The Wine Debate: Glass vs. Plastic

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In an effort to move towards more sustainable packaging, Sutter Homes Winery is now using PET bottles for all of its 187-mL wine bottles sold in the U.S, according to Greener Packaging. But Sutter Homes isn’t the first winery to make the big switch.

Australia-based Foster’s Group decided to change its packaging for its new “Green label” brand wines from glass to plastic. With this move, the company expects to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the bottle by 29 percent.


Glass containers come in four different colors: clear, blue, brown and green; glass must be separated by color to ensure that new glass is not created from a mix of colors. Photo:

However, a study commissioned by plastic bottle maker Portavin found that while bottling wine in recycled plastic may be better for the environment, it hinders the quality of the wine.

In comparison to glass bottling, PET bottles use less greenhouse emissions due to their light weight. However, Portavin says that plastic is only good for up to 12 months when used as wine packaging. Some wines even begin to oxidize as early as eight months.

But while the trend is growing, Portavin says it is unlikely that it will catch on and become a mainstream concept.

“PET is fine for wine you plan to use under 12 months, but not for wines that are designed to improve in the bottle,” Portavin’s Managing Director Ian Matthews tells Reuters. “It’s highly unlike plastic will ever take over from glass because the PET format doesn’t suit every style of wine.”

On the bright side, glass recycling is much easier today compared to 20 years ago as it is 40 percent lighter. In fact, Americans recycle nearly 13 million glass jars and bottles every day.

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  1. Pingback: The Wine Debate: Glass vs. Plastic | News for Living Green

  2. Another potential way to reduce the environmental impact of wine is screw tops instead of corks. It’s pretty tough to find a cork recycler, and it doesn’t really do anything to protect the wine. But I think this would run into the same issue as PET bottles, that wine drinkers would equate these changes to a lower quality of wine.

  3. if we are focusing soley on “buy and drink” wines then plastic or boxed wines are a good alternative to glass. i can’t believe the reduced amount of glass recycles i have since switching from every day wine in glass to every day wine in a box. the quality of boxed wines is increasing and isn’t limited to white zinfandel these days.i personally will never buy a wine for a dinner party or to hold for more than a month or two that’s in anything but glass with a regular cork. i love my environment, my wine and my checkbook, it’s about finding the happy medium for all.

  4. There is no mention of possible health considerations related to contamination by carcinogens and other chemicals leaching out of the plastic into the wine.

  5. Looks like people have a lot of misconceptions about packaging on the comments here. The biggest enemy to beverages is light. Because wine is usually in dark bottles this is not a problem. PET plastics are very good at filtering light and allow for clear bottles without huge deteriation. PET 1 does not leach bad chemicals into the product (pthalates is what R. Magne might be calling carcinogenes) and is primarily the type of PET used. Just flip the bottle over and look for the recycling triangle formed out of arrows and the number should read 1.

    Screw tops are a problem because the allow the close second enemy of beverages, oxygen. Oxygen tears colors and flavors to pieces. Its a real issue for flavor driven beverages like wine, beer, or spirits. Corks provide a much safer barrier to oxygen than twist-tops. The twist-tops may look like they are a good seal, but they are not, just ask a beer snob. PET has the problem of allowing oxygen to leach through which is why they are only good temporary containers. Keep in mind a lot of spoilage and pathogenic (make you sick) bacteria love oxygen too, to keeping it out is a must.

    As a food scientist, and foodie by heart, I believe the foiled cartons called tetrapacks are the best alternative to glass. They will not hurt the flavor and with a sealed cap they limit oxygen penetration (they are PET seals so it wont allow for cellaring). As for ecological impact they contain paper and foil, which biodegrade much quicker than plastic. They are light weight and have a reduced carbon waste rate than both plastic and glass. I have only found a couple producers using this packaging so your selection is sadly limited.

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