Sustainability in Wine: How much goes down the drain?
We have all seen it.
Someone lets a bottle of wine sit on the counter for a few days, they don’t use effective wine preservation techniques, and before they know it, they’re left with a half-bottle of undrinkable wine.
Due to large bottle sizes and the rapid rate of spoiling, there is an enormous amount of wine waste every year. This waste occurs both in the bottle, and in your wallet. In the United States alone, we estimate home consumers pour over $1.27 Billion of wine down the drain, and restaurants pour out another 18+ million bottle equivalents.
Between consumers and off-premise (restaurants), over $1.5 Billion USD is wasted annually.
In this article, we will examine why wine waste exists, how we estimate it, and what you can do to prevent wine waste in the bottle and in your wallet.
Wine generally comes in a 750 mL bottle. This is the perfect size for small get-togethers and reduces packaging materials. Wine is a very delicate liquid that easily succumbs to oxidation: the reaction that occurs when alcohol reacts with air to form vinegar (gross!). Oxidation can spoil opened bottles of wine as quickly as 24 hours after opening.
Some bulk producers dabble in single-serve packaging. However, the wine from these sources tends to be of the low- to mid-range quality at best, and are far less eco-friendly than traditional bottling. The single-serve option utilizes a large amount of packaging (more plastic per volume of wine) that eventually goes to die in our already overflowing landfills. Today, wine that is high quality and sustainable only comes in traditionally sized glass bottles.
Reducing Wine Waste at Restaurants and Bars
At a fine wine-oriented fine dining restaurant, you can enjoy a tasting flight of unique grape varietals, a nice glass with dinner, or have a small pour of (often pricey) dessert wine. Tasting pours are an exciting and enjoyable opportunity to explore a variety of eclectic wines. It also allows the guest the opportunity to taste wines that may be out of their price range by the bottle.
However, at the end of the night there is leftover wine, often in many bottles. On a busy night, there may even be multiple bottles of the same wine opened. This leaves restaurant owners with a ticking clock; after 1 to 3 days, they kiss those lovely wine by the glass revenues goodbye. In the worst cases, a server accidentally serves oxidized wine to a customer.
To prevent this, some restaurants sacrifice higher margin bottles and variety. They keep their wine lists small to ensure bottle turnover and reduce their waste. This protects an owner from losing $50 on a bottle of wine opened on a Monday that isn’t ordered again until Friday night.
That being said, even with control on wine inventory, the Beverage Information Services (2012) found 11-15% of profit lost due to wine oxidation. Based on 475 million bottles estimated on premise in 2015 (Statista), we conservatively estimate between 18 and 24 million bottle equivalents poured down the drain every year (accounting for 30% markup). This is a sobering statistic on wine waste for restaurant owners trying to run a lean but profitable business and sustainable practices.
Reducing Wine Waste at Home
While the data could not be found for the United States, our friends at Wrap across the pond did a formal study in 2009. Wrap found ￡450M of wine goes down the drain every year in the UK.
If the same waste ratio occurs in the United States as its consumption (approximately 2:1 plus an consumption increase from 2009 to 2015 of 1.13), that would equate to a mind blowing $1.27 Billion USD goes down the drain every year.
What can I do to prevent wine waste?
Since most consumer wine spoiling occurs when wine encounters oxygen, displacement of oxygen and slowing this reaction is critical. We wrote a blog, Saving Open Bottles of Wine, specifically discussing readily available techniques that prevent wine from spoiling.
To summarize, you should use:
1) ArT Wine Preservation to displace oxygen (argon wine preserver spray).
2) Refrigerator to decrease temperature when storing wine.
3) Dark place to remove light energy sources
4) Avoid vibrations
About the Author:
Ryan is a Purdue engineer with a background in production and application of inert gases such as argon. Currently, he is bringing eco-friendly inert technology to consumers to reduce waste with self-recycling atmospheric gases.
UPDATE 2/14/2017: We improved the accuracy of our at home waste number by accounting for a 13% consumption increase from 2009 to 2015 (2016 data currently unavailable). The waste at home was updated from $1.12B to $1.27B using a factor of 1.13, because consumption increased from 2.49 gal per person in 2009 to 2.83 gal per person in 2015.