Photography: fancycrave1 / Pixabay
A recent article in Wine-Searcher, Time for Wine to Go Topless, analyses a hotly contested issue in the wine industry: whether to use wine bottle capsules or not.
The author, Kathleen Willcox, presents the sector with a clear question: “are wine capsules a crucial element of the theatre of opening a bottle or a crime against humanity?”
Capsules are a very traditional feature of a wine bottle. Historically they were designed to protect the product from counterfeit. They were also a line of defence against insects or vermin that might enjoy a taste of cork, as well as a design element to market the bottle.
These days we find a variety of different capsules on the market. There are capsules made of aluminium, tin, tin-coated lead, composite materials (polylaminate), and PVC.
Tin is a light, naturally occurring element that is highly recyclable. Its use became widespread after lead products were banned in the food industry. This metal is combined with carbon to generate the organic tin compounds which are then used to manufacture food packaging such as wine capsules.
At this time, 98% of global tin mining takes place in developing countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bolivia. It offers these countries an opportunity for industrial development, but this calls for mechanisms to ensure the rights of workers and to mitigate the potential environmental impacts of metal extraction. In other words, a higher level of transparency is needed in the supply chains of tin.
Tin-coated lead foil capsules are composed of lead foil coated with a layer of tin. They are rarely used these days thanks to environmental regulations which have brought about a reduction in the use of toxic heavy metals like lead.
Polylaminate capsules are a composite of materials arranged in three layers: aluminium – polyethylene – aluminium. The structure of the material makes it difficult to recycle and reuse.
PVC capsules are made from a plastic derivative: polyvinyl chloride. The chemical composition of this polymer makes it very difficult to recycle, and it can cause health and environmental problems at each stage of its life cycle.
Widely used in other forms of packaging such as cans, aluminium is an infinitely recyclable material and offers the wine industry similar design possibilities as tin.
This metal is initially found in open-cast mines in the form of bauxite (aluminium hydroxide minerals) which is then processed to obtain aluminium. Countries like Australia, Guinea, and China are among the biggest bauxite producers.
Processing bauxite into aluminium requires large quantities of water and power. At the same time, the mines can have serious impacts on the environment, which often means that local populations face numerous problems, including difficult access to water, its contamination, and land loss.
Again, bauxite mining calls for transparent traceability mechanisms to ensure the extraction is done in accordance with regulations that protect the environment, labour rights, and local communities. Incentivizing an increase in aluminium recycling is also seen as an alternative that could mitigate the environmental impact of the aluminium extraction and production process.
These days several companies in the wine industry are actively engaged in creating highly recyclable products. The Ramondin group, a global leader in closure products for the wine industry, offers one-piece aluminium capsules – Prestige Aluminium Capsules – in its portfolio which are 100% recyclable.
In light of the variety of capsules and the collateral effects of using one type or another, many wineries have begun questioning whether they should be used at all.
The Wine-Searcher article compiles different opinions and reflections on their usefulness and impact on the wine industry.
In any case, whatever policy a winery decides to implement, it should clearly pursue the responsible use of bottling elements and the reduction of unnecessary waste. Guided by this idea, wineries have the chance to introduce design and packaging guidelines for their wines which allow them to stay true to their brand image without having a negative impact on a social and environmental level.
Marta Juega, PhD.