Real sustainability

My SIL bought me a bottle of tap filled “natural”
Wine from a local deli for Christmas…. It was vile … harsh, highly acidic, overly alcoholic with little to no fruit . The colour was also quite pale for a “full bodied Rhone red”
…it wasn’t full bodied but that’s what the speel said . Personally I’m not sure why anyone would stick a natural wine on tap and I know you can get great wines in bladders such as Le Grappin’s range, but this wine cost my SIL £15.50 and it’s gone in the bolognaise …

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You could have asked for a taster first …?

Those who are concerned but who still want to drink wine could buy wine in boxes, tins, or the new paper ‘bottles’. If enough do, that will drive the market. But why pick on wine? People who drink maybe one bottle per week probably use more glass container filled with other goods.

TWS lists wines bulk shipped and bottled in UK and elsewhere*. The UK has some of the largest bottling plants dealing with bulk shipped wines. As I suspect these wines are bottled and then later labelled with whatever label the retailer wants, so the same wine is available in different outlets with different labeIs and prices. I would imagine the intricacies of ensuring TWS destined wines use bottles returned from a consumer via TWS would defeat their operation.

Thank you. I have never heard The Wine Society (full name = International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited) referred to WSUK before.

How would this work? How do the used bottles get back to TWS (The Wine Society)

I can see possibility if a truck came directly from a producer and returned empty to the producer, but why would it return there empty unless it was owned and operated by the producer?

It’s proposed that TWS sorts the bottles and when a truck arrives from - who - the producer, the agent, the reseller? then matching empties to go back. Then the producer - i that bottles their wine themselves OK, but what if a mobile bottling line comes to them. They are not equipped to remove labels and though they sparge new bottles. But who knows what has happened to a reused bottle? It would need cleaning & disinfecting on the outside as well.

I have seen huge artics at TWS loading bay, I would think these international trucking companies pick up a variety of palletised goods, dropping them off at different sites throughout the target country and then pick up and transport various goods back across the channel. If TWS wants them to take back a pallet of empty bottle to a producer then they would charge TWS for shipping. Another cost to be passed onto members.

But enough of my negativity - let’s have some concrete proposals of how it would work, and how much carbon would be saved by transporting empty bottles to Australia & NZ, South America, Africa etc

*Cape Heights a South African Cabernet Sauvignon with an invented name is bulk shipped and bottled in France.


The average spend per bottle of wine at TWS is under a £ tenner ! so lets focus on that area and let ‘fine wine’ off the hook for the moment ?

I imagine a lot of the sub £10 wines are imported in bulk container (en vrac?) from Australia, S Africa etc. and then bottled in the UK. In which case it becomes A LOT easier to do a bottle re-use scheme, specifically for UK bottled wine. There is no need to return the empties to Australia etc.

  1. Standardise the bottles & design them to facilitate re-use.
  2. Set up partnership schemes with the bottling plant & logistics firms to re-use bottles.
  3. Set up a small pilot scheme to evaluate take-up & shake out the snags.
  4. Financials… this is the main bugbear. It will add cost, and will consumers pay that cost when we are looking at the budget end of the market ?

One possibility is to once again bottle wine in Stevenage - in re-usable containers, from bulk shipped vessels. Then the quality control is all in house, bottles leave Stevenage and are returned to Stevenage. If that works, set up satelite plants in the much vaunted ‘freeports’ & benefit from tax breaks.


I suppose every little helps but in truth, wine is not a significant contributor to emissions. If you drink you wine out of a returnable bottle, then book a holiday with flights, it’s really a waste of time (not that I’m suggesting no holidays!).

There are some easy wins, not least in reducing the weight of glass, but if TWS would list a decent bag in box wine or two, I’d buy it. They only have one, a whopping 5 litres, too much for my purposes. They used to do a nice 2.25 litre Portuguese wine but that sold out and nothing else forthcoming. I’ve read about paper bottles and maybe for the everyday wines, they might be an option. Certianly easier than returning glass.

I also find it hard to reconcile this with the no minimum quantities on deliveries. That is encouraging excess use of emitting delivery vehicles, albeit I know many members, myself included, plan always to order in bigger quantities, less often.

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Would be great to see more of this format with equally good quality wine inside.


TWS did sell a BiB Cotes de Gascogne by Tariquet, which was fine for its purpose, although the box was a cube which makes it awkward in the fridge.
I was told at a tasting last year that a BiB Sancerre would be coming some time.
Agree that 5l is too big!


I understand this is to encourage a younger membership, who expect next day delivery no matter the order size. TWS has to evolve or peter out.

Madness. Expect it, perhaps, but pay for it.


Given the young tend to be the more likely to be preaching to everyone about sustainability and the environment, there is a certain irony in that if true.

Perhaps TWS could put down a marker and aim to attract only that cohort who can forgo immediate gratification of that type? Otherwise the rest of what they do strikes me as whistling in the wind…

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I thought the one bottle argument was that the desired younger members couldn’t afford to spend £75, or whatever, in one go, and therefore needed the one bottle option.

I’m afraid I think this “chasing younger members” concept is rather a waste of resources. We may need new members, that’s quite understandable, but the reason they have to be younger and needing cross-subsidy completely escapes me. If somebody joins at 40 say, when he or she can afford to spend £75, that still gives potentially several decades of valuable membership. I don’t see much worth in the subsidised earlier years of membership which we seem to be chasing so hard.

I belong to another organisation which spent years, and money, and resources chasing “younger members” before eventually concluding that most people would join when they were ready to do so, and trying to encourage them before that time was a fairly useless activity.

I realise this may be an unpopular view but that’s how it strikes me.


I’m not convinced the no minimum delivery is either exclusively aimed at the young, or lacks sustainability.

There doesn’t seem to be much evidence for either, considering that it seems to treat people of all ages fairly who also happen to be on a tighter budget - I remember someone making comment during a past EP campaign that the minimum spend rule put them at a disadvantage because they couldn’t regularly afford to spend that amount - and is using vans that are out on deliveries anyway. Indeed, I suspect there’s some argument for increased efficiency and an increased TWS fleet (rather than carrier) for doing so.

I really don’t see any harm in it, and am not entirely sure whether the vitriol aimed at the young here isn’t exclusively based on simply some slight changes to deliveries. The youth of today, eh? :wink:


If I was a younger person I’d be preaching to everyone else about climate change. They and their children are the ones who’ll have to live with the mind-boggling consequences of older generations’ denial on this issue.

And I don’t think you can blame younger people for a TWS delivery model many of us have reservations about. This is a Society decision, no-one else’s.

We’re speculating wildly here about the rationale and impact of the policy on unit cost, profit, new member appeal and environmental considerations. I’m sure this decision has been following significant analysis and discussion at TWS…would be great to hear more about how and why so we can all make a more informed assessment of whether it’s a good thing or not.


If consumers won’t pay the cost, then that is also advantageous for the environment. I think we sometimes forget that wine, even cheap wine, is a luxury we literally can live without.

OK - some of that needs qualification:

  1. The effect on the enivironment will depend on the alternative ways the released money is spent

  2. Alcohol (including wine) can have a positive social function (even if it also ruins some lives). And some producers will be badly affected.

The issues are not straightforward, but my over-riding view is that the risk of inaction is great, and politicians need to stop pussy-footing around and make bold decisions in the long term interests of the world.


Standardised wine bottles would help for reuse. Make them all Bordaux style bottles and will help with wine fridge stacking too.


For stacking, standardised hexagonal prisms would be even better :wink:

But then the closeness of packing might cause mould problems in fridges as it would restrict air flow


The consequences, to the extent they are known rather than speculated upon, may be mind boggling. Unfortunately so are our energy bills because we have charged headlong into a project setting timelines that may only be deliverable if we all accept impoverishment or pray for inventions to happen that make it feasible. Rather as with Covid, no-one seems to be doing cost benefit on this and we are now discovering our response on the latter was not without mind boggling cost and not just financial. One day I expect we will enjoy energy security and affordable prices but you nor I know when.

My comment was sparked by lapin’s rouge post on instant gratification among the young which I imagine might be anecdotal or just an opinion. Hence I included ‘if true’ in my response, which rather suggests I’m not blaming anyone (unless of course it is actually true, in which case, I think it would be very fair comment)

Yes, it is for TWS to decide on policy but my point was that broadcasting so consistently and loudly about sustainability while encouraging more frequent deliveries do not sit well with each other in my opinion.

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Slightly off beam, but just discovered a new word, which I can’t recall ever seeing before.


Probably a good idea to share a few thoughts to encourage more debate as this is a really interesting thread.

  • Small orders - our last mile delivery is a very small part of our footprint c. 5% and all businesses need to balance sustainability with running a good business and, in our case giving members great value. During the trial last year it immediately became apparent that we are simply using spare capacity in the carrier industry. No additional vehicle movements have been required from our site in Stevenage and the wider network outside of peak always operates with spare capacity. In any event, please dont think that members are ordering a lot of single bottles. Average bottles per order have dropped slightly and the vast majority of orders under the old £75 threshold, are north of £60.
  • This is not targeted at younger members as all members will benefit. We have improved the operation to the extent that all members can benefit and, in a highly competitive market where, despite our great values, members are tempted by discounting elsewhere, this is a great way for us to compete and members using smaller orders as part of their shopping with us have grown value during the last year.
  • We will be launching alternative packaging types, hopefully in April, including more boxed wine.
  • We are researching returnable crates from our own van operation out of Stevenage. Lots of complications but hopefully we can get a trial going soon. It is unlikely we will do in our regional depots.
  • We do some bulk shipping but our volumes make this unlikely to do at scale. You may be surprised that deep sea is by a country mile lower in footprint than road or rail from Europe, so we are also evaluating whether bulk shipping is really the best solution.
  • Glass and glass weight is the biggest part of our footprint and we are well on the way to reducing bottle weights as well as looking at alternative packaging. Indeed just today Dom De Ville is visiting a company looking to introduce hydrogen powered glass making facilities. This is the real prize in the business side of wine sustainability.

Hello Steve,

Thanks for the interesting and informative update, one of the things I value about TWS is how senior management engage with the customers.

All of it makes sense except the bit about spare capacity. I don’t doubt that is true to a large part, TWS won’t be large enough to shift the dial very far, but could I use the same rationale to book myself a business class flight on the basis that business class is rarely full so I’m not adding to capacity?

Sorry but this is one initiative which for me still sits uneasily- if only conceptually- with the sustainability argument, accepting that in practice, it doesn’t shift the dial much either way.

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