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Wine: To go greener, bottles get lighter

Manufacturers are devising ways to make wine packaging have less of an impact on the environment. This month's bargain recommendations from Dave McIntyre include two examples.
Manufacturers are devising ways to make wine packaging have less of an impact on the environment. This month's bargain recommendations from Dave McIntyre include two examples. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
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By Dave McIntyre
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wine is about to get lighter.

Well, maybe not wine itself; we'll save the issue of overwrought, high-alcohol wines for another day. But there is progress to report in the campaign against heavy wine bottles, those broad-shouldered behemoths that seem to say more about the ego of the winemaker than the quality of the wine.

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Owens-Illinois, the world's largest producer of glass packaging, announced last month that it will begin manufacturing wine bottles weighing as little as 11.6 ounces for its North American market. The new bottles will weigh up to 27 percent less than similar bottles in its current product line, the company said.

This is not the first time O-I, based in Perrysburg, Ohio, has shed weight from wine bottles. In late 2008, the company signed on to produce 17-ounce bottles for California's Fetzer Vineyards, to replace the average 20.3-ounce bottles then in use. For a winery producing 23 million bottles of wine a year, that's a significant reduction in cost and the carbon footprint.

Lightening wine bottles is part of the wine industry's effort to become more green, just as society as a whole turns to reusable grocery bags and "carbon-neutral" becomes a lifestyle choice for individuals and corporations. Some wine writers, most notably Britain's Jancis Robinson, have campaigned against so-called "bodybuilder" bottles. Still, it is not uncommon to find bottles that weigh nearly four pounds when empty -- and not always carrying expensive wines.

O-I also might be feeling some green competition from producers of alternative wine packages. Consumers can now choose among an increasing number of wines in boxes and cardboard Tetra Paks. Those alternatives boast green credentials because they are lighter and can stack uniformly, cutting transportation costs as well as the carbon emissions created by getting wine from there to here. If they end up in landfills, they take up less room than bottles.

And there's the dirty little secret of glass: The nation lacks the capacity to recycle all those bottles we toss into our little blue bins.

"In the United States and other countries, a significant amount of glass slated for recycling actually ends up in landfills," Jay Scripter, O-I's vice president of sustainability, said in a statement. "We want to use that glass to make new glass containers."

As part of its new effort to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions, O-I said it would invest in improvements in the U.S. recycling system. The company's product uses 36 percent recycled glass; the new goal is to reach 60 percent by 2017. According to O-I, every 10 percent of recycled glass used in producing new bottles cuts carbon emissions by 5 percent and energy consumption by 3 percent.

Wineries can save money on bottles and on shipping while reducing their environmental impact. Consumers should be aware of this issue, too. Monster glass can add as much as $2 to the price of a bottle of wine. Wouldn't you rather pay for the quality of the wine rather than the weight of the bottle?

McIntyre can be reached at food@washpost.com.

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