Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
The Co-Operative's Lighter Wine Bottles Save Hundreds of Tons of Glass and CO2

UK grocery chain The Co-operative has just announced significant reductions in the weight of its private label wine bottles. With the help of its supplier, Kingsland Wines and Spirits, the Co-operative achieved reductions that amounted to a savings of 725 metric tons of glass and 556 metrics tons of CO2. Not only does a major reduction such as this use fewer resources and save energy, the biggest reduction comes from having less weight to transport and therefore dramatically lower fuel costs. By the end of 2013, the Co-operative plans to reduce its packaging weights by a further 15% and increase its carrier bag reduction target to 75%.

The Co-operative is not the only company to have success with weight reduction in packaging. Coca-Cola has saved approximately $200 million over the course of 2 years through a 25% weight reduction in their 20-ounce PET plastic bottles, a 30% reduction in 12-ounce aluminum cans, and a 50% reduction in 8-ounce glass bottles. Perhaps the most impressive is the Sonoco-made jar for Kraft peanut butter, which uses 84% less glass than its predecessor.

While the Co-operative’s weight reductions are commendable, could the company aim higher? The weight for a varietal bottle (ex: a Chardonnay or Merlot) decreased by 14%. The weight for an entry-level bottle (the most basic wine a vineyard has to offer) dropped by 11%. This 11% reduction is supposedly the lightest weight possible for a Bordeaux-style bottle.

So if this is as light as a Bordeaux-style bottle can be, does that mean they can’t strive further? Furthermore, does wine even have to come in a bottle? While boxed wine has a low-class reputation, companies such as Black Box, Fish Eye and Bota Box are now making luxury wines. Boxed wine is sold at a lower premium because of the savings on packaging and transportation. Other alternatives such as tetra-paks and mini barrels are also slowly seeping their way into stores. If the Co-operative wants to meet its target, it needs to cast off the tradition of glass bottles and embrace some other methods soon (Speaking of alternative packaging, our upcoming Issue in Focus will be dedicated to packaging innovations across all sectors. If you feel as passionate as I do about this, feel free to contribute to the discussion here).

I do not want to crack down too hard on the Co-operative. It is important to show that this is just another step in a series of commendable decisions that will further the company’s sustainability. The Co-operative has featured fairtrade wines since 2001 and, along with Nestlé and Sainsbury’s, recently began using new "pathfinder" research to reduce the carbon footprint of its supply chain. With any luck, studies such as this will lead to more promising changes and improve upon this initial weight reduction.

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