HOW IT STACKS UP: The sustainability of boxed wine.
Following on from the release of Days & Nights: 2021 Red Grapes, our brand new 4L boxed wine, we thought it timely to let you in on how and why we decided to give the box a go.
SEEKING THE MINIMUM:
At Minimum, we’ve got a few internal team mantras to help us stay grounded. One of them is “seek the minimum”; how might we use, tinker and waste less whilst generating energetic and meaningful wines. How can we pull back, and let our grapes express themselves. How can we step aside, and let the soil do it’s thing. It’s in this pulling back where we, as a team, start to bear witness to the full spectrum of joy in the art of making wine and sharing it around.
There’s always lots to unpack when we reflect on our minimum. And from the perspective of our environmental footprint, we’ve been thinking about alternative packaging. With the release of our 4L boxed wine, Days & Nights: 2021 Red Grapes, now's the time to give you an insight into the upsides and the challenges to boxed wine and why we decided it was worth it.
But before we unpack the box, let’s look through glass bottles.
If you bottle your wine in glass, like most, the glass becomes the single largest source of emissions for the wine. Glass demands a lot of energy to produce and transport, it’s heavy and then it requires a fair bit of energy to melt and mould for recycling. In Australia, on average, 38% of the embedded emissions in a single bottle of wine comes from the glass (roughly 17% in the vineyard, 19% in the distribution, 26% in the winery and 38% from the glass). And if you extend that estimation of emissions out to the entire life cycle of the bottle of wine, which then includes costs of recycling/not recycling, around 68% of the emissions comes from glass (given the current issues with glass recycling in Aus). There are lightweight glass options for still wines, which we use, however this only reduces emissions by 10-15% overall. Then throw in what the UN this year called a “sand crisis” (glass = made from sand), with sand being the most exploited resource in the world apart from water, and things start to look a little less transparent with glass bottles.
Glass has been used for storing wine since the 1630’s and does it very, very well. It stores wines for a tremendously long time, the modern bottling technology is quick and efficient and you can easily hand bottle yourself with gravity (no electricity needed). It’s what we all know and love. But as above, it doesn't come without its downsides.
So, what about wine in boxes…
Australia has been a bit of a leader when it comes to alternative wine packaging; we invented cask/boxed wine, invested heavily in the screw cap (however we’re massive proponents of cork) and were one of the early pioneers in the budding canned wine movement. Australia seems to be, therefore, really well set up to keep developing these alternative forms.
4L of boxed wine weighs around half that of the bottle equivalent, which is 5.3 bottles of wine. The 4L box uses over 80% less emissions than the 5.3 bottles of glass. So there are major savings in the emissions reduction from the packaging itself, but there’s also a 50% reduction in emissions if we look at transport alone. As a broader picture, given the vineyard/winery emissions for box and glass would be the same, the carbon footprint of a 4L box of wine is about 40-50% less than the equivalent amount of wine in standard glass bottles.
Boxed wine is also way more efficient to store and move (a 4L box is smaller than you think), requires far less energy to distribute and you don’t contribute to the very real sand shortage. And then there’s one massive added benefit aside from its environmental footprint; once you open a boxed wine it can stay fresh for 4-6 weeks (often longer), whereas a bottle, if re-sealed, might last a week, tops. No oxygen is allowed into the bag once a boxed wine is open, meaning no spoilage from oxidation, which is likely to happen pretty quick once you drink half a bottle of wine and leave it overnight.
It sounds perfect right? But wine-in-a-box is not without its challenges to overcome also…
Currently, the bag in our box is PET/MET, which means it's plastic fused with metal. This is currently not recyclable in Australia, however the tap is a hard 100% PET plastic, so it's recyclable in a standard recycling bin. There are 100% PET bags available, however they are designed for water storage so we're running tests on them with our wines to see how they hold up over time. We're confident that we can soon sort out a better option. Then, for the 100% PET bag (soft plastic), with the current state of Australia's recycling industry and the stricter regulations around plastic exports to China, a challenge is the recyclability of the soft plastics. However, for regions like the EU that have proper recycling systems in place, this isn’t so much of an issue. There are positive signs though, since the creation of Recycling Victoria in 2020 that’s been specifically tasked with better recycling of plastic products and implementing more circular economies around “waste” streams, we have reasons to feel very hopeful about this.
Boxed wine also doesn’t last all that long once boxed up, perhaps around 6-8 months is a conservative estimate (though in our experience it's more like 12 months+, which is backed up by what we're hearing from other wine labels). This isn’t so much of an issue for us as we’re intentionally only making very small batches of boxed wine, so it won’t be on the shelves long enough for the wine to be at risk.
But the previous challenge then created another challenge; boxing in small quantities is more difficult to actually pull off without economies of scale. Our first run of boxed wine, Days & Nights: 2021 Red Grapes, was only 750 units (a very small amount). It took us quite a while to find and then bring the numerous players together to simply get the project off the ground. Essentially, the lower your volume is, the harder it is for the supply chain to get value from the project. We considered purchasing the equipment needed to box wine ourselves, but it’s just not affordable, at all, at our scale. But this is one obstacle we won't let get in our way and we are hoping this is a space that we will be able to keep growing into. We think the benefits are worth the experimentation and commitment from us; we'll always keep our boxes small batch.
DAYS & NIGHTS:
Everything unpacked, we felt it was right for us to give boxed wine a go. While we have produced our first ever package that isn't 100% recyclable, the enormous benefits in carbon-footprint reduction deserved a shot. And we’re really proud of our new boxed-wine baby. The thinking around the idea has been percolating for a very long time within our team, and we are so excited to have this first small batch release available for you after what's been a long and fascinating process for us. Light red. Limited Run. In a Box.
Wine shop → Days & nights: 2021 Red Grapes.