Why isn’t wine bottled in recycled glass?

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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

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