  6. Josh – glad you like!

    Jane – not sure about insulation though it seems intuitive that it would certainly provide more than cardboard. But Kevin provides some evidence from his experience. More tests needed!

    Damien – Sharp eye! I got the Les Rosiers bottling. As you can see, the taller, Riesling style bottles leave a bit of an air gap that the Burgundy bottles don’t.

  7. Great tip! I need to get some just for sword play. Dadgum it hurts when my kids whack my fingers with their swords.

  8. I’ve seen these but not yet done shipment tests. For those that have used them, how were the wines, themselves? The bottles could be just fine in terms of integrity but still have been damaged by weather–which was an original question I don’t believe has been addressed.

  9. No problem Santiago, LA, Seattle in late Feb. One reason I like checking wine as luggage, I have a pretty good idea how long it sits on the tarmack. I usually opt for Styro when shipping inside the US with an eye on weather and temps along the shipping route.

  10. I had to purchase these airpaq things over two years ago when I made the mistake of telling Southwest that there were wine bottles in the wine bag I was checking (it’s hell to be a traveling wine rep these days). Two years later, these are still as inflated as originally. I reused them when packing bottles into luggage until I came across WineSkins, which are less bulky and seal better. Think the airpaqs would be better for shipping; better insulation and better protection.

  11. Actually, we bought in a large amount of these bags for my wine shop. We did have the bags tested by an independent source for temperature differance during shipping compared to Polystyrene and Pulp. The wines using all three shippers were sent from California to Connecticut and back. They were sent at the same time on the same shipment. The temp variance was no more the 5 degrees. The big attraction is 300 to 1 space ratio. We can store 300 uninflated bags(think box of zip locked bags) in the space that 1 polystyrene box takes up. The recycling aspect will improve with the hope that future bags are biodegradable. Death to Poly!


  12. Unfortunately, large airchambers are poor insulators — gravity and any change in temperature produce convection currents inside the bladders, which is why inflatable air mattresses are fun in sun and the swimming pool, but cold camping in the mountains. So I would be wary of using them for long distance shipping during the summer. As checked luggage, I think they’d be great, except for their bulk.


  14. Tyler,

    Nice article. Good to see Astor helping out the environment as well.

  15. The chambers are small. The comparison to a air mattresses are way off.

  16. But Kevin provides some evidence from his experience. More tests needed!

  17. Are these UPS approved for wine shipments?

    It matters, unfortunately. UPS won’t honor insurance claims for “improperly packed” goods. Using a shipping container that has not been specifically approved makes breakage claims a major hassle.

    I know the whole idea is not to have the bottles break, but it happens anyway. No container is perfect. No one wants to be on the hook for expensive bottles broken in shipping.

  18. These are great but I have found something even better for the enviroment. It is pulp trays for shipping wine. They are recycled from newspaper and are recycable. The web site is They also carry tissue and gift bags.

  19. Pulp trays are good for the environment but are terrible for shipping wine. I work in a wine storage facility and receive wine shipments daily from FedEx, UPS and other carriers and the percentage of damage (ie. broken bottles) is MUCH higher in shipments using the pulp trays than it is with styrofoam. I haven’t received any broken bottles using the plastic air sleeves yet but I’ve received too small a sample size of them so far to measure how well they hold up safety wise to stryo or pulp.


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