With pressure mounting from consumers, government, and industry on companies to become more sustainable, it is no surprise that there has been a surge in R&D into paper bottles.
And it is within the alcohol industry where many have been pioneering and innovating this trend.
Diageo, a multi-national beverage company with over 200 spirit and beer brands, will soon use a 100 per cent plastic free, paper-based bottle for its Johnnie Walker Black Label range.
Bacardi and US wine company Truett-Hurst are both developing sustainably sourced paper bottles.
Carlsberg, on the other hand has two prototypes for fully recyclable bottles made from sustainably sourced wood fibres.
The Absolut Company last year produced a test batch of approximately 2000 bottles, consisting of biodegradable FSC-certified paper. While the bottle did have a barrier of recycled plastic, the two materials could easily be separated and recycled separately.
Carlsberg and Absolut, together with Coca-Cola and L’Oréal, are part of the paper bottle community working with the Paper Bottle Company, Paboco, which aims to “pioneer the transformation towards sustainable bottle packaging, propelled by innovation and the insight that each industry must transform and do their part for a better tomorrow”.
So, why are all these brand owners looking at paper bottles as an alternative?
Research by market measurement firm Nielsen into sustainability revealed that 81 per cent of global respondents felt strongly that companies should help improve the environment, while 73 per cent said they would definitely or probably, change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.
It also notes that the more sustainably minded retailers out there have been increasing their growth and profit in this venture.
Business reasons aside, Coca-Cola emphasises that “Our planet matters”. This sentiment was echoed by Jean-Marc Lambert, senior vice-president, Global Operations for Bacardi: “This isn’t about competitive advantage it’s about doing the right thing for the planet”. Offering another perspective, Niclas Appelquist, director Future of Packaging at The Absolut Company reflects that “it is exciting to work on leading innovation”.
Truett-Hurst reveals more practical considerations: a paper bottle is easy to carry. Its paper bottle weighs 0.86 kg when filled, making it 85 per cent lighter than a glass bottle. Additionally, winemaker Virgina Lambrix made clear that, rather than the expensive glass bottle and cork, “We would rather apply the savings that PaperBoy affords toward more expensive, better-crafted wine so that both the customer and the environment win”.
However, there are of course some difficulties in the use of paper bottles also.
Food-safety standards include requirements to only use packaging that is fit for its intended purpose; to only use material that is not likely to cause food contamination; and to ensure there is no likelihood that the food may become contaminated during the packaging process.
Myriam Shingleton, vice-president of group development at Carlsberg, says paper bottles necessitate a complete rethink of the way things are done and working out how to overcome technical challenges.
Paboco itself acknowledges that a major challenge is the scaling of technology to enable manufacturing of large quantities of paper bottles, but remains positive, saying: “To have a working barrier is mandatory, but as often in innovative projects, we improve details over time as we learn along the way to create an optimal solution”.