Up until the 1980s, customers brought their returnable bottles of wine back to their retailer in France. The custom gradually died out, but is now returning in a different form, referred to as re-use. But what does this refer to, and how does the system work? What are the benefits and the challenges? We take a closer look at a new industry in the making.
- What is re-use?
- How does re-use work?
- The benefits of re-use
- The challenges of re-use
What is re-use?
According to the Citéo website, “Re-use involves re-using a packaging in an identical way to what it was designed for, with a system of traceability and industrial washing”. Basically, the purpose is to give your wine bottle a new lease of life – after being washed and re-packaged by the producer it is re-used. This is the concept of a circular economy.
How does re-use work?
The producer and/or ethical consumer is the catalyst for the system. Producers make a conscious choice to re-use their containers, with specific bottles and water-soluble labels for instance, whilst ethical consumers are proactive in selecting wine in a re-usable bottle. The bottles are usually clearly identified with, as in the case of this organic Hérisson Malin label by Jacques Frelin (which retails with Biocoop), the easily recognisable official sticker of the returnable bottle system – ‘Bring me back so I can be re-used’. On the back of the bottle, the message is equally as explicit and reads, ‘Enjoy, then return to your store or the reseauconsigne.com drop-off locations. The bottle will be collected, washed and re-used’. These include the companies that give the bottle a new lease of life, and the distributors – hospitality outlets or stores – identified as collection points where ethical consumers can return their re-usable bottles.
The benefits of re-use
A report by ADEME (the Environment and Waste Control Agency) provides some noteworthy facts for France: “In 2018, 86% of glass packaging was recycled and 60% of the French automatically sort their glass waste”.
So why switch to re-usable bottles? Because the bottle is not broken and then re-manufactured. According to the same research, collecting, washing and re-using glass packaging uses a quarter less energy and half as much water as when they are recycled, which is an energy-intensive solution, involving transportation, recasting and manufacturing. Re-use reduces the environmental impact of glass bottles and is a step towards zero waste.
Other benefits, as identified by Obsco and Citéo include:
Social impacts: a jointly built local supply chain and new consumer habit where consumers take a proactive role.
Economic opportunities: local jobs, cost reduction, energising the regional economic fabric…
Re-use is an integral part of sustainability with its three pillars – environment, social and economic.
The challenges of re-use
In spring 2021, the widespread roll-out of returnable bottles by 2025 was rejected by the French lower house of parliament. So for now, re-use is based on voluntary commitments at source, by producers, and ultimately by consumers tasked with returning the bottles, for the system to fully function. At the moment, the target audience is ethically-minded people who purchase their products in stores like Biocoop which has made a major commitment to rolling out the re-use of wine bottles. As citizens, people have shown a willingness to work towards zero waste, but have they as consumers? So will re-use be a future trend? A clue lies in regulations issued in 2016 banning single-use plastic bags. It took time to adjust but the French changed their buying habits, and now everyone has a re-usable bag.