We expect to receive our wines in cardboard boxes, safely transported along with other boxes on wooden pallets.
Although this is common practice nowadays, a quick look at the history books reveals that the first cardboard box was invented in England in 1817 by the company M. Treverton & Son. Before the introduction of cartons, wine was transported in wooden barrels or amphorae, later replaced by glass, albeit without the external protection of cardboard.
At present, cardboard is among the most widely used packaging materials worldwide, employed in batching, transporting, storing, displaying, and selling products to consumers. As a material, it is cheaper than wood, and innovations in cardboard design have improved its resilience and quality over the years. Cardboard also takes up less space and is generally considered a recyclable material, although this isn’t as clear-cut as it might seem.
Paper can be recycled in a closed loop – in other words, it can be broken down and converted into new raw material without losing quality, but in contrast to glass or metal, this cannot be done indefinitely.
Paper can only be recycled a total of six times. In subsequent cycles, the quality of the fibres gradually diminishes. At a certain point, the recycled material can only be used to manufacture paper-pulp products like egg cartons. So we can say that paper is recyclable, but only a finite number of times.
Although cardboard recycling is very advanced and allows us to reduce the use of virgin raw materials, water, and energy (when producing cardboard from wood, we waste more energy and resources), the process also comes with certain disadvantages that have a negative impact on the environment. For example, some recycling processes use chemicals (i.e. paper bleaching) that contaminate. Cardboard is also easily contaminated, and once it is, the material cannot be recycled. Furthermore, recycling centres only accept dry boxes, because damp materials are prone to mould proliferation, which poses a health risk if recycled.
If we analyse the life cycle of paper products, we discover that, like with plastic, the problem doesn’t reside in the material itself, but in how it is used and managed: paper products are still single-use items, thereby greatly increasing their production volume and the waste this generates.
The wine industry, like many other sectors, uses a significant number of single-use cartons. In turn, this generates a high volume of waste which needs to be managed. Keeping in mind the durability and light weight of cartons, wouldn’t it be far more interesting to focus on strategies that make it possible to reuse them?
While searching for answers, we came across Reuseabox. Their mission is to help companies reduce their environmental impact by offering an easy way to reuse cardboard boxes. In an example of circular economic principles at work, they separate used cardboard boxes from the traditional recycling process and reintroduce them into the supply chain to be used a second time. By extending the life cycle of cardboard, we save trees, water, and energy, and cut down on carbon emissions!
Seeing how cardboard can only be recycled a finite number of times, and considering the resources this requires, it is important to start developing innovative ideas around reusing the material and extending its useful life.
Let’s take a look at another great example, in this case a new project helmed by the Familia Torres winery. The initiative forms part of the innovation project REBO2VINO led by the FEV (Spanish Wine Federation) and initially implemented at five establishments in Garraf (Barcelona).
Although the project focuses on the reuse of glass bottles, the wine is distributed in reusable cardboard boxes that make it easier to deliver, pick up, and store the bottles. The idea is inspired by the distribution model of mineral water sold in reused glass bottles.
Last but not least, the market has seen the introduction of several technologies designed to develop reusable shipping materials that maintain a specific temperature, such as cartons made from moldable fungi.
Then there is Liviri, an insulated box that can hold four to six bottles, provides thermal protection, and can be reused for more than two years.
Places such as Trinchero Family Estates, which work with organizations like Napa Green, make sure that their suppliers retrieve and reuse the pallets, drums, and undamaged boxes which would otherwise be seen as single-use items and discarded. The programme makes it possible for the company to reuse around 25% of their total packaging materials, resulting in average annual savings of 75,000 dollars.
As you can see, reusing cardboard comes with a great many advantages. All it takes is a different mindset and the willingness to develop innovative packaging ideas with a focus on two key objectives: rethinking and reusing.
Marta Juega, PhD.