Reusable offers: Is there a deposit system for wine bottles?

Status: 04/02/2023 07:50 a.m

In Germany there is no nationwide deposit system for wine bottles. That’s why a winemaker from the Palatinate is now selling his wine in beer bottles.

A long-necked brown beer bottle with a bright yellow label and crown cap containing half a liter of Palatinate wine. What sounds and looks a bit unusual is part of the product range of a Palatinate winemaker: Ansgar Galler has recently been selling its organic wine in 0.5-liter beer returnable bottles. “It’s more sustainable than the usual one-way wine bottles that usually end up in used glass containers,” says the winemaker.

Wine instead of beer or water

Since there is currently no Germany-wide deposit system for wine bottles, Galler uses bottles for one of his types of wine that can be returned to any supermarket: beer bottles. “The advantage: Returning beer deposit bottles is possible everywhere in the trade, which is important because we sell our wine throughout Germany.”

The winemaker wants to observe exactly how customers accept his wine from beer bottles and then possibly expand the range. “For example, there are also elegant 0.75 liter water bottles.”

Winemaker Ansgar Galler from the Palatinate sells his wine in standard returnable beer bottles.

Image: SWR

More than 100 different wine bottles

According to the Packaging Act, there is no compulsory deposit for wine bottles in Germany. According to the German Wine Institute, this is due to the more than 100 wine bottle variants that exist in Germany alone, also due to regional traditions.

In addition, a large part of the wines sold here are imported, explains Ernst Büscher from the marketing organization of the German wine industry. “That again increases the variety of bottles, and it is also not possible to return the empties to the manufacturers all over the world.”

Low reusable share

The federal government’s current coalition agreement also does not provide for the introduction of a compulsory deposit for wine bottles, so there are no plans to change the packaging law in this legislative period.

Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke from the Greens has declared that she is fundamentally committed to further strengthening reusable offers in Germany. For example, a minimum quota for reusable beverage bottles in supermarkets is conceivable, said the minister at the beginning of this year. The proportion of returnables is currently low: in 2020 it was 5.6 percent, a spokesman said.

From the point of view of the German Wine Institute, it would be important that German producers would not be economically disadvantaged compared to winegrowers from abroad by a possible deposit system.

Regional pilot projects

In Baden-Württemberg there has long been a regional deposit system for 1.0 liter wine bottles. A pilot project for 0.75 liter returnable wine bottles is now also starting there. However, this is limited to the Württemberg region and is initially only intended for beverage and wine retailers.

For such a nationwide deposit system, however, wine producers would have to limit themselves to two or three bottle variants. That makes production easier and returns to machines, sorting and rinsing in large quantities anyway. Then the wine bottles could also be returned to the grocery store.

Rinsing is more environmentally friendly

The glass washing company “Glasklar Kurpfalz” has been cleaning wine bottles for wineries that use their bottles several times for decades. Around 30,000 bottles run down the conveyor belts of the huge rinsing plant in Wachenheim in the Palatinate every day.

Recently, the demand has increased significantly. According to company boss Stefan Fey, this is mainly due to the increased energy costs for bottle production, but also to the sustainability concept of many winegrowers. “Making a new bottle causes around 600 to 800 grams of CO2,” says Fey, “but rinsing a bottle only around 150 to 200 grams of CO2.”

According to the entrepreneur, the goal must be a nationwide standard reusable system for wine bottles. That is already being worked on. “A large glass manufacturer approached me. The plans are on the home straight. I’m not allowed to say more at the moment.”

Wine bottles could be returnable

Dishwashing boss Fey at least has no concern that returnable wine bottles could become unsightly and unattractive for consumers through repeated use.

“You can wash a nice, well-produced wine bottle six, seven, eight times.” In addition, small scratches do not bother if the environment is protected and money is saved, the entrepreneur is convinced of that.

“For me, this is not a beer bottle”

Organic winegrower Galler from the Palatinate did not want to wait until a nationwide returnable system for wine bottles might be introduced in Germany. Instead, he relies on an already existing deposit system. “For me it’s not a beer bottle, but a 0.5 liter glass container,” says Galler about his unconventional idea.

Incidentally, the winemaker recommends his customers not to drink the wine from the beer bottle, but from wine glasses. Half a liter, says Galler, is just the right amount for a cozy evening for two.

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