Saturday, January 3, 2009

Plastic or Glass?

Plastic or glass? The answer may seem obvious, but with the rate of recycling increasing and our awareness of carbon emissions rising, plastic may be the new answer. Polyethylene Teraphthalate (PET) is already used for water bottles and baby bottles, so why not for wine? The major advantage of PET is that it is one eighth lighter than a glass bottle of the same size. A lighter case of wine bottles means less gas used to transport them. So many vineyards have been shifting towards eco-friendly wines by farming organically but the “green” shift is also becoming apparent in ways in which the wine industry can also choose to control and cut carbon emissions during transportation. Sainsbury’s - a supermarket in the UK - was one of the first to introduce PET bottled wines including a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and an Australian Shiraz Rosé. In 2007, North America was introduced to Wolf Blass’ PET-bottled wine from their new Green Label (see Wine Column for more details). Sales have been higher than expected and are continuing to grow. This is the first time that PET bottled wine in standard sized bottles has been made so readily available to the public and opinions are definitely varied. While PET bottling does carry the advantages of lighter shipping, better storage and unbreakable bottles, the PET plastic allows in some Oxygen, which shortens the wine’s shelf life (to a minimum of 12 months: so for most wine drinkers, this fact need not to be taken into consideration). Other concerns include the possible leeching of toxins into the wine but all the testing conducted thus far has shown that PET is safe and does not affect the taste of the wine. Plastics have developed a negative image in the eyes of the public: it will be difficult convincing them that –in this case- choosing plastic is the environmentally friendly choice.

Tetra Packed wine has become increasingly chic in some foodie circles, however the PET bottles are the new competition. Although Tetra Packs are able to keep wine drinkable for a longer amount of time, they are made from trees- a source that is not going to always be renewable so easily. PET bottles, on the other hand, are made from recycled materials. In 2007 alone the United States saw the collection and recycling of 1.396 billion pounds of Polyethylene Terephthalate. This was the highest volume of PET containers collected to date and a 10% increase from just the previous year. PET is not a bad thing but glass wasn’t a bad thing either just a few years ago. Things change and who knows how we will feel about plastic in even five years from now, but for now, PET is the “green” choice.

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