Glass has a pretty good environmental reputation. The material is 100 percent recyclable and is used to make new glass.
While plastic gets plenty of grief for its environmental effects (um, see the large plastic creatures floating at sea), glass is often spared a tongue lashing.
But what about the production process? The EPA reports that the nation's second largest glass manufacturer, Saint-Gobain Containers, is facing a fine (again) for violating air pollution rules. Allegedly, the folks at Saint-Gobain's wine bottle manufacturing facility in Madera, California, have violated the federal Clean Air Act.
When opening last night's second bottle of Cab, you were likely more concerned about the probable hangover that would ensue from your decision-making, and not so much about the air pollution that resulted from making the container.
But an EPA press release explains that when glass is manufactured, air pollutants including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulates are released. The particulates, made of acids, chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles, are, well, particularly disconcerting because those that are 10 micrometers or smaller can pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs, where they can cause some damage.
The article says that in 2005, Saint-Gobain settled with the EPA for $929,000 following Clean Air Act violations and agreed to install $6 million of pollution controls and to complete a $1.2 million environmental project aimed at reducing emissions.
Maybe it's time to revisit the box?
Wine blogger Dr. Vino (aka Tyler Colman) suggested in his New York Times editorial that wine in a box makes sense environmentally and economically. His argument is to make wine packaging lighter in order to reduce the carbon footprint of transporting it.
He's written quite a bit about the improvements of boxed wines, such as the TetraPak, an efficiently packaged organic Malbec in a box.
But others have pointed out that while the individual components of such a box paper, plastic and aluminum are recyclable, they can be labor-intensive and expensive to separate.
Traditional boxed wines, which are composed of a plastic bag in a cardboard box, also offer the benefit of being lighter, and some makers say they require fewer materials to produce. But Treehugger says that while the box itself is recyclable, the heavy-duty plastic inside probably isn't.
That article suggests that the greenest option is probably what they do in France: bring your own plastic jug to a wine merchant and fill 'er up. Until this option is available Stateside, we'll just have to continue our bottle versus box taste tests.
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