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Returnable bottles for earth-friendly wines

Delicata’s shelf talkers encourage customers to return their empty wine bottles.

Delicata’s shelf talkers encourage customers to return their empty wine bottles.

These days, in a culture where nearly everything is disposable, the decision of whether or not to toss tradition into the garbage bin is an easy one for Malta’s eco-conscious winery Emmanuel Delicata Winemaker.

The Delicata winery has been reusing glass bottles and running its wine bottle collection system for generations. Thousands of so-called ‘empties’ are picked up from shops, bars and restaurants every day, a practice that helps keeping Malta green.

Now Delicata has decided to step up efforts and is rolling out its own private, nationwide awareness campaign aimed at increasing the present return ratio. Not all customers are aware of the local recollection system and so they don’t always bring back their Delicata bottles to the shop, although they are charged a refundable deposit of €0.25 for each returnable bottle purchased. This quarter is reimbursed entirely when the customer hands over the empty bottle at the next shopping.

Delicata collects the winery’s environmentally-friendly returnable bottles to reuse them. Their labels, capsules and screwcaps are removed. Each bottle gets thoroughly washed, sterilised, checked and refilled with wine, time and again, for numerous cycles until the end of their lifespan, after which they are being recycled.

Annually, the Delicata winery saves a total of 550,000kg of new glass, representing a carbon dioxide emission reduction equivalent to the effect of taking at least 50 cars off the road for a whole year.

The Maltese wine bottle recollection system is not imposed by law but organised on a purely voluntary basis by the major wineries. They freely go the extra mile to reuse as many bottles as possible so as to reduce and ultimately recycle as much glass waste as possible.

In stark contrast, none of the millions of imported wine bottles are collected for refilling.

Heaps of them are trashed and end up in Malta’s landfill. They will never be decomposed with worse adverse ecological implications as a result. The imported bottles that do get transported to overseas recycling plants still increase the carbon footprint of their consumers since recycling only is a less effective eco-friendly way than the recollection system run by Maltese wineries.

In point of fact, the indicators for global warming potential (in CO2 equivalent) and the use of energy (in MJ) for one-way glass bottles are the highest when considering all types of containers including PET and aluminium, whereas these same indicators for returnable glass bottles are the lowest.

With local wineries’ efforts, the strain on limited resources is lessened as are the potentially environmental damaging effects of disposal.

The beauty is that, with a little help from wine drinkers, retailers and catering establishments, we can champion this system in Malta. It makes perfect sense for our small archipelago, where distances are short, making it relatively easy to collect unlike in larger countries where handling returns is logistically more difficult and saves less resources.

Next time you are about to buy wine you might want to also consider its environmental impact. Delicata’s earth-friendly wines are easy to spot: the bottles are clearly marked on the back label which either reads ‘Return for €0.25 refund of bottle deposit’ or depicts the ‘Eco-friendly returnable bottle’ logo.

Georges Meekers is Delicata’s head of sales and an award-winning wine writer.

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