Tetra Pak and wine: a low carbon footprint alternative package
Interest in the environmental impact of the wine industry has been a topic for sometime. Analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of wine suggests that the way wine is packaged, how it transported, and how far it is transported are the major contributors to the overall carbon footprint of a bottle of wine.
Of the three major contributors to wine’s carbon footprint, the wine package is the element most under the control of the winery. This has prompted some wineries to consider containers other than the traditional glass bottle. We reported earlier on plastic (PET) wine bottles and the widespread use of bag in box (BIB) technology for wine, but there is another player in the alternative wine packaging market – Tetra Pak. Most people in the U.S. think of juice boxes or maybe chicken stock when we think about Tetra Pak containers, but there is a lot more to it.
The history of Tetra Pak
Tetra Pak, the company, got its start in Sweden in the 1920s when Dr. Ruben Rausing and Erik Ackerlund founded the packaging company, Ackerlund and Rausing. After acquiring sole ownership of the company in the 1930s, Dr. Rausing continued to expand his company’s product line. In 1944, Dr. Rausing assigned a young research scientist named Erik Wallenberg the task of developing a new package for milk. Wallenberg’s efforts lead to the development of a four sided container that was called the Tetra Pak.
While the packaging idea had lots of merit, material selection for the container proved difficult. Dr. Rausing and his colleagues spent almost a decade developing the four-ply system used to make the Tetra Pak package. By 1952, the four part film composed of polyethylene, aluminum, cardboard, and polyethylene had been developed, and the first commercial application was started at the Lund Dairy in Sweden.
Tetra Pak and wine
Shortly after the introduction of Tetra Pak as a milk container, the technology was applied to other beverages such as wine. Wine was a natural choice for Tetra Pak packaging for several reasons. Most of the world’s wine is ordinary table wine that is consumed shortly after production. Since long-term storage or aging is not a requirement, bottles are not necessary. The important considerations for short term storage of wine are avoiding exposure to oxygen, sunlight, and excessive heat. Tetra Pak cartons protect wine from exposure to sunlight and oxygen through the use of a thin aluminum film inside the four-ply box, and it does so at a fraction of the cost of glass bottles.
Tetra Pak’s storage characteristics and cost savings compared to glass bottles created a large world-wide market for wine packaging. In 2008, Tetra Pak sold approximately 1.7 billion wine containers, and the market is growing. Debbie Dawson, Director of New Market Development, says sales of Tetra Pak’s wine packaging is growth in “double digits.” The largest users of Tetra Pak containers are Argentina, Italy, and Spain, but new markets are coming online all the time.
Tetra Pak and wine in the US
Tetra Pak wines are relatively new to the US. According to Dawson, wines started showing up in Tetra Pak cartons in the US in 2004, and their use is growing rapidly and is primarily propelled by our growing environmental awareness. “People are interested in the lifestyle choice that is reflected by using Tetra Pak. If you can get good wine and do something good for the environment at the same time, why not do it?” Dawson said.
Reducing the environmental impact of wine
What does switching from glass to Tetra Pak do for the environment? According to Tetra Pak’s corporate website:
Tetra Pak cartons use 92% less packaging to deliver the same amount of wine; 54% less energy than that of glass bottles throughout the entire life cycle; create 80% less greenhouse gases; 35-40% fewer trucks to deliver the same amount of wine if compared to glass bottles.
These are impressive claims, and they seem to be winning over some forward thinking wine makers. One winery that is embracing an environmentally friendly business model is Yellow + Blue. Winemaker and owner Matthew Cain left a job at Kermit Lynch to start a winery that featured organic wine delivered in an earth-friendly way. Cain purchased organically grown Malbec and Torrontes grapes from Argentina and selected Tetra Pak for his wine containers. According to Dr. Vino, the use of Tetra Pak containers and bulk transportation of the wine for subsequent packaging in Canada reduces the carbon footprint for Yellow + Blue by about 50% compared to shipping the wine in glass bottles directly from Argentina.
Reducing the carbon footprint of the wine we drink is a good thing. As a nation we need to find ways to reduce the impact we have on the environment and that will take changes in our habits and expectations. Alternative wine packaging not only helps to reduce the environmental impact of the wine we drink, but there is also a silver lining for wine buyers in all of this – reducing the carbon footprint of our wine can also reduce the price. I guess sometimes it can actually pay to do the right thing.
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