Q: Could you recommend an environmentally friendly wine? And what do you think of Tetra Pak and plastic alternatives to glass?
A: Have a drink and get comfy, my friend. The wine packaging debate is more muddled than your mind after an evening of heavy guzzling.
Walk into an LCBO and you’ll notice all the slick propaganda, er, educational booklets promoting Tetra Pak wines as squeaky-green. Their main selling point is that they’re lighter and more can fit on a truck, saving tons of greenhouse gases. One major life-cycle assessment found that Tetra Paks won the bar brawl against both glass and plastic PET (#1) bottles on this front (PET was closer to glass in its footprint), but – surprise, surprise – the report was funded by Tetra Pak.
Still, the 2006 study was fairly comprehensive and factored in the energy and GHGs involved in producing the raw materials for each, turning them into containers, transporting them to the winery, shipping the filled containers to distribution centres and finally ditching the empty vessels once you’re done getting sauced. (FYI, the report didn’t factor in the pollution involved in getting those containers to your local liquor store.)
But it glosses over dirty details like the fact that most of the cartons end up clogging landfill. Naturally, the Tetra Pak-funded study says its poor recycling status isn’t a big deal since the cartons flatten out in landfill (plus it severely lowballed glass recycling rates in its “estimates”). But the real numbers have been pretty telling. Only 14 per cent of these cartons were recycled in 06 in Ontario. Blue-binning of glass on the other hand is closer to 70 per cent.
These stats are bound to improve now that The Beer Store is taking back booze containers of all shapes and sizes (though Tetra and PET take-back is still weak), but, city recycling manager Geoff Rathbone says, regardless of how many are recycled, Tetra Paks are straight-up wasteful because only the paper part is recycled (into tissues). The plastic and aluminum get trashed because they’re too pricey to separate. Councillor Gord Perks has called the Tetra Pak the Hummer of the packaging world. (For more on the LCBO’s motives for pushing this type of packaging so aggressively, check out my podcast.)
Glass is still a fave with greenies since it’s inert and can be recycled pretty much indefinitely, but it ain’t perfect. Very little of it gets made back into glass (most ends up as fibreglass insulation), but that number will jump now that a brand new glass recycler is opening its doors in Brampton. (Tetras will still be shipped to Michigan.) Just keep in mind that clear glass is easier to recycle into new glass than coloured, so try to buy wine in clear bottles.
Whatever container you deem the greenest, it still has to be filled with the most sophisticated of social lubricants. Which wines can call themselves tree-huggers (or -planters) and how? A few categories to look out for.
First there are your certified organic wines. Keep in mind that American wines can’t call themselves certified organic unless they’re totally free of sulfites (tough when totally sulfite-free products go skunky fast), so most organic wines just say “made from organic grapes” and use only trace amounts of sulfites. In this domain you’ll find great bottles like California-grown Bonterra (made by earth-conscious Fetzer). Frogpond Farm is Ontario’s only certified organic wine; you can only buy it online (www.frogpondfarm.ca).
Truth is, you might only find a couple of organic wines at your local liquor store, but the LCBO has about 50 in its vault (see www.lcbo.com). If you want to order one, just let them know (they’ll do it for $15 bottles and up). Note that some Euro wines don’t tell you they’re organic on the front label, like Château Chavrignac, which has been fully organic since 1964.
Beyond organic, many eco-heads will only slug back a bottle if it’s made close to home. Locavores should be sure to select wines that go that extra green mile, like Henry of Pelham, certified by Local Food Plus. The energy- and water-saving winery uses compost instead of petrol-based fertilizers and minimizes synthetic spraying. Stratus has the province’s only LEED-certified winery. Pelee Island uses integrated pest management techniques supported by WWF. Tawse, EastDell and Flat Rock Cellars are also earth-lovin’ brands.
Plantatree Wine is sort of a hybrid. Bottled in Mississauga (in recyclable PET), the wine’s made in California using minimal synthetics and plenty of sustainable practices. It’s shipped here in bulk to avoid trucking packaging. And as the name indicates, one tree is planted in Sudbury for every bottle purchased (better than the one-tree-for-four-bottles ratio of non-organic French Rabbit wines from France).
DIY winos will be happy to hear the greenest strategy is to make your own inebriant. You refill your glass bottles, and you can use certified-biodynamic St. Catharines-grown grape juice (www.feast-of-fields.ca). It’s also at Fermentations on Danforth. Now drink up!
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