There are great variations in the carbon footprints of different types of packaging per litre of alcoholic drinks. Glass bottles generate the most CO2 emissions and have the greatest environmental impact per litre of beverage, whilst cardboard options such as the Bag in Box (BIB) format generate the smallest. When it comes to the environmental impact, the weight and size of packaging are the decisive criteria. Fortunately, there are already sustainable packaging solutions being used around the world by alcoholic drinks brands.
One easy-to-remember rule is: the lighter and more recyclable the packaging, the smaller its climate impacts.
Although the media tends to focus on single-use plastics and its harmful impact on the environment, such as microplastics found in our oceans, multiple studies show it to be one of the least harmful packaging if used and recycled correctly. According to studies commissioned by Finland’s alcoholic beverage monopoly, Alko, in 2018 and 2019, glass bottle packaging produces the most emissions and has the greatest climate impact per litre of beverage because of the energy it consumes during manufacturing. For strong alcoholic beverages such as spirits, packaging manufacture comes second only after the energy consumed by distilleries during beverage production.
Furthermore, a more recent study in the UK by the IGD ‘Packaging: Which supermarket categories have the biggest opportunities for action?’ identified that 33% of all supermarket packaging impacts are from beer, wine, spirits (alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages).
The Alko report also states “that boxed wines, bagged wines and cardboard cartons have the lowest carbon footprints and least climate impacts per litre. The carbon footprint of aluminium cans is also less than that of plastic and glass bottles, as long as the cans are made from 70 per cent recycled aluminium, which is the general average in aluminium can manufacture. However, using recycled aluminium in aluminium packaging still has a larger carbon footprint than other forms of lightweight packaging.”
So it should be no surprise that cardboard solutions have been found and trialled within the wine industry, with the use of the Bag in Box (BIB) packaging format as well as cardboard bottles, such as those from Frugalpac. These solutions have now also been used by spirit brands such as No.1 Beverage Group from Sweden and Greenall’s gin from the Quintessential Brands Group, with the bottle comprising of a paperboard outer sleeve and a food-grade inner pouch.
The recyclable plastic liner can be easily removed from the paper so the paper bottle can be discarded in the recycling bin at home. The plastic liner can then be recycled at supermarkets or flexible plastic recycling points but cannot currently be recycled in household recycling bins. The same principle applies for the Bag in Box.
For reference – from Inside the Cask: The Green Wine Bottle made of Paper
Another green initiative by drinks brands was taken by Pernod Ricard with Absolut Vodka becoming the first global spirits brand to sell single-mould paper-based bottles commercially in the UK as part of its journey to create a fully bio-based bottle. These first-generation single-mould bottles are made from 57% paper with an integrated barrier of recyclable plastic and this initiative is part of a wider collaboration with Paboco (the Paper Bottle Company).
Carlsberg Group has also been trialling its new Fibre Bottle since 2022, putting the bio-based and fully recyclable beer bottle into the hands of consumers for the first time. A significant milestone for the Fibre Bottle is its plant-based PEF polymer lining, which has been developed by Carlsberg’s partner Avantium, a leading expert in renewable chemistry. PEF is made entirely from natural raw materials, is compatible with plastic recycling systems, and can degrade into nature should it end up outside national recycling systems.
In the USA, back in 2021 Splash Beverage Group launched Pulpoloco Sangria packaged in CartoCan paper can packaging. The CartoCan is 30% more environmentally-friendly than aluminum cans or PET bottles and uses 30% less total raw materials to create with the raw materials coming entirely from renewable sources.
For reference: Drinks Industry Sustainability Index – Trends Report 2020 by C&C Group and Footprint Intelligence
Looking specifically into the On Trade channel covering bars, restaurants, etc, it makes sense that some of these greener packaging options should be taken onboard, whether with a cardboard bottle as an alternative to the existing glass bottle or as a refill option in the form of a Bag in Box (BIB) or a pouch. Below is a comparison between glass bottles vs. Bag in Box (BIB).
Another model is the closed-loop system by ecoSPIRITS, a circular economy technology company that has developed the world’s first low carbon, low waste distribution technology for premium spirits and wine. Their patent-pending closed loop system nearly eliminates all packaging waste in the supply chain.
“With the ambitious goal of reducing our Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) by 50% per bottle by 2030, this collaboration with ecoSPIRITS is another step in the right direction to reduce our single-use glass bottles and ensure we move towards carbon neutrality by 2050.” Elisabeth Tona, CEO Liqueurs & Spirits, Rémy Cointreau
Naturally, the Nordic countries are leading the way, at least in Europe, to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 across its monopolies: Sweden’s Systembolaget, Finland’s Alko, Norway’s Vinmonopolet, Iceland’s Vínbúðin and the Faroe Islands’ Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins. These countries already have a high rate of recycling and acceptance of alternative packaging.
This also means that their main requirements from alcohol drinks suppliers going forward will be to:
- Minimise suppliers’ use of heavy weight glass bottles
- Maximise the use of low carbon footprint packaging
- Maximise the use of recycled material
- Maximise the recyclability of all their packaging
- Eliminate unnecessary packaging
- Support new innovative low carbon packaging solutions
- Implement best practices for energy efficient and low carbon transportation
- Encourage the implementation of best practices including, but not limited to, soil health, agrochemicals, biodiversity, circularity, water use, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
This is also reflected in part on the suggested actions from the IGD’s report ‘Packaging: Which supermarket categories have the biggest opportunities for action?’:
The future is bright for the drinks industry and its commitment to reduce their carbon footprint and hopefully consumers will also embrace these innovations and changes to traditional packaging formats for their favourite drinks brands.