Sustainable Design - How this CPG reduces waste in wine
I feel pain when things go to waste, especially before they serve their purpose.
When I put something in the trash or pour it down the drain, I feel like I’m putting something of value into a black hole. Or worse, that this item may morph into something terrible, like oceanic microplastic, an emerging pollutant (1).
Consumer waste is a significant problem my generation must face. Carbon emissions, oceanic poisoning, and material loss occurs when we throw something away. As we throw hundreds of things away every week, small effects compound rapidly.
With this in mind, I founded ArT Wine Preserver in 2016. The company’s mission: decrease waste, starting with wine.
Having a sustainable mission isn’t enough
On the surface, the company I founded seemed like we were meeting our mission. We were decreasing wine waste, glass waste, and built a fully recyclable product.
This first product, the ArT Wine Preserver, is a consumer packaged good (CPG). Our customers protect their wine for up to 50 bottles and then, hopefully, they recycle ArT and buy another.
Because of their relatively short life spans, CPG’s are heavily scrutinized for creating waste.
In fact, the National Resource Defense Council said in their 2015 report (2):
“CPG and grocery companies substantially lag behind their beverage peers in policy development, responsibility for postconsumer packaging, and demonstrable commitments to increase recycling of packaging.”
ArT, of course, was a different and more sustainable CPG. Right?
We certainly designed ArT to reduce waste. I saw too many empty “sustainability” claims made by both small and large companies. I wanted to be completely transparent and honest. I was confident until a thoughtful colleague pressed me…
How did I know, for sure, we were helping more than hurting the waste issue?
Truth was – I thought we were, but I had no data to prove we were better than alternatives.
An Identity Crisis
A question tugging at me was:
Are there scenarios where our product produces more waste than it prevents?
While we had theoretically decreased material waste streams, we hadn’t confirmed this. We didn’t even evaluate carbon emissions – one of the most impactful waste streams humanity faces today.
I felt was unacceptable. I needed to buckle down and analyze the whole supply chain for ArT. I then needed to compare the entire supply chain of ArT to the entire supply chain of a bottle of wine.
I needed to know if we still reduced waste, if we only saved one bottle of wine from spoiling.
Disclaimer: We couldn’t afford to pay an ISO certified expert to perform a formal study. I didn’t have formal training in methods such as LCA (Life-Cycle Analysis).3
However, I used the chemical engineering degree I earned from Purdue University to calculate “back-of-the-envelope” numbers. I’m fluent in material and energy flows, and confident I have meaningful results.
I first looked at end of life material flow, or what I’d call the “waste you see”. For this, it was easy to see that ArT greatly reduced the amount of waste.
In fact, ArT mostly avoids landfills itself.
At least from the consumer perspective, we were reducing their waste. We reduced the financial and environmental impact of enjoying wine. This is consistent with the brand we are building (under the slogan Enjoy More, Waste Less™).
But we know that doesn’t tell the whole story.
We needed a full analysis of the impact of ArT, from raw materials all the way until its either reused or landfilled.
To do that, we used a cradle-to-grave approach to estimate the global warming potential (in kg carbon dioxide equivalent, or kg CO2 e) of ArT and compared it to LCA studies for a bottle of wine.
The Carbon Footprint - Do We Shrink It?
When looking at a product’s environmental impact, it’s important to look the impact of raw material production, product creation, shipping and even at the impact of its disposal.
The answer to our question:
When ArT Wine Preserver prevents the waste of one (1) bottle of wine, it decreases carbon emissions by 32%, decreases landfill mass by 75%, and offsets its financial cost.
Since ArT can be used on up to 50 bottles, now we are confident that ArT Wine Preserver will reduce waste in nearly all possible scenarios and even at scale to all wine consumers.
Here is the data from our analysis:
What is next for us?
We are using this back-of-the-envelope life-cycle analysis method to evaluate future products and business models.
In doing this exercise, I also realized that we must define “reducing waste” more clearly. A more cumbersome, but clear, mission we now have is:
To create products that provide a net decrease in waste, short and long term.
For example, we are evaluating our retail strategy. We can use this analysis to ensure we still reduce carbon emissions, even if customers add an estimated 1.2 kg CO2 e when they drive to the store (4).
Want to know the most surprising part of our analysis?
Reach out to me directly (Ryan@ArTWinePreservation.com) for more information.
Thanks for reading.
1) NOAA, Microplastics, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
2) National Resource Defense Council, Waste and Opportunity, 2015, https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/consumer-goods-packaging-report.pdf
3) Environmental Literacy Council, Life-Cycle Analysis, https://enviroliteracy.org/environment-society/life-cycle-analysis/
4) Dalhousie University, Point, Emma V, 2008, Life Cycle Environmental Impacts Of Wine Production And Consumption In Nova Scotia, Canada, https://www.fcrn.org.uk/sites/default/files/Life_Cycle_Environmental_Impacts_of_Wine.pdf
5) Know the Flow, Getting it Straight: Exact Carbon Emissions From One Bottle of Wine https://www.ifu.com/knowtheflow/2012/getting-it-straight-exact-carbon-emissions-from-one-bottle-of-wine/