How a wine bottle can save the planet

Exemplar Case Study 1: Eliminating "single-use" in the wine retail sector

John Rbeiz

--

**In these times of deep division and deeper despair, if there is a consensus about anything in the world, it is that the future is going to be awful. In this series, I shed light on existing initiatives that inspire and persuade me otherwise.**

Short Story

A few years ago, just when I thought I was finally nailing the plastic-free life, I discovered that for months I had been fighting the wrong enemy…

Back then, I was working night shifts in a liquor store. I used to love the job! I was proud of the beer & wine selection we offered, and even prouder of the fact that we only used beautiful paper bags, never plastic...Until one day, this customer came and burst my bubble:

— Did you know that you’d have to reuse this bag about 30 to 50 times to outweigh the carbon emissions of producing one plastic bag?

I was left speechless, I didn’t know how to respond…As soon as she walked away, I pulled out my phone and did a quick search. It looked like she was right…And just like this, she had opened my eyes to three things that remain with me:

  1. The importance of educating yourself when fighting for a cause;
  2. The importance of taking a systems perspective and considering the entire picture;
  3. The need to put an end to our throw-away culture.

This is how I came to understand that for so long, I had been fighting the wrong enemy…When advocates said “avoid single-use plastics” all I heard was “ban plastic”, where I should’ve really heard “ban single-use everything”. In fact some research argue that the ecological footprint of single-use glass is actually larger than plastic (up to 3x).

I’ll consider for now you’re with me (and that you will do your own research), so what’s the solution moving forward?

GOOD NEWS! A more straightforward solution never existed…

Reusable items. I’ll assume you’re all familiar with the concept of reusable water bottles and coffee cups. What if we extended the principle of refill, reuse even further than for water and coffee? What if we could get our food and drinks in reusable containers for example?

I get very excited when I see or hear of businesses that allow customers to use their own containers, and even more so when they encourage and reward them for it!

If you’ve ever tried to avoid packaging waste, you’ve probably already thought of bulkfood stores... How would you feel if I told you that you can buy WINE, completely waste free?

The case study below is about ReWine, a 15-years-old Melbourne business that has been refilling customer bottles directly from the wine barrel. Whether you’re a wine drinker, a retailer or a bar owner, here is how bottle-less bulk sale can reduce our ecological impact on the planet!

Case Study: ReWine — Melbourne, Australia

Wine on tap, straight from the barrels

Two years ago I discovered ReWine. At the time, I had successfully ditched most packaging but was struggling to bypass wine bottles. I probably googled something like “wine refill Melbourne”.

ReWine came on top and the rest is history.

What they do.

ReWine allows you to buy wine straight from the barrel and pour it directly into your bottles. That simple!

You could get any wine you fancy: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Fortified wine, Pinot, Shiraz, Merlot, preservative free, organic, you name it…And the best part? You can taste every wine before you get a bottle refilled. Now how’s that for customer experience? No more putting-up with another bottle of a wine that you don’t like.

How they do it.

This 15-years-old family-run business prides itself by its efficient and sustainable way of delivering wine to their customers.

  1. They hand-pick their wines direct from local wineries
  2. They pump it into their barrels and store them in store
  3. They refill customers’ bottles directly on premise. You can also enjoy it in a glass in their bar!

*Bonus* Their bottles are all made from up-cycled glass, which means to make one of these bottles it only takes half the energy and resources of making a traditional bottle. And now think about what it means if you reused that one bottle over and over again…

Environmental Impact

There’s the obvious part: saving bottles from going to landfill or being recycled again. And there’s the less obvious which is reducing the hidden waste generated up in the supply chain!

Here’s the kind of impact you can expect from ReWine’s operating model:

  1. Saving hundreds of thousands of bottles from going to landfill
  2. Eliminating the inevitable plastic and cardboard used to transport the wine bottles to retail stores (for reference, a small liquor store produces around 5 tonnes of waste annually)
  3. Eliminating over half the carbon emissions typically associated with bottling, packaging and distribution activities.

And with every refill of the same bottle, the wine’s ecological footprint decreases even further as we eliminate the need to produce or recycle bottles.

Further thoughts (for the industry)

The positive. Embracing a bottle-less, bulk sale model has the potential to positively impact wine producers, consumers, and retailers.

Wine makers already produce and sell their wine in bulk, so the benefits of selling in bulk directly to retailers and bars come mostly in the form of cost reductions and supply chain velocity. I’m no expert in wine supply chain, but I’m thinking that eliminating packaging in favour of bulk sale could significantly lower wine producers’ operating costs while also shortening manufacturing and delivery timelines — a sure boost to profit margins and the bottom line.

The primary beneficiary of (small) retailers selling directly from the barrel would, naturally, be consumers. The savings from cutting costly product bottling in favour of bulk barrels can be passed along to consumers.

Retailers can also benefit from selling directly from the barrel. By offering wine tasting and a winery-like experience they can benefit from a more enjoyable customer experience…and customer satisfaction is guaranteed at every purchase!

The less glamorous. Not every concept is full of positives and bulk selling comes with its fair share of complexities and risks.

The first negative impact that crosses my mind is the loss of brand recognition (but shouldn’t we be moving away from brands anyway and only producing good wine?). Nonetheless I’m conscious that the removal of labels might cost big wine brands millions of dollars from as a result of lower sales volumes and reduced brand loyalty.

Retailers will have a much more important role to play in the supply chain. Retailers would be required to handle the wine from storage tanks to barrels. They would also have to maintain the barrels and ensure regular quality checks — adding to their operating costs.

Consumers wouldn’t be as negatively affected as wine producers and retailers, but they still might face some challenges as well. For example, they’d lose the connection to their go-to brands they like and trust.

All in all, I think there’s something really appealing about this model and would really like to see more of it across our city. What are your thoughts, could bulk wine have a larger presence in the wine retail sector?

*Make sure to also follow me on Instagram @low.waste.john and Linkedin**

--

--

John Rbeiz

Passionate about growth, sustainability and community development.