Waitrose has removed plastic and foil sleeves from the necks of its own-brand wine bottles as a contribution to its wider goal of cutting down on unnecessary packaging.

According to the retailer, the sleeves or ‘capsules’ serve no functional purpose, and removing them will negate the need for consumers to cut and tear the packaging to access the product.

Claiming to be the first supermarket in the UK to make the change, Waitrose is already trialling the removal of capsules on four bottles in its Loved & Found range, with all ten varieties set to be sleeve-free by the end of 2023. By that point, the move is expected to save half a tonne of unnecessary packaging every year.

“Bottle neck sleeves were introduced many years ago to prevent pests such as moths and weevils from ruining wines kept in dark, damp cellars,” explained Barry Dick, MW and Beer, Wine and Spirit sourcing manager at Waitrose. “The caterpillars of this moth species would bore into the wine corks, causing the wine to leak, or taste musty.

“Nowadays few people have wine cellars and those who do tend to keep them in much better conditions. This has meant that the sleeves have remained for purely aesthetic reasons and are no longer needed to protect wine.

“The quality of corks used by the wine industry has also been dramatically improved. The bottles in our trial will be corked with a new FSC cork which has been extensively tried and tested for its ability to resist being contaminated with TCA, which makes corks smell and taste mouldy and ruins wine. TCA is the reason why cork fell out of favour, but cork has great sustainability credentials which is why it’s making a comeback.

“The bottles look quite different as the neck appears naked, so it will be interesting to see how our customers react to us removing these familiar sleeves. I for one am looking forward to not having to wrestle with the packaging.”

In a previous move, Waitrose transitioned many of its small-format wine ranges from glass bottles into aluminium cans in a bid to save 320 tonnes of packaging in its first year.

While Denomination has repacked Fourth Wave Wine’s Crate brand in what claims to be the first label-free wine bottle, instead printing all relevant information directly onto the bottle neck, Avery Dennison has taken a different approach by designing a Neck Label Collection for premium products stored in ice boxes – some of which are reported to be made from 100% recycled pulp, others featuring a recyclable rPET liner.

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