"It's not that easy being green…"

by Katie Pizzuto on October 2, 2009

in Wine Shipping

I have no doubt in my mind that he’s thoughtful enough to separate his recyclables when he gets home each night. I’d even put serious money on the bet that he doesn’t litter after he’s done tailgating at a Jets game. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t drive home from that game in a gas-guzzling, filth-spewing, my-wanker-is-bigger-than-yours Hummer. So why is it, I’m wondering, that every shipment I get from GaryV’s Wine Library comes packed in Styrofoam? I love you, Gary, but dude, gimme a break—step away from your computer screen and save the fucking planet, will ya? If McDonald’s packaging is greener than yours, you should be worried.

Obviously Wine Library is far from the only company to ship wine in polystyrene (Styrofoam is Dow Chemical’s brand name), but I just got a shipment from there, so it gets to be the lucky recipient of my pointed wrath. Using polystyrene as packing material pisses me off for several reasons:

1. It’s made with petroleum, and manufacturing it emits almost 9 times the amount of toxins that producing molded pulp does, wreaking major havoc on our ozone levels.

2. Styrene, its active ingredient, is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA.

3. Even though they claim it’s “recyclable” you’re more apt to find a tree-hugging Palin than you are a recycling center that will take the shit off your hands.

So even though your town’s recycling program might tell you that they’ll pick up polystyrene products in your recyclable trash, chances are they’re taking it to the nearest landfill. All you well-intentioned peeps, washing out your Chinese take-out containers and dutifully tossing them in your recycling bin—take note. One of the few places that actually takes polystyrene packing material and reuses it is the UPS Store, but it only takes the “peanuts”. Short of bringing these inserts to a local wine merchant who ships, so they can reuse them, you, my friend, are SOL.

So all this begs the question, why ship with it? Because it’s lighter in weight, that’s why. Styrofoam cheerleaders (in my warped head they’re chubby, bald, sweaty dudes) will tell you it’s actually environmentally conscious to ship with it, because the less something weighs when it’s transported, the less greenhouse gases the mode of transport will emit. They’ll also tell you that Styrofoam is better than cardboard or molded pulp at keeping the wine insulated from temperature extremes during transport, though why anyone would want to chance having wine shipped to them in the dead of winter or summer is beyond me. I realize keeping the wine safe from impact is also a critical shipping issue, but there simply has to be a better option.

packing-peanutsThe molded pulp is made almost wholly from recycled materials and is completely biodegradable. Polystyrene? Not so much. Its decomposition rate is…uh, never. But if you can’t see your way to shipping your precious cargo in anything less protective than Styrofoam, Gary, for the love of all that’s unholy at least try something recyclable, like popcorn…or better yet Cheetos—puffy ones, not crunchy, please.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elle October 2, 2009

You know I love you, but crunchy is the way to go. Plus, they take impact better than puffy. So “Crunchy Orange is the New Green.”

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2 Jim October 2, 2009

If you have ever shipped glass with UPS, you would understand his plight. glass shifts when moving so just putting it in a box with cheese doodles would not eliminate breakage. Thus UPS which destroyed the shipment would claim insufficient packaging. Thus making that package a loss for you and him. Blame UPS and the supply companies for not giving us any true green options. Don’t be a playa hater. FYI biodegradable packing peanuts (cornstarch) were initially marketed as a cheese doodle. But the taste and texture didn’t make it in consumerville.

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3 Katie Pizzuto October 2, 2009

I dunno, Jim…the molded pulp works pretty damned well, if I may say so as the recipient of many a case of wine. Never had a problem. Protects the glass from impact. Not so great at insulation, but I never have wine shipped in extreme weather. Interesting question though, if styrofoam is a better insulator, then wouldn’t it work as a DISadvantage if wine is picked up @ shipper, gets hot in a truck, then sits in a warehouse all night waiting for delivery? The styrofoam would retain the heat more, no?

One has to be careful, when one gets the munchies, that one doesn’t start clipping UPS men at the knees in order to get some of those packing “peanuts”.

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4 The Wine Commonsewer October 3, 2009

TWC is one of those people that thinks if you reuse something for another purpose, you’ve recycled it. It does not need to go through a third party recycler to count. That includes those Styrofoam wine containers. Everybody I know re-uses those things over and over until they literally become useless.

You can have the packing peanuts. I hate those things with a passion. They are messy & inconvenient. And while they are reusable, storing them for reuse also sucks. Don’t even spill them on the floor because you can’t sweep them up. Plus you can watch them fly out of the recycle trash truck as it trundles down the road.

I like the molded pulp that most everyone uses these days. It cradles the wine bottles far better than Styrofoam does. With Styro the bottles are bouncing around inside the foam. With molded pulp they aren’t. I don’t see how molded foam can insulate the wine from temp changes for more than a couple of hours.

For my own uses I sometimes ship stuff in shredded paper (yes I shred a lot of paper in order to have a paperless office). Works great. But…it tends to annoy people when they open the box and try to get the stuff out.

BTW, Mickie Dees is environmentally friendly because the market thinks that paper is better than plastic. Truth is that paper cups use nine times as much resources as Styrofoam. Soccer Moms don’t believe that so McDees responds to market pressures. That’s not to say paper cups aren’t better. I like them better because I hate styrofoam cups.

I don’t put that much credence in any EPA pronouncements. They will bend reality to make it fit preconceptions when it suits them.

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5 castello October 5, 2009

Reusing something doesn’t make it go away. Polystyrene will last forever in our landfills or floating in the ocean poisoning fish, birds and eventually us.

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6 Katie Pizzuto October 5, 2009

Sorry, Mike, but I’m with Ed (Castello) here…reusing the styrofoam only delays it getting put in a landfill and if the shit never breaks down anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you put it there the moment you get a package, or 5 months after. Eventually, it ends up in the same place. I’ve actually gotten quite a bit of stuff shipped in the shredded paper you mention, and I don’t mind at all…makes me happy to see it, in fact.

As far as McD’s goes, I was more talking about the containers the Big Macs and such come in, not the cups, but you’re right.

Molded pulp is the best option on the table so far, IMBO, but manufacturers should really continue to search for the best of options.

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7 The Wine Commonsewer October 5, 2009

I’m not defending Styro, but it isn’t poison, it is completely inert and unless you do something like heat it up or pour acid on it to make it release toxic gasses it will be fine in every landfill.

it doesn’t matter whether you put it there the moment you get a package, or 5 months after

For that particular package, yes. But there are dozens of stryo packages that are not in landfills today because I never bought them. The reason I didn’t buy them is because I used the old ones over again. That does make a difference. Multiply that by every wino in the States and you have a big reduction in styro in the environment. A laudable goal, to be sure.

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8 castello October 5, 2009

I am using one 6 pack styrofoam as a wine rack till I drink the wine. How do you reuse it? You can’t ship it back to the winery. Nobody wants it. Can we ship it to you?

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9 Katie Pizzuto October 6, 2009

The reason I didn’t buy them is because I used the old ones over again.

I don’t get it, Mike. If I like what Wine Library sells, then every time I buy from them, I get more styrofoam. It’s not like I can ship it back to them and say “please reuse this with my next order.” The only way to not get more is to not buy wine from them unless packing material changes.

As for the landfills, the fact that it simply sits in a landfill, inert, is not enough. How many more landfills will have to be created because shit like this keeps accumulating?

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10 ModernWineCellar October 7, 2009

“there simply has to be a better option”

Perhaps in the future there will be material with all the advantages of Styrofoam without its already stated disadvantages. But in tackling a complicated issue, you have to start where you are, not where you wish you were.

“Being Green” is a vague concept that encompasses many issues that are often in conflict with each other. Your issue is landfills but there are other environmentalists that believe global warming takes precedence. There was a time when environmentalists thought Styrofoam
and plastic were evil, but now that global warming is seen to have reached a tipping point, these same environmentalists are encouraging wine-makers to package their wine in plastic bottles because they’re light weight. What’s the half-life of nuclear waste? Not that long ago environmentalists wouldn’t even consider the use of nuclear energy, but it’s now seen as an alternative to coal-burning plants.

“though why anyone would want to chance having wine shipped to them in the dead of winter or summer is beyond me”

Because that’s the nature of consumerism, people want things when they want them and they’re not always available at the local store. Besides, the person taking the risk is the merchant which is why they go to such lengths to protect the wine. The irony is that whether or not you have wine shipped to you during summer or winter, wine still has to be shipped to your local store and the same problems apply. Wine shipped in bulk can still be left out in the sun or transported in unheated trucks.

“Interesting question though, if styrofoam is a better insulator, then wouldn’t it work as a DISadvantage if wine is picked up @ shipper, gets hot in a truck, then sits in a warehouse all night waiting for delivery? The styrofoam would retain the heat more, no?”

Heat is bad for wine but large temperature changes are worse. The main advantage of using Styrofoam is reducing temperature fluctuations.

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11 Solo500 October 13, 2009

chubby, bald, sweaty dudes rule!

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12 The Wine Commonsewer October 13, 2009

I don’t get it, Mike. If I like what Wine Library sells, then every time I buy from them, I get more styrofoam

It was a minor point, Katie, and I guess I wasn’t clear. I’m talking about something you can do on a personal level. I assumed (wrongly) that everyone would realize that I favor the molded pulp answer for now. Judging by what is sent to me, it looks like the industry is going that way. I haven’t received a shipment in styro in at least a year.

I send wine to other people sometimes. For instance, I just sent three bottles to Memphis where I’m going to a wedding (don’t trust the belly of an MD-80). The wine was shipped in a used box and a used styro container.

That means the styro container didn’t go to a landfill. It also means I didn’t buy a new stryo container to ship the wine in. Nor did I buy a new cardboard box. The new styro container I didn’t buy isn’t ever going in a landfill.

All of my wine friends do that too. The used containers just keep getting re-used.

As for filling up the landfills, we don’t have space in our county because they haven’t opened a new landfill in 25 years. Our population is up by 1.5 million and our landfills are down to two.

Modern Wine Cellar makes some very valid observations.

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13 The Wine Commonsewer October 13, 2009

Oh, I meant to add that I know of several stores that sell wine that will happily take all the used styro shipping containers that you want to bring them.

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14 Katie Pizzuto October 14, 2009

I guess the thing is, then, that I don’t do much wine shipping, so the styrofoam deadends with me unless I can find a retailer to give it to. That’s definitely better than the alternative, so I’ll see if I can find a local one that will take them, but my point, at the end of it all, is that someone as large as Gary V and with as much influence and drive as he has, should be pushing for an alternative instead of shrugging his shoulders and saying, “It’s the best out there, what do you want me to do?”

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