AMERICAN CANYON – A number of large wineries, solid-waste recyclers and transportation companies have chipped in $3.5 million to create a company that allows some of millions of wine bottles in the U.S. each year that go to landfills instead to safely go back into use.
American Canyon-based Wine Bottle Renew, formerly Wine Bottle Recycling, in the past year has collected 300,000 discarded or used glass containers from major winery bottling lines and stockpiled them at its 92,000-square-foot newly retrofitted plant in Stockton. Wash-to-order and contract bottle washing are set to start at the beginning of August, according to Chief Executive Officer Bruce Stephens.
"It's being done everywhere else in the world except here," he said.
Beverage bottles have been sanitized for reuse for years in Europe. The Wine Bottle Renew team toured a dozen such plants there, including one in Italy that processes 10 million bottles a year.
Wine Bottle Renew's process for sterilizing bottles and selling them to wineries results in a 95 percent smaller carbon footprint and 25 percent less water usage than for production of new glass, according to Mr. Stephens.
The company plans to have available for sale about 100 of the most popular bottle mold types out of a few hundred that have been in use until cost-cutting measures in recent years. Wineries can save 10 percent to 40 percent over the several dollars per case of new glass, according to Mr. Stephens.
Beyond wineries' policies for environmental sensitivity, they will soon be under government and retailer mandates to recycle. For example, retail giant Wal-Mart aims to have all suppliers use recycled packaging by 2012. California intends to have commercial recycling ordinances in place statewide in the same timeframe.
Increasing use of pressure-sensitive labels and glue that can hold labels during ice bucket soaks as well as exacting specifications for high-speed bottling lines cracked previous efforts at commercial wine bottle reuse in the 1990s. Those were Environmental Container Recylcing, now part of Encore Glass in the East Bay, and Stockton-based Evergreen Glass, sold in 2000 to Diablo Valley Packaging.
Evergreen developed a way to sort bottles by mold type, dimensions and color, but the inability to automate label removal got both firms stuck.
Wine Bottle Renew, with Evergreen co-founder Chris Ronson on board as chief operating officer, claims to have solved both problems. It has purchased a European sorter that uses facial-recognition software to distinguish bottles and developed an automated cold-water scrubber to remove labels from more than 1,000 cases a day.
A secondary source of revenue is on-site label removal via a four-person mobile unit. Fixing incorrectly applied labels, selling bottled wine in bulk as "shiners" and adjusting labels for alcohol-content changes between winemaking and regulatory label approval are some of the motivations for that service, according to Mr. Stephens.
The first phase of the venture is to collect bottling-line rejects and tasting-room empties from large wineries, including bottles that tipped over on the line, had incorrect fill levels or whole cases of glass tossed because one bottle was broken. At some point, collection could be extended to curbside and dropoff bins.