In recent years, some of the biggest brand owners in the FMCG space have expressed interest in an emerging field: paper-based bottles. Alongside these announcements came scepticism and accusations of greenwashing. Could these solutions really be better for the environment than plastic and glass alternatives?
Indeed, in a recent poll on our LinkedIn page that surveyed more than 1,200 of our readers, only 20% of participants said that paper bottles have the potential to replace conventional alternatives.
To dive deeper into the sustainability credentials of one of these solutions, we caught up with Malcolm Waugh, CEO at Frugalpac – a company that produces paper-based bottles.
In terms of total carbon emissions, how does the innovation compare with conventional alternatives? Have you undertaken any LCAs?
Frugalpac commissioned an independent Life Cycle Analysis by Intertek in June 2020 to see how the Frugal Bottle compared to a lightweight 345g glass bottle made in the UK, a 440g imported glass bottle and a plastic bottle made from 100% recycled plastic.
Looking at the ‘cradle to grave’ life cycle of all bottles, including mineral extraction, manufacture, transportation, distribution, filling and recycling or incineration, the LCA found that the Frugal Bottle:
- Has the lowest carbon footprint with 91.9g CO2e – 84% lower than a 440g imported glass bottle (558.2g CO2e) and 34% lower than a bottle made from 100% recycled plastic (138.6 g CO2e)
- Has a carbon footprint four times smaller than a 345g lightweight glass bottle made in the UK (382g CO2e)
- Uses up to 77% less plastic than a plastic bottle. Only 15 grams against a 64g wine bottle made from 100% recycled plastic
- Has a water footprint at least four times smaller than a glass bottle. It takes 2.5 litres of water to make a lightweight 345g glass bottle made in the UK but only 0.6 litres to make a Frugal Bottle.
How can the Frugal Bottle be disposed of sustainably at end of life? Are all the elements recyclable, and which parts are made from recycled material?
The recommended method is to separate the plastic food-grade pouch from the paper bottle and put them in the respective recycling bins. In theory, you can put the whole bottle in your paper recycling bin and the pouch will be easily separated in the paper re-pulping process, but we would recommend separating the bottle and pouch before disposal in your bins.
The recycled content of a Frugal Bottle is currently 84% - better than most glass and plastic wine bottles - and we are keen to increase that figure.
Some critics have argued that the presence of a plastic liner within the paper structure essentially makes paper bottles redundant. How would you respond to these concerns, and does Frugalpac plan to remove or replace the plastic layer in the future?
The Frugal Bottle plastic liner enables the Frugal Bottle to be made of 84% recycled paper. The liner is not attached to the paper and so is easily removed either by the consumer or in the paper pulping process and, therefore allows 84% of the Frugal Bottle to be recycled again without costly delamination or liquid coating recovery processes.
The plastic liner is recyclable – and we have certification to an EU standard to prove it - but like all flexible films in the UK, it is unlikely to be recycled in UK waste streams due to the current infrastructure. It will therefore go to be incinerated to create energy from waste. However, in some European countries it does get recycled. Yet Intertek’s Life Cycle Analysis found the Frugal Bottle still has a carbon footprint up six times lower than a glass bottle, even assuming the pouch doesn’t get recycled.
Frugalpac is constantly innovating and has three types of plastic liner available today, The Frugal Bottle machine can adapt to any material that can be made into a liquid tight pouch, and to date, we have yet to find anything more suitable than our current materials that can be recycled.
Could you give us an outline of the key functionality differences in terms of things like protection, shelf-life, aging products, and carbonated drinks when compared with conventional alternatives?
The Frugal Bottle is suitable for still wines, spirits and edible oils. Designed to meet the needs of these different products, the pouch can offer over 12 months’ shelf life to wines - 90% of which are consumed within 12 months of bottling.
The Frugal Bottle will exceed 24 months’ shelf life for spirits and over 12 months for edible oils. With a drop height of 1.6m (five times that of glass) Frugal Bottles distribute well through both the retail and e-commerce channels without excessive protective packaging. And if mishandled, they will not shatter into dangerous fragments. Frugal Bottles can be stored in the fridge and freezer.
Products packaged in Frugalpac’s paper bottles have been commercially available for a while now. Could you give us an insight into how consumers are responding?
Since launching our paper bottle in 2020, we’ve discovered there’s a huge demand. The first wine to go on sale in the Frugal Bottle – a red called 3Q - was from award-winning Italian winery Cantina Goccia. Its Frugal Bottle wine sold-out twice, with one wine chain, Woodwinters in Scotland, selling its whole stock in just one day.
The feedback from consumers and industry continued to be so overwhelmingly positive it prompted Cantina Goccia to release two further wines in the Frugal Bottle - a white wine called Celi and a rosé called Rosa, which launches this Spring. It also convinced them to move 80% of their wine production into the paper bottle over the next three years.
Frugal Bottles are now also used for wine by The English Vine, Signal 7 in the US and Spain’s Planet B, NB Distillery and Silent Pool for gin, and Italy’s Evviva and Greece’s AONES for olive oil. Future releases in the Frugal Bottle will include a Russian vodka, and a range of red, white, and rosé wines from the UK’s leading provider of wine in alternative packaging, When In Rome.
We now have enquires to make more than 100m Frugal Bottles and to meet this global demand we’ve just moved to a new 11,000 square foot Frugal Bottle factory. Frugalpac also has strong enquiries from 66 other international brands, contract packing, and packaging companies to buy Frugal Bottle Assembly Machines in the next few months and we are calling on other firms to help us to meet the ‘paper bottle revolution’ by investing in their own Frugal Bottle machines.
Are there any major cost differences between your solution and PET/glass bottles etc?
No - it’s comparable in cost to a labelled glass bottle. The Frugal Bottle will cost between 45p and 57p depending on where it is produced. A glass bottle ranges from anywhere between 30p to 90p for a bottle including labels and this is ever increasing due to the current issues with transport and energy. The Frugal Bottle allows wine producers to make the bottles on-site, further reducing costly transportation needs for assembled glass bottles and reducing carbon emissions even further.