My town has single-stream recycling. All of our recyclables — glass, plastic and paper — are mixed together in one bin. It's convenient for many households, but it's not so convenient for the recovery facilities that accept the mixed recyclables.
Broken glass is particularly inconvenient because it can contaminate other materials. As MNN's Matt Hickman recently reported, it's estimated that 40 percent of glass meant for recycling ends up in landfills, and some single-stream programs are turning away glass.
It's discouraging. And if you're a frequent wine drinker who dutifully places the glass bottles into the recycling bin believing they'll be turned into new glass bottles, it can make you look at your wine rack with a sense of dismay.
If the recyclability of your wine packaging matters to you, consider an alternative for your everyday wine drinking. If you browse the shelves of many wine merchants, you're bound to find wine in one of these packages.
Wine in a can
By now, you've probably noticed that beer cans are trendy, but have you noticed an increase in cans of wine at your local liquor store? My first foray into canned wine was Sofia's Blanc de Blancs on the beach a couple of years ago. This sparkling wine in a can was novel when it was first released about a decade ago, but it's been joined by others including Oregon's Underwood canned wines and Field Recordings Alloy canned wines. Sofia's sparkling wine comes in single-serving cans, but the Underwood and Field Recordings wines come in cans that hold two or more servings each.
Aluminum cans are more sustainable than other beverage containers, and they contain more than three times the recycled content as glass or plastic bottles. Since there's a better chance the aluminum can in your recycling bin will get recycled than the glass bottle will, perhaps wine in a can is worth checking out.
This boxed wine sold at Trader Joe's makes its own argument for why wine in a box is a good option. (Photo: Joe Wolf/flickr)
Every once in a while, I see an article about how the quality of boxed wines is much better than it used to be. I haven't tried any boxed wine in a while (although I have plans to attend a blind boxed versus bottled wine tasting during Philly Wine Week next month), but I know this: The boxes are easily recyclable and you can forgo using three or four glass bottles (depending on the brand) with one box of wine.
Boxed wine is a great choice for everyday drinking because as the box on the photo above points out, it stays fresh much longer than an open bottle of wine. The packaging does a better job of keeping air out, so the wine doesn't oxidize and go bad as quickly.
Wine on tap
There are some wineries, wine merchants, and wine bars that allow you to bring your own container to fill and take home. It's a very European way of buying wine. (Photo: thrasymedes/flickr)
Probably the best way to avoid a recycling bin full of glass wine bottles is to use a refillable wine bottle (even if it is glass) and buy wine on tap, straight from the barrel. Buying wine this way is done in Europe frequently, and it's starting to catch on the United States.
Some wineries sell refillable growlers (just like breweries). Some wine bars, like the Paris Wine Bar in Philadelphia that serves sustainable wine only from barrels, allow you to fill a bottle and take it home. It may take a little research to hunt down places in your region that do this, but if sustainable packaging is your goal, reusing is always more sustainable than recycling.