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How Avanti recycles wine plastic bulk bags

Image for How Avanti recycles wine plastic bulk bagsWine is now often transported in vast plastic bulk bags prior to bottling. Avanti Environmental PR and communications executive Keerti Baker reports on how Avanti recycles this material

It would seem that we’re a nation of wine lovers. Not surprising, as the UK is the world’s largest wine importer, with more than 1.3 billion litres entering the country and stocking our supermarket shelves each year. When you think of buying wine, and think of its packaging, you are more than likely thinking of the glass bottle that it comes in. And whether you are a self-proclaimed or experienced wine connoisseur, plastic is perhaps farthest away from your thought process.

Bulk shipping of wine isn’t uncommon for these requirements, but methods used to bulk transport have seen a change over the last several years. The bulk import of wine, for bottling in the UK, is now seen as a more cost-effective and environmentally sound alternative to bottling at source and then shipping. In December 2013, the BBC programme Supermarket Secrets saw Masterchef’s Greg Wallace report on how supermarkets in the UK receive their wine in 1000-litre bags. He is quoted in the programme saying: “We buy 8 out of every ten bottles of wine sold in UK from supermarkets. Astonishingly this wine is delivered from around the world in enormous plastic bags packaged inside shipping containers. These bags contain 26,000 litres of wine and each ship can contain over 3.5 million litres of wine.”

The transition from glass to plastic

Transporting bulk wine in plastic bags can actually reduce CO2 emissions and is a very efficient system of moving volume product of this nature. To illustrate, a standard container holds 12,000 to 13,000 bottles whereas a standard flexitank (plastic bag) used for bulk importation holds a volume of equivalent to 32,000 bottles of wine, thereby transporting more wine per tanker trip, and therefore reducing costs. This method also reduces damage to bottles and defers the start of the wine’s shelf life, which is hugely beneficial to retailers.

The wine is simply packaged inside flexitanks, which sits within shipping containers and delivered to UK bottling plants.

Dealing with all that plastic

Until recently, these huge plastic bags ended their life in a landfill site or exported to Asia for recycling, even though they contained residual wine. Avanti Environmental Recycling Division group senior development manager Paul Rendle-Barnes, explains how their organisation has changed things: “Avanti, working with bulk bag suppliers, has installed a reprocessing system which delivers an end-to-end solution for bulk bag recycling.

Paul Rendle-Barnes Avanti Environmental“Our system extracts any leftover wine residue through the Avanti waste transfer station and then separates the varied layers constituting the bag. The next step is for the bag to undergo an automated hot wash. As part of Avanti’s recycling and compounding process, this produces a high grade recycled polymer suitable for UK manufacturers to use in non-food applications such as bubble wrap, plastic bags and packaging films. The recycled plastic is then sold to supermarkets such as Tesco to close the loop and contribute to a circular economy.

“Residual wine recovered by the process is collected with the wash water collection process, recovered at the reprocessing plant and then delivered to the Avanti hazardous waste transfer station. The residues are treated there, followed by recovery and disposal as per guidelines set out by the Environment Agency.

“This procedure also sits well with Revenue and Customs as our wine residue fraction and disposal, which is an industry first, is of clear interest to HMRC for the residual wine fraction.”

 EU plastic recycling  

The green paper On a European Strategy on Plastic Waste in the Environment states that “there are not only challenges, but also opportunities arising from better management of plastic waste.” The paper also states that although plastic is a fully recyclable material, only a small fraction of plastic waste is currently recycled. Figures from the paper show that in the European Union (EU 27), it is estimated that around 25Mt of plastic waste was generated in 2008, out of which 12.1 Mt (48.7 per cent) was sent to landfill while 12.8 Mt (51.3 per cent) went to recovery, and only 5.3 Mt (21.3 per cent) was recycled (Source: European Commission green paper On a European Strategy on Plastic Waste in the Environment).

While the paper’s projections to 2015 assume an overall increase of 30 per cent in the level of mechanical recycling (from 5.3Mt to 6.9 Mt), landfilling and incineration with energy recovery are expected to prevail as waste management routes.

UK packaging recycling and recovery targets

Back in the UK, we have been steadily ahead of the mandatory EU plastic packaging recycling target of 22.5 per cent for some time, and 2014 sees the UK entering year two of the Defra targets that have been applied since January 2013 for plastic packaging recycling. The target was set out at a 5 per cent yearly growth in plastic packaging recycling targets, increasing to 57 per cent by 2017. The European Commission’s green paper also serves to highlight the reality which will require approximately 1.2 million tonnes (42 per cent of plastic packaging arisings] to be recycled by 2017.


The very nature of plastic as a material lends several usage benefits, but also presents inherent environmental challenges. The durability of plastic also gives it a longer shelf life than the very product it is used to make, and unrestrained disposal of this durable material also means that if left unattended, plastic can remain in the environment for years to come.

Paul Rendle-Barnes says: “An open loop recycling solution takes plastics away from landfill. Producing a new plastic item from recycled material uses only two-thirds of energy when compared to the energy it takes to make something from raw materials. Furthermore, plastic can take up to 400 years to breakdown in landfill.”

Recycling just one tonne of plastic saves 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million of Btus of energy and 30 cubic yards of landfill.

This responsive recycling solution presented by Avanti Environmental for bulk wine bags is just one example where innovative methods can aid overall EU plastic packaging recycling targets.

So, when you pour that glass of wine, rest assured that this process of recycling plastic wine bags is currently recovering and recycling over 600 tonnes of plastic every year – an amount otherwise destined for landfill and future environmental chaos. 

Category: Recycling
Recycling UKHanicke Robins Sanderson