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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Closed-Loop, Reusable Distribution System Saves Spirits Producers Costs, Emissions, Materials

EcoSPIRITS’ EcoTOTE system replaces traditional, 1.75-liter liquor bottles with reusable glass containers that reduce emissions by 60-90% while maintaining product quality.

When you think of your favorite local bar, chances are a wide back bar comes to mind with a sea of glass bottles of all different shapes, sizes and colors.

While some beverage producers have made significant advances in lightweighting their bottles, all of those bottles still represent a sizable portion of a distillery’s emissions footprint — not to mention the effort it takes to responsibly recycle that glass once the bottle is empty. It also doesn’t help that glass recycling has been on the decline in the US and is only now looking at a resurgence.

For bars, restaurants, event venues and the like, this presents a serious challenge. High-volume locations such as these can handle triple-digit tonnage of glass annually; and even in cities where the recycling infrastructure is good, there’s a good chance not all of that glass is actually being recycled.

For a company such as EcoSPIRITS — which has developed a closed-loop distribution system that nearly eliminates packaging waste in the premium spirits supply chain — and a rum brand such as Candela Mamajuana, this challenge becomes an opportunity.

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As Candela US brand ambassador Dave Raphael explains: “70 percent of the base cost of spirits is shipping and packaging.”

Less heft, more spirits

Image credit: Candela

Candela is transitioning part of its distribution to EcoSPIRITS’ EcoTOTE program — which replaces a certain amount of traditional, 1.75L alcohol bottles with reusable glass containers filled at a central point, then shipped to the venue for use in a preset system. Once the EcoTOTE is empty, EcoSPIRITS picks it up, sanitizes it and puts it back into the distribution system for reuse — the company estimates each EcoTOTE can be reused 150 times.

EcoSPIRITS — whose investors include Closed Loop Partners and Pernod Ricard — was founded in Singapore in 2018 and has grown over time to distribute spirits via the EcoTOTE to more than 1,000 venues in 19 countries. In most countries where it operates, the containers can hold up to 4.5 liters of liquid, replacing even more bottles — in 2022, Pernod Ricard became the first global drinks company to partner with EcoSPIRITS. Its Absolut Vodka, Beefeater Gin and Havana Club rum brands are now available in the EcoTOTE in Hong Kong and Singapore; and Pernod is now in the process of expanding the partnership to markets outside of Asia.

Meanwhile, partially due to complex alcohol-distribution regulations here in the US, EcoSPIRITS can only offer its containers in the 1.75L and 750ml sizes, which launched earlier this year in California and Florida.

According to EcoSPIRITS USA managing director Zdenek Kastanek, one 4.5L EcoTOTE can eliminate more than 1,000 liquor bottles (with a 1.75L TOTE eliminating 350) over its lifespan. Further, based on an emissions calculator formulated by Deloitte, EcoSPIRITS estimates it eliminates 60-90 percent of the 550 grams of carbon emissions are eliminated when Candela is sold in the 1.75L EcoTOTE container, versus a traditional glass bottle of the same size.

What’s in it for Candela

For Candela co-founder Alejandro Russo, partnering with EcoSPIRITS aligns with the brand’s broader mission to “produce rum as sustainably as possible” — which, of course, is a bit vague; but the brand is walking its talk on a number of important fronts.

Candela works with a large contract distillery in the Dominican Republic (where Mamajuana is produced and is an intrinsic part of the country’s culture) that runs on renewable energy, transforming sugarcane byproduct into distillery fuel (all of the raw product comes from responsibly farmed sugarcane fields within an hour of the distillery). Although the distillery was unavailable to speak further about its efforts, it also purifies rainwater and cools product without the need for energy-intensive air conditioning.

Russo also noted that Candela is working towards the launch of a social empowerment program that will aim to educate and employ young adults in the country’s hospitality program, which aims to elevate more working-class Dominicans.

As Candela rolls out into more bars and restaurants, there are potential significant cost savings with the EcoTOTE system, as well. Refilling and shipping one container versus purchasing and shipping new glass is substantially cheaper on both ends, making it compelling for bars limited on space and high on a plan to better monitor inventory.

For now, EcoSPIRITS is still a small piece of the vast US distribution system; though the company says it is near signing a larger deal with one of the major players, which would theoretically open the EcoTOTE program to much broader use. Already, the company says it is eliminating thousands of tons of single-use glass waste per year.

For an early adopter such as Candela, reducing the many costs of distribution could lead to much swifter growth outside its US home base of South Florida.