With restrictions on single-use plastics now being passed into law in many markets across the world, and consumer awareness at an all time high, drinks brands would do well to be ahead of the curve when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of their packaging.
Across almost every category, sustainability has become an important consideration within beer, wine and spirits, and is having an impact on everything from production methods to ingredient sourcing. And while environmental considerations aren’t new to the industry, there’s never been a time when they have been quite as important.
And it is perhaps no wonder: news that the UK government is set to bring in new controls on single-use plastic next year has again brought the issue to the forefront, especially for the drinks industry. Under the new rules, plastic straws, plastic drinks stirrers and plastic cotton buds will be banned or partially banned in England from April 2020. Plastic drinks stirrers will be totally banned from sale; an estimated 316 million are currently used a year. Plastic straws will be restricted to only registered pharmacies, as they are an essential item for some consumers with disabilities.
Drinks producers have long sought more sustainable packaging alternatives, both for individual drinks and for their outer packaging and multi-pack formats. But this goal has gathered momentum significantly recently. Drinks producers are renewing their commitments regarding sustainability, and technological advances are increasingly being made throughout the industry to help them achieve these goals.
As the general public becomes increasingly aware of single-use plastics and their environmental impact, there’s an opportunity for drinks producers to be seen to be doing their part. And there are other benefits for producers making use of more environmentally-friendly packaging solutions, such as the reduced shipping costs of lighter materials or bulk packaging options.
The spirits category is adapting quickly, and in various ways, to this growing demand for packaging that takes the environment into account. Diageo, for example, has committed to a number of sustainable packaging targets for 2020, namely a reduction in total packaging weight by 15%, an increase in recycled content to 45%, and making 100% of packaging recyclable or reusable. In addition, it has committed to sustainable sourcing all of its paper and cardboard packaging.
Other brands are taking a more extreme approach, incorporating new packaging solutions into the DNA of their brands. Among these is Victory in Tottenham in London, a distillery that not only makes efforts to conserve energy and reduce water waste in the production of its spirits, but is making use of some interesting packaging solutions, too. First is the KeyKeg, which it considers to be “the future of spirits distribution”. Each 20-liter recyclable keg contains the equivalent of 28 700ml bottles, saving more than 20kg in glass. A pump tap is supplied, allowing bars to refill glass bottles easily. The distillery’s range of Victory Spirits, as well as kegged Victory cocktails, are available in this format.
As the general public becomes increasingly aware of single-use plastics and their environmental impact, there’s an opportunity for drinks producers to be seen to be doing their part.
Victory also supplies its spirits in Eco Pouches, each containing the equivalent of three 700ml bottles, and offering a pour spout that fits into its spirit bottles. It claims to reduce packaging waste by 85% with these pouches, and passes on savings to its customers, making these not only more sustainable, but also more cost-effective.
Among the pioneers of eco-friendly pouches for spirits is the UK’s Sustainable Spirit Company, originally founded in 2012 as Greenbox Drinks. What started as an 8.4-liter bag-in-box has evolved into its 2.8-liter Eco Pouch, available for its spirits, including Boxer Gin and Element 29 Vodka. The pouch, according to the company, reduces packaging by 95%, and transported weight by 45%. In addition, use of the pouch entirely eliminates the energy used to produce a new bottle. Like Victory, the company emphasizes the cost benefits to bars too.
Over in the US, mail-order infused-vodka brand Holla has transitioned to what it calls “Boozin Bags”, which it claims have an 80% lower carbon footprint than a glass bottle equivalent. In addition to their environmental credentials, the recyclable pouches are a far more practical solution for its mail-order service, and open up a variety of usage occasions for its customers.
But sustainability doesn’t necessarily have to be about doing away with glass bottles entirely, as Mermaid Gin’s recent redesign proved. The brand’s striking new bottle is not only made from sustainable, recyclable and plastic-free materials, but has also been designed so that it can be re-purposed. In addition, the distillery has set up a refill scheme aimed at its local audience, who will have not only the environment, but cost as an incentive.
Among the most high-profile of the single-use plastic culprits is the drinking straw, prompting significant change around the world in recent years, both in bars and in terms of consumer behaviour. The once-ubiquitous plastic straw is now often replaced with a paper or biodegradable straw, or by reusable straws produced from various materials, including stainless steel. While much of this initiative has come from bars, and to some extent from consumers, some brands have become involved too.
Diageo has taken a very unique approach to the straw issue when it comes to its pre-mixed RTD range: last year it introduced a range of flavoured, edible straws to complement canned drinks such as Bailey’s Iced Coffee Latte and Gordon’s G&T. Pimm’s & Lemonade was paired with a strawberry straw, and the G&T with a lime straw, while the Bailey’s drink paired with a chocolate straw. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum & Cola could be enjoyed with a lemon straw, while Smirnoff & Cranberry, like the G&T, worked best with the lime flavour.
Eco-Friendly Wine Packaging
The wine world might be more set in its ways than the spirits industry, but it’s not being left behind when it comes to environmentally-aware packaging.
Perhaps the most striking of the recent innovations in this sector is the flat wine bottle created for Garçon Wines. Made from recyclable PET, the bottles are said to be 40% more spatially efficient than round bottles, and are 87% lighter than glass bottles. To further enhance these benefits, the brand has created a 10-bottle case that it says cuts greenhouse gas emissions and business costs by 60%. A pallet loaded with these cases could hold 1,040 bottles, compared to only 456 conventional bottles. And in addition to these environmental credentials, the bottles are far more durable than glass, and potentially could fit through letter boxes as well.
A more established solution to the weight and transport considerations of glass are aluminium cans. As a result, canned wine is becoming more prevalent, and increasingly accepted by consumers. Sustainability is just one benefit of this format: smaller pack sizes encourage trial, and also offer consumers a portable alternative for when glass is not an option, such as at events or outdoor activities.
Multi-Pack Ring Alternatives
Beer usually stays on the right side of the single-use plastic debate in all aspects but one: multi-pack rings. These have long been seen as a threat to marine wildlife in particular, and the industry has been due a replacement for some time. In recent years, a number of alternatives have emerged, and beer producers are embracing them enthusiastically.
Drinks producers have long sought more sustainable packaging alternatives, both for individual drinks and for their outer packaging and multi-pack formats.
Earlier this year, Diageo announced that it was investing GBP £16m to do away with plastic packaging for its Guinness brand, replacing it with sustainably sourced, recyclable and biodegradable cardboard. These new packs will be available in Ireland from August 2019, and in Great Britain in 2020. The cans, including the widgets inside, are recyclable.
Danish brewer Carlsberg has a different and innovative solution, binding its cans together with adhesive dots – what it has dubbed the Snap Pack. The company estimates that this new format, together with other waste-saving innovations, will reduce plastic waste globally by more than 1,200 tonnes a year – equivalent to 60 million plastic bags.
Corona, meanwhile, has kept a similar design to traditional plastic rings, but introduced new material to produce it – a plant-based alternative. The AB InBev-owned brand collaborated with ocean charity Parley for Oceans to create the new solution, which is made from waste by-products and compostable materials.
Demand for sustainable packaging that avoids single-use plastics and reduces carbon emissions has never been greater.
Big players in beer, wine and spirits are not only making commitments to reduce packaging, but are employing new technologies to achieve these goals.
While many drinks producers are making increasing use of existing sustainable packaging solutions, new technological advances are being made too.
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