The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is offering the Three Bandits brand of wine in Tetra Paks, and has tied this into a frog-saving campaign. (See news item in Headline News.) I have a real problem with this.
Don’t get me wrong — I like the idea of money from the sale of every unit of a given product being donated to a worthy cause, and I’m sure the three frog species sorely need protecting.
What bothers me is the way the frog campaign is used to greenwash the introduction into the market of an expanded amount of wines sold in Tetra Pak-style asceptic containers.
And, for a second time, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Tetra Paks, per se. I know the long list of benefits they offer. There’s the ease of use, the light weight, the “stackability” and so on. But for me, the main benefit from an environmental point of view relates to energy. Asceptics allow producers to transport and store milk and juice-type beverages at room temperature that would normally have to be refrigerated. This is precisely the benfit that wine does NOT require.
Asceptics are recyclable, but it’s very expensive to recycle them and not many municipalities collect them for recycling. If Tetra Pak or the LCBO were willing to somehow underwrite the cost of collecting and recycling ALL the Tetra Pak containers — in other words, if the practiced true producer responsibility — that objection would be negated. But for now, shifting more and more wine into a container type that experiences low (and costly) recylcing rates appears to be extremely environmentally regressive.
I think THAT is the real reason why the LCBO is associating the new wine packaging with feel-good environmental campaigns — to make consumers feel they’re “doing the right thing” for the environment, and to discourage criticsim from activist groups. I also object to the simplistic claims that Tetra Paks, for wine, are environmentally superior to glass, mostly because glass is heavy. Glass can be recycled endlessly in bottle-to-bottle applications. Tetra Paks? Well, you have to put the packages in hot water to separate the different layers. You can recycle the paper pulp, and you can recycle the aluminum, but if you think through the environmental lifecycle of harvesting the trees, plus the fact that you don’t turn all the pulp back into paper, and the environmental burden of aluminum production, well, I just don’t see that it’s obvious at all that this is environmentally superior. In fact, my suspicion is the opposite.
I think the burden of proof lies with the LCBO and Tetra Pak to provide a credible third-party environmental lifecycle study comparing Tetra Paks boxes used for wine with glass wine bottles, including raw materials extraction, energy inputs and recycling, before making unsubstantiated claims that this packaging is environmentally superior. In the absence of such a study, the claims are simply rhetoric, and potentially misleading rhetoric at that.
And I wish the mainstream media would draw attention to these matters and not just repeat the LCBO and Tetra Pak claims like some marketing arm of both organizations. Whatever happened to critical thought in journalism?