On Sunday evening I drove to the rear yard of a local restaurant in Collingwood (where I live) and, with the restaurant’s permission (Huron House, in case you’re interested) loaded up my van with 60 green glass wine bottles take I took from their large blue wheeled recycling totes.
I have to say I felt a bit like a raccoon out there, laying the totes on their sides with a tremendous clatter as the bottles tumbled inside. I imagined at least one neighbor must have gone to their window and wondered what was happening.
Why did I take these bottles? Because I received a call from my local home winemaking establishment, “Wine Not” on Fouth Street, informing me that my order of red wine (New Zealand cab/shiraz blend) is ready for bottling. The company proprietor, Cameron (a friend of mine), had suggested that I save wine bottles in anticipation of this day, but I just haven’t been drinking a lot of wine recently and only had a couple of old bottles lying around. Cam had suggested that almost any popular restaurant would gladly let me take their used wine bottles for reuse. By reusing the old free bottles, I save one dollar per bottle (as compared to purchasing them from Cameron). So now the bottles are soaking in my bathtub (to loosen the labels) and on Wednesday I’ll sterilize them and fill them at Wine Not.
And the purpose of my story? Well, the experience reminded meof the potential market that exists for intact used wine bottles in Ontario (and elsewhere). No, I’m not suggesting that wine bottles be shipped back to Europe or elsewhere. Instead, if wine bottles were collected under deposit, they could be used by local vintners. This is a much higher-value proposition from an economic and environmental point of view than collecting the bottles for recycling (or downcycling into aggregate, as often happens). Of course, I don’t just mean the do-it-yourself market. Larger-scale and specialized Ontario vintners would buy bottles for reuse if they were collected and sorted by shape and color. This could provide a substantial business opportunity to an entrepreneur. The LCBO could help out by encouraging more of its suppliers to move to some kind of standardized bottle. (Instead, the moribund agency is encouraging wine to be sold in Tetra Pak-style composite packages.) Sure, some bottles would be broken in the handling and shipping, and would then have to be recycled, but the vast majority could be reused.
I found the exercise of gathering and rinsing the bottles quite inspiring, and felt that in a small way I was doing something good for the environment. I also enjoyed the fact that by making my own wine (and this is the good, more expensive homemade stuff, I’ll have you know!) I am saving money and depriving the LCBO of my business. (If I could make my scotch this way, too, I certainly would!) But just so you know I’m not ranting all on my own, I’d like you to know that Ontario municipalities are writing letters to Ontario’s environment minister Laurel Broten to complain about the increasing use of composite containers for wine, which will show up in their blue box programs and cost a bundle to recycle. (I will post some of the letters on our website soon as a pdf file.)
In the meantime, here’s a letter from the Ministry of Environment to Waste Diversion Ontario about blue box funding. If you read past the minister’s signature to the two-page attachment, you’ll encounter some interesting reporting about a meeting between ministry staff and the folks at WDO and Stewardship Ontario in which they describe the LCBO’s shift from glass to composite containers as environmental progress. (I am not making this up!) It’s near the bottom of the last page.