Wine bottles might have a new shelf life

October 27, 2010

Used wine bottles could find themselves back on the shelves
When you set your used wine bottles at the curb, you may be under the impression they’ll be reused or recycled into new bottles.

That would be wrong.

No glass picked up in the Rogue Valley lives again as a wine bottle — or any other kind of bottle. That doesn’t mean it’s not recycled, because much of it is crushed and reused.

That’s better than nationally, where, of the 300 million cases of wine sold each year in the United States, 70 percent of the bottles end up thrown into landfills.

But neither locally or nationally are wine bottles being reused or recycled to hold wine again — something a local winery is hoping to change.

The Applegate’s Cowhorn Winery is sending wine bottles this month to a new company in Sonoma, Calif., called Wine Bottle Renew, where they can be de-labeled, sterilized and sold back to wineries.

“This is revolutionary for the wine industry,” says Barbara Steele, co-owner of Cowhorn. “People think they’re recycling wine bottles at the curb,” says Steele, “but there are over 600 different types of wine bottles” and no machine has been able to sort them.

Local wine bottles typically aren’t reused because “it’s a great distance to recyclers (in the Willamette Valley) and it’s cost prohibitive to transport,” says Steve DiFabion, general manager of Recology Ashland Sanitary Service, “and the cost would get passed on to consumers.”

So, what happens to all the glass collected here?

All of it — 744 tons last year, with about 60 percent coming from wine bottles — gets crushed by bulldozers at Dry Creek Landfill, then used as aggregate for roads, parking lots and culverts at the landfill, and to encase perforated pipes that draw energy-generating gases from the landfill, says Lee Fortier, landfill general manager.

So the glass is actually being recycled, just not as glass containers — which the state Department of Environmental Quality considers a “beneficial use,” says DiFabion.

Wendell Smith, manager of Rogue Disposal and Recycling, welcomes the news of wine-bottle reuse. “It’s got to be a good thing … it’s not going to hurt us at all.”

DiFabion agrees. “That would be phenomenal. It’s exactly what the valley needs, being so far from good recycling markets. It will have a huge local impact.”

Bruce Stephens, CEO of Wine Bottle Renew, thinks his operation will be successful because recycled bottles will cost less than new bottles and reuse will reduce the carbon footprint of wineries, where 60 percent of the carbon output comes from making and disposing of bottles. Plus, he says, he’ll always have the right bottles in stock. More than 300,000 cases of 150 bottle styles are already in stock, he adds.

Less-popular bottle styles will be sold to glass manufacturers, he says. To be reused for wine, the bottles must be unchipped. Those not able to be reused will be sent to the Green Glass Co. in Wisconsin for use in custom glassware, he says.

“Wineries overwhelmingly want to buy our bottles,” says Stephens, “and most of our buyers are in California now. We start washing bottles in November, and they’ll be available for buy-back then.”

– John Darling