Reducing, Reusing, & Recycling GlassUntil recently, we’ve taken our wine bottles for granted. We appreciate their ability to preserve their contents, and we admire their esthetics, which in important ways condition our attitude toward the enclosed wine. It’s no accident that expensive wine is packaged in larger and heavier bottles to reassure us as we pay that it will taste superior to wine in more modest, lighter shapes. Both sizes hold exactly the same quantity and protect wine equally, but we probably don’t consciously make that observation. If we did, we might suspect that we were being somewhat manipulated. But regardless of its shape and weight, we throw the bottle in the trash after we empty it because it no longer has meaning for us.

Not so fast: this is 2011, and we are learning the meaning of waste, how it squanders resources, increases the cost of goods, and reduces profit, issues we can all appreciate whether we consume or produce or do both. Lately, the wine industry, which pays ever increasing transportation costs for its global product, is taking a close look at glass to see if its weight can be diminished without compromising its effectiveness. The glass industry is doing the same since glass making is energy intensive. And we consumers don’t really want to pay as much as we do for glass when what we really want is wine. But this doesn’t mean that we want to pour our wine from a carton. We want glass, which is the safest way to store any food or liquid that we consume.

Humans have been making glass for 3000 years from a few simple ingredients, silica sand, limestone, ash, and fire. Today, the raw ingredients melt together at temperatures reaching 2800 degrees F. But once glass is formed, it re-melts at much lower temperatures. So the more we can return to manufactures, the less heat they will employ to produce new containers. Unlike plastic with its oil based ingredients, glass returns easily to simple sand, limestone, and ash. New Zealand currently recycles 62 percent of it glass and is improving collection, sorting, and distribution to improve that number. In 2008, the U.S. rate was 28 percent, and the goal is to double the percentage by 2013, at which point the New Zealanders will have reached 100 percent sustainability. Eventually, all manufactures in all countries should be able to make new containers from 100 percent recycled glass, which by the way is called cullet, a word that we will likely be hearing more often in the future.

After a certain amount of research and innovation, lighter wine bottles are now in production and weigh 400 grams each, reducing a 12-bottle case from 40 pounds to 31, a huge nine pound difference. These lightweight bottles will also fit into smaller boxes so that more cases can occupy a shipping container or a truck. The first reduced-size bottle that we purchase, will help us appreciate even more what taking our empty bottles to the curb or the recycling center can mean for all of us. These new bottles will be the result of a chain of activity and co-operation that consumers, wine producers, and glass manufactures have all created together. Happy New Year!