Why isn’t wine bottled in recycled glass?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why isn’t wine bottled in recycled glass?

—Kirsten, The Netherlands

Dear Kirsten,

While some wine bottles are indeed made from recycled glass, it’s true that many are not, and the production of a new glass bottle is responsible for a large part of a bottle of wine’s carbon footprint. The good news is that glass is recyclable, and in the Netherlands, more than 90 percent of glass containers end up being recycled. That’s far more than here in the U.S., where various agencies report that only about a quarter to a third of our glass containers are recycled. America needs to do a better job of going Dutch!

One of the reasons that wine bottles in particular are sometimes not recycled is because they’re often dyed green or brown, and they need to be sorted by color, if not by the consumer then by the recycling facility. Additionally, glass is heavy, and that makes transporting it to sometimes-far-away recycling facilities expensive if not cost-prohibitive.

After being collected, glass bottles are crushed and ground into what’s called “cullet,” and this ground glass is sold back to glass manufacturers to be melted into new products, including new bottles. “New” glass can contain as much as 70 percent cullet.

For more insight, I spoke to Sarah Bar, project manager at Gallo Glass Company (founded in 1958 by vintners Ernest and Julio Gallo). Gallo Glass is the largest consumer of recycled glass in California, purchasing more than 30 percent of all the glass recycled in the state, and Bar says that on average, the bottles for E.&J. Gallo's wines are made from about 50 percent recycled glass. “Any time I can talk about recycling, I’m a happy camper,” she said.

She explained that glass manufacturers actually prefer to use recycled glass. Cullet not only requires less energy to melt, but melting it also generates fewer emissions. “Once you melt that recycled bottle for the first time, we no longer release the emissions from raw materials,” Bar explained. “So the more we use recycled bottles, the better the impact on the environment.”

—Dr. Vinny

Environment Recycling Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What's the difference between "cooking wine" and regular wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how cooking wine is made.

Oct 18, 2019

Can a tasting note indicate whether a wine was aged in oak or not?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how oak barrel aging influences Chardonnay.

Oct 16, 2019

What effect does wind have on wine grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the many ways that wind can influence a vintage.

Oct 14, 2019

Is it OK to freeze wine and drink it later?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens when wine freezes.

Oct 11, 2019

What's the purpose of the small indentation on the back of a wine bottle, near the base?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what a "keyhole" is on a wine bottle, and why …

Oct 9, 2019

What's the difference between DOC and DOCG wines in Italy?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains Italy's two most prominent government classifica…

Oct 7, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search