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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
California Wineries Finding Significant Cost, Emission Savings with rPET Wine Bottles

Amcor is ramping up usage of an industry-standard, 750-ml version of a recycled PET bottle with technology that’s long been in use in smaller formats.

Traditional glass packaging represents a number of problems when it comes to the totality of wine’s environmental impact. First, glass requires a lot of heat and energy to produce. Next, there’s the fact that less than a third of all glass in the US is recycled. Lastly, glass is heavy — and more weight equals more shipping emissions.

Beyond this trifecta, there’s been growing sentiment to explore long-term alternatives to glass packaging in wine’s traditional 750-ml format to find something lighter, more recyclable and ultimately less resource-intensive to produce.

The recent launch of a new recycled PET (rPET) bottle in this higher-volume vessel proves to be a first step in that direction — providing almost fully recyclable and shelf-stable bottles to the wine industry at a fraction of the conventional weight.

The bottles came about through a multi-year partnership between packaging giant Amcor’s Rigid Packaging division and California wine producer Ron Rubin, who sells wine under his namesake label and River Road Family Vineyards and Winery. While Rubin is the most prominent producer using the rPET bottles, selling his wine under the Blue Bin moniker, Amcor says a “small” number of other wineries are also piloting them. Rubin is advertising the bottles as “the first wine bottle that’s 100% recycled and 100% recyclable;” and while that’s technically true, Amcor senior marketing manager Jonathan Jarman explained to Sustainable Brands® (SB) that the bottle closure is not, and the bottle is only recyclable in areas that support plastic recycling.

What’s more, while the concept of these larger bottles is new, the technology isn’t. The bottles consist of 100 percent rPET with a thin layer of a material called Plasmax — a silicon oxide coating that prevents oxygen permeation from reaching the wine, as oxygen exposure can lead to spoilage — which Amcor has used in wine bottles for nearly 20 years. The rPET bottle is most recognizable in its 187-ml (half-bottle) sizing, often used in travel and aviation settings. According to Amcor, the bottles keep wine fresh for up to 18 months.

Made closer to home

Lost under the headlines of the material recyclability is that the bottle is made in Fairfield, California — less than an hour from Napa Valley wine country and from Blue Bin’s Sebastopol headquarters, and just about four hours from the state’s central coast wine region. Considering upwards of 70 percent of US glass bottling is imported from China, pivoting to domestically produced rPET or PET would save immensely on shipping and environmental costs, and contribute to a more stable and resilient supply chain. Amcor says it produces nearly 300 million wine bottles per year, including the 187-ml PET bottles for big names such as Sutter Home and Barefoot.

Bringing bottle production closer to some of the industry’s largest producers could lead to a big shift — but it’s going to take a shift in awareness from consumers first. To be clear, the real potential of these PET and rPET bottles lies within the lower third of the wine market. Amcor and Rubin are both positioning the vessel for hotels, pools, hospitality and outdoor-adjacent spaces where a light, shatterproof bottle with a medium-level, yet premium beverage matches up to the desired experience of the consumer. It’s a safe bet that a $300 bottle of Bordeaux is probably not going to be bottled in anything other than glass; but for the everyday wine drinker, the idea of a PET bottle isn’t so far-fetched.

Jarman says that the potential of PET and rPET comes down to the swiftness in which the average consumer finishes a bottle of wine. Amcor research finds that as much as 95 percent of a bottle of wine is consumed within the first 48 hours after purchasing, meaning that the vessel it's sold in is almost secondary to the experience.

Adapting to the change

But a broad shift to rPET wouldn’t only require a complete rethinking of the bottling process — it would take new technology, as well.

“We built a mobile bottling unit to bottle Blue Bin; and as the volume grows, we will grow with that,” Rubin tells SB.

Jarman adds that while the bottles are available to anyone, it’s going to take a few early adopters to prove the case before larger producers follow suit.

“There has to be some proof demonstrating that it’s worthwhile to make the change,” he says.

While he didn’t get into the details, Jarman noted that wine producers can save money in the long run by converting to rPET and PET bottling, just on shipping and storage costs alone with the lighter overall weight. He says Amcor also did a study with bartenders and found that they may also prefer the lighter bottles — the average, 750-ml PET wine bottle weighs 85 percent less than the same-sized glass bottle, for a total saving of eight pounds per case. It’s a similar benefit to what Champagne Telmont is experiencing with its “world’s lightest Champagne bottle,” launched last year — a lightweighted glass bottle yielding significant shipping and carbon savings, despite only being 35 grams lighter than the commercial standard.

Early adoption of rPET bottles made sense for a producer like Rubin — whose operation is one of only 33 certified B Corp wineries in the world and one of five in California. While Rubin does not use organic grapes and “has no interest” in biodynamic practices, his winery does meet other sustainability criteria — earning the Certified Sustainable seal from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

“If you look at the total cost of ownership, (wine producers) are saving money by converting to PET in the long run,” Jarman says. “We’re so much lighter than the glass — it’s just that much cheaper to ship, and lends itself to e-commerce in an exciting way.”

Four 2022 vintage varietals of Blue Bin wine in the rPET bottles are now available for $15 each in three states: California, Texas and Florida.