Packaging design and development plays an important role in Altia’s operations, given that the company bottles up to 70 million litres of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages every year. Good packaging design can reduce the volume of waste and carbon dioxide emissions to a significant degree.
Altia invests heavily in product development and life-cycle thinking. The company’s efforts in sustainable packaging design and innovations are especially pioneering. Our sustainability roadmap outlines our goals: all of our packaging will be 100% recyclable by the year 2025, and the carbon footprint of our products will have decreased by 35% by 2030.
Packaging design for the environment
Good packaging design can achieve substantial reductions in waste and carbon dioxide emissions. Alternative, and lighter, materials are used to an increasing degree and, for example, the weight of glass bottles is being reduced. This reduces the carbon footprint resulting from the bottles’ manufacturing and transport to a significant degree.
Over the past few years, Altia has increasingly shifted from glass bottles to the use of alternative packaging materials, such as fully recyclable PET plastic bottles. With a nearly 40 per cent share, PET plastic is already the second largest packaging type in our packaging portfolio. The growth in its use is based on customer wishes, the recyclability and lightness of the bottles, the possibilities offered by the raw material, innovations and the reduction of Altia’s carbon footprint.
The plastic materials used by Altia have been selected according to the storage life requirements of the packaged content, taking into consideration production equipment as well as recycling and environmental issues. The plastic materials in the bottles have been approved for contact with foodstuffs which, in practice, means that they are carefully controlled, starting from their source materials.
The carbon footprint of a bottle made of PET plastic can be only 40% of the footprint of a similar glass bottle. The reduction comes from the manufacturing process, the amount of plastic mass used and the energy consumed in manufacturing, and also from the efficiency of the logistics chain, for example. With rPET (where "r" stands for recycled), the carbon footprint is even smaller.
In 2020, Altia launched the first spirits bottles containing 25% rPET plastic. We aim to increase the share of rPET to 50% by the year 2025 and to a full 100% by 2030. This pace exceeds the requirements and schedules outlined by the EU.
We have conducted thorough background work concerning the implementation of rPET plastic. For example, we have carried out research into such factors as the availability, quality and suitability of raw material. In addition, we needed to find a reliable raw material supplier and build a new, well-functioning delivery chain for rPET bottles.
Packages stamped with sustainability
During 2021, Altia will be adding new sustainability labels to its packages to help consumers in making increasingly responsible choices.
Polyethylene terephthalate, i.e. PET, is a food-safe thermoplastic used particularly in the packaging industry. Beverage bottles and ovenproof plastic dishes, for example, are often made from PET. PET plastic is wear resistant and easy to recycle, almost endlessly. Moreover, thanks to its light weight and raw material manufacturing technology, PET plastic has a smaller carbon footprint than glass or other heavier materials.
The PET packages of Altia's spirits products contain 25% of recycled rPET plastic, which is indicated by a special label on the packaging. The recycled plastic used in the bottles comes from PET bottles returned by consumers. To ensure the safety and high quality of the material, Altia sources its rPET material from well-known markets and treats it by using a process of the highest quality standard.
Altia aims to have 100% of its PET packages made from recycled plastic by 2030.
In spring 2021, Altia launched the first wine bottle made of recycled PET plastic. As with the rPET bottles for spirits, the recycled material comes from plastic bottles returned by consumers against the deposit. Coloured rPET bottles can be returned by using the same recycling system as the colourless ones, so this material will be available for reuse.
The first product line to be packed in the new rPET bottles is Altia's Chill Out wine family. A sustainability indicator referring to the bottle type will be added to the wine labels.
Bag-in-box (BiB) containers consist of several different materials: the cardboard box, wine bag, and the plastic tap and handle. The overall environmental impacts of BiB containers are already smaller than those of the traditional glass bottle, but the combination of various materials makes the packaging difficult to recycle from the consumer’s perspective.
In cooperation with its partners, Altia has developed a new 3-litre BiB container in which the wine bag, tap and handle have been refined in terms of materials and colours so that they are more suitable for recycling. The valve of the tap is red, but other elements are colourless, making them recycling compatible. The wine bag does not include metalling, aluminium or nylon, which means that it too can be disposed of as plastic waste. In addition, the box will be made from materials obtained from FSC-certified, responsible sources. The BiB containers include recycling instructions. The aim is to utilise every component of the container through recycling.
The new, fully recyclable bag-in-box container has the sustainability label.
Glass remains a common packaging material for alcoholic beverages, especially in the premium product category. Often, the bottles of high-quality brands contain a considerable amount of glass material, which increases their environmental load. Reducing the weight of the bottle also reduces its carbon footprint.
Altia aims to make its glass bottles lighter in conjunction with packaging reforms and to increase the use of recycled glass. The new sustainability label on glass bottles indicates how much lighter it is compared to the previous bottle design. For example, a life cycle analysis conducted on O.P. Anderson Aquavit indicated that reducing the weight of a 0.35-litre glass bottle from 300 grams to 220 grams would reduce its emissions by 16% during the product’s life cycle. Altia's aim is to make its glass bottles 10% lighter as part of all its packaging reforms by 2025.
A bottle’s journey
The new life of a glass or plastic deposit bottle begins with a clunk in the bowels of a reverse vending machines. After this, recycled glass bottles are crushed, cleaned and sorted according to their colour. They are reused in the production of glass wool or glass packaging, for example. Plastic deposit bottles are also returned to a reverse vending machine, from where they also go to crushing, cleaning and sorting for the manufacture and reuse of raw materials.
Cans, plastic bottles and some glass bottles have a marking that identifies them as deposit bottles. If there is no deposit marking, you can check whether a glass bottle can be returned from the receipt or a shelf label.
Glass and plastic deposit bottles (and metal cans) can be returned to reverse vending machines. The vending machine identifies the deposit from a bar code on the bottle's label, so in order to get the deposit back, the label must be intact. You will receive the receipt for your bottles from the machine you return them to.
Glass bottles with no deposit, both coloured and clear, should be taken to recycled glass containers. There is no need to sort them, just throw them in. The caps or corks do need to be removed, but the labels, metal skirts and any other fixed parts can remain where they are. Plastic bottles with no deposit, on the other hand, belong in plastic recycling or mixed waste.
Colourless plastic bottles return to service for example as preforms of new plastic bottles, or as raincoats. Coloured plastic bottles, on the other hand, can have a new life as back bags or neckties. There is no need to remove plastic caps, given that they are also recycled. And while most glass bottles are used for new bottles, some of the material can even end up in aerated concrete.
Altia's new, fully recyclable bag-in-box containers are easy to recycle along with other sorted household waste. First, detach the tap from the wine bag, rinse the bag with cold water and sort the plastic components, including the box handle, to plastic recycling. The box can be put in a cardboard recycling bin.
Sustainable packaging choices for wine buyers: recycled PET plastic bottle and bag-in-box
Altia markets its own wine brands in Finland and the Nordic countries. These wines are also packed by Altia as close to the consumer as possible. This significantly reduces the carbon footprint of the products. Bag-in-box is the primary format of wine packaging in Altia's production. It is also the most sustainable option. Whereas a traditional glass bottle weights 500–600 grams, the bag-in-box container, including the cardboard box and wine bag, weighs less than 140 grams. In addition, the typical glass bottle contains 75 cl of wine, but the typical size of a BiB container is three litres. One benefit of the glass bottle is better preservability. To offset this difference, wine bottles made from PET plastic feature an extra layer that prevents oxygen permeability.
In spring 2021, Altia introduced a wine bottle made fully from recycled PET plastic. The raw material of these bottles comes from plastic deposit bottles returned by consumers. Replacing the raw material with recycled material drastically shrinks the packaging's carbon footprint, as the burden of oil refining can be excluded.
The carbon footprint of glass packages can also be reduced by using recycled material Altia's glass bottles contain an average of 40% of recycled glass. However, even the lighter glass bottle's carbon footprint is approximately 60% higher than that of a PET plastic bottle.
There is reason to be proud: The return rate of all bottles in Finland is among the highest in the world. A total of 93% of all purchased drink containers are returned. The return rate of plastic bottles is also high: 92% in 2020. But the statistics also reveal room for improvement. A particular dent in the statistics comes from small plastic bottles: several million bottles no larger than 35 cl get lost on the way, despite being deposit bottles.
Why is this? Altia decided to put this question to roughly a thousand adults in May 2019. Their responses revealed at least two things which drew our attention: unawareness of the recyclability of different bottle types, and the fact that while small PET bottles are easy to carry along, they are also easily left behind.
In spring 2019, Altia implemented a consumer campaign with the aim of increasing the recycling rate of all bottles but small bottles in particular. The successful campaign was repeated in the following year, and the results were even greater: The return rate of Altia's small PET bottles increased by an impressive 20% during the campaign.