Thursday, 20 April 2023 14:25

Drink, Wash Repeat

Written by  Staff Reporters

Glass bottles are "the elephant in the room" when it comes to reducing the wine industry's carbon emissions, says bottle reuse proponent Neil Pollett.

The wine industry has done a great job of making grape growing processes more sustainable, the founder of the Green Bottle Project says. "However, when it comes to packaging, the problem has not gone away."

Green Bottle Project intends to collect, wash and sterilise glass bottles for reuse and resale, working with craft and commercial breweries, niche milk producers, and wine companies. Neil says reusing wine bottles results in "a staggering" 90% less emissions than using single use new glass, made partly with recycled glass. Most large New Zealand wine companies now use lighter bottles with 10% to 15% less weight than a standard bottle, "but of course you will never reduce that by 90% of more", he adds. "We want to see a balance between recycling and reuse; not a total dominance of recycling."

The company recently received funding from EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), as part of the Technology Demonstration Fund, which provides co-funding support for early adopters of technologies and processes that will deliver energy efficiency and/or carbon emission reductions in New Zealand. Nicki Sutherland, EECA Group Manager, Business, says those technologies or processes need to have very good replication or diffusion potential for New Zealand businesses. "For the Green Bottle Project, the reuse of the bottle compared to recycling reduces more than 90% of energy use and emissions."

The first half of the $200,000 EECA funding is subject to the successful installation and commissioning of a commercial bottle inspection and washing machine, and the remaining $100,000 is contingent on the completion of set key point indicators during the following 12 months.

Neil says Green Bottle Project has now imported all the machinery it needs, designed and built in Germany. "It's proven to work in those markets and can run at high volumes to offer economies of scale to compete on price with new glass." The final piece of machinery arrived earlier this year, and will remove used capsule sleeves off wine bottles prior to washing. "Once in operation our first factory will be able to process up to 20 million bottles per annum from collection in supermarkers and other outlets; then washing, removing the labels and inspecting the bottles for the smallest of defects or foreign bodies," he says.

It will be easy for wineries to adopt, with the same bottles and capsules currently used, while adjustments to label base stock will ensure they can be washed off. "Labels can also be composted as part of the process and all aluminium closures can be recycled once cut off the bottles prewashing."

Neil says initial interest from the wine industry has been "somewhat disappointing", due to a "wait and see approach. He believes many are resistant to change, and those with emissions reductions targets are largely focussed on scope 1 and 2 emissions, which they can control, rather than scope 3 emissions, which include packaging.

Dr Edwin Massey, General Manager of Sustainability for New Zealand Winegrowers, says industry is eager to find ways of reducing emissions around packaging. One of the complications of reusing bottles in New Zealand is the quality of wine exported, with the return of bottles from abroad an untenable option, he says, noting the success of the model in Europe, where wine is consumed closer to production."

Meanwhile, Auckland Council has also come in with Green Bottle funding, covering half of the cost of a light electric commercial vehicle through its Waste Minimisation Fund. Neil says the vehicle will be used for bottle collections in specially designed crates. "The idea is to focus our launch on the Auckland market, where beverage consumption is highest, along with packaging waste. This will be used as an initial case study to show how this can impact on emissions associated with recycling, which can be 20 times as much."

The Green Bottle Project is one of several energy efficiency and fuel switching initiatives relevant to the wine industry that have received funding from EECA. Others include electric frost fans for an orchard, an autonomous battery electric tractor for an orchard, an electric mobile harvest platform, industrial scale heat pumps to provide medium and high temperature process water, and CO2 heat pumps for space heating in nurseries and buildings. Funding was also allocated for pulse electric field treatment of potatoes, and heat recovery systems in a brewery.

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