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Ten cooperatives from Württemberg presented the first 0.75l returnable bottle for wine at ProWein. It can be returned to the machine in the supermarket. The new bottles are to be filled for the first time as early as this year.

In Germany, more than one billion wine bottles are bought every year, estimates the German Wine Institute (DWI). Most of them are only used once and end up - hopefully - in waste glass, are melted down and made into bottles again. Yet, according to the DWI, the bottle alone accounts for around 45 percent of the CO2 footprint in wine production. According to the Federal Environment Agency, returnable glass bottles can be refilled up to 50 times. This saves a lot of energy and resources compared to one-way bottles. Nevertheless, until now there have been hardly any possibilities to reuse wine bottles without producing new ones. The main reason is the almost unmanageable variety of shapes: "Currently, there are far more than 100 different types of wine bottles in use in Germany alone," says Ernst Büscher of the DWI. A functioning deposit system, however, needs standardised bottles.

Wine in returnable bottles comes

Werner Bender
© Heuchelberg Weingärtner

But now there is movement in the industry: sharply increased costs for raw materials, processing and transport and a heightened awareness of the need to use resources more sparingly are leading to more and more thought being given to deposit-refill systems. For beer and water bottles they have been working very well in Germany for decades.

At the Prowein in Düsseldorf, Werner Bender, chairman of the specially founded cooperative Wein-Mehrweg eG, now presented a newly designed, standardised 0.75-litre returnable wine bottle. It has a long bottle neck, a robust butt rim and bears the words "Mehrweg" (returnable). Wein-Mehrweg eG is a cooperative in which several Württemberg winegrowers' cooperatives participate, including the Heilbronn Cooperative Winery, the Lauffener Winegrowers, the Württemberger Zentralgenossenschaft, the Heuchelberg Winegrowers and the Collegium Wirtemberg from Stuttgart.

For many years now, the one-litre deposit bottles have been collected, rinsed and refilled in Württemberg. With the rinsing centre in Möglingen, there is an operation with the capacity to clean 24 million wine bottles per year - but so far only one-litre bottles. However, the demand for litre bottles is steadily decreasing. Therefore, the new 0.75-litre bottle has now been developed, for which Wein-Mehrweg eG holds the licence.

In addition, the Galler*** winery from the Palatinate presented a white wine at Prowein that is filled in 0.5-litre beer bottles and sealed with crown corks. In beer, the standardisation of the bottle shape is already well advanced. According to Holger Eichele, General Manager of the German Brewers Association, there are up to four billion refillable glass bottles in circulation. Eighty per cent of them are communal bottles that can be used by any brewery, so the proportion of returnable bottles is correspondingly high. Their advantage: they can easily be returned to any supermarket.

The rinsing centre in Möglingen can rinse up to 24 million bottles.

Michael Krasser

The country needs new bottles

The new deposit bottles are to be used in Germany as early as this year, initially in the beverage and wine trade. Werner Bender is optimistic that they will soon be able to establish themselves nationwide in the returnable system. That would depend on the response of retailers and consumers. After all, such a system would have to be accepted not only by the German wine industry but also by food retailers. And even if German producers agreed on a few bottle shapes: the vast majority of wine bottles are imported from abroad. So a European regulation would be needed. Corresponding initiatives are now being launched, because the Ukraine war with its consequences for the glass industry and the achievement of the climate targets are increasing the pressure for this. In France, for example, ten regional operators of washing centres recently joined forces to form a national network for reusable wine bottles. And the Spanish winery Torres already called for a deposit bottle system at European level last year.

Whether it's beer bottles, lightweight bottles, bottles made of paper or cardboard or deposit bottles: Wine will present itself in other forms of packaging in the coming years.

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