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How Green Are Wine Bottles?

Local recycling programs bottleneck flow of reusable glass

by Jane Firstenfeld
glass cullet
Glass cullet must be sorted by color before it can be recycled into other glass products. Photo source: State of Washington Department of Ecology
San Rafael, Calif.—The Glass Packaging Institute and its members proudly boast that glass is “endlessly recyclable,” and thus eco-positive. How effective this is in practice depends upon local recycling programs that deliver cullet (re-usable glass) to glass plants.

In an article titled “Costly sorting process hinders Oregon glass recycling,” the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, “Glass placed in recycling containers in Oregon often ends up in landfills, where it is used to aid drainage instead of being used to make new bottles. Oregon’s only glass bottle plant, operated by Owens-Illinois, only accepts glass that has been color-sorted, which can be cost-prohibitive. Some companies currently pay to ship glass to California for sorting.”

The news is indeed surprising, coming from famously green Oregon. Now Palo Alto, Calif.-based eCullet and Owens-Illinois, the world’s largest glass container manufacturer, are planning to open an eCullet plant to sort commingled glass in Portland, Ore.

In March 2013, eCullet announced the formation of Glass to Glass LLC, which would invest in “sophisticated glass-sorting equipment” to make more high-quality recycled glass available for use in O-I plants.”

The company explained, “Much of the recycled glass collected in North America comes from single-stream recycling, which mixes paper, metal, plastic and glass. This collection process often results in glass that is too contaminated to be successfully re-introduced into the manufacturing process. Improved sorting techniques will increase the amount of usable glass available.”

Suppliers: Cullet a draw
Sources that provide glass to the North American wine industry recently spoke with Wines & Vines about whether this is a major problem for the industry. Many of them, it should be noted, import bottles that are manufactured overseas.

“Cullet is readily and consistently available in traditional glass regions like Northern Europe, where government efforts and regulations guarantee a consistent supply,” said J.P. Giovanni, vice president of West Coast sales and marketing for Italian-based Bruni Glass Packaging.

Still, he agreed, “It is different in the U.S., where the glass-recycling effort is left to local companies, resulting in uneven supply from both a geographic and a seasonal perspective—and therefore unreliable supply and changing prices.

“It will require more awareness at the consumer level and more leadership at the local government and business level before we can experience dramatic improvements in the supply of cullet. The industry continues to sponsor awareness programs, such as the educational efforts led by GPI. There is also a lot of room in addressing the environmental—and therefore cost—impact of ancillary parts of the bottle,” he said.

Erica Harrop, president of Global Package LLC in Napa, Calif., responded: “We are aiming to reduce the carbon footprint wherever possible. We are mostly working with factories shipping near ports; minimizing packaging sourcing from various locations has aided in wastage reduction and extra movements worldwide.”

At Tricor Braun Winepak, sales manager Suzanne Gordon said, “It is my understanding from our domestic suppliers that the cullet supply is always tight, and that the quality of that supply is improving over time. We have put in place a zero-waste goal for our warehousing/repacking and have assisted our customers in improving their sustainability efforts in their operations.”

Marty Sychowski, president of All American Containers, Pacific Coast, also was optimistic. “Reports from our manufacturing sources confirm that they are each using increasing amounts of cullet. Overall, the industry definitely continues to grow in its ability for already used glass. We regularly use the Oakland recycle center both for our damaged glass as well as our cardboard, which comes either from our pallet packaging or from re-packing glass between content and printed cases.

“We also operate out of a fully solar warehouse in our Windsor, Calif., site, which actually generates more solar power than we could ever possibly use. We do, and will continue, to look for any other possible ways that we can operate as a more environmentally responsible company.”

Verallia’s Eco Series bottle range, according to Bob Parise, “meets the same standards of technical and aesthetic quality as traditional models, but with reduced environmental impact. In terms of logistics, the Eco Series can result in immediate gains for the customer’s environmental footprint and transportation optimization.” To date, Verallia has sold more than 1 billion of the Eco Series bottles, Parise said.

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