Sustainable Wine Solutions – Bottle Return Scheme

Executive Summary:

Development of an extensive zero waste wine range from sustainably minded producers in sustainable glass bottle format: the return bottle. Each bottle can be returned to our bottling hub via collection from trade customers, sterilised, relabeled and reused. We estimate each bottle can withstand up to 30 reuses. Energy usage and waste production from recycling process and/or production and transportation of new bottles is saved.

Sustainable Target:

• All bottled wines distributed by sustainable wine solutions to be in return bottle format
• Reach return rate of 90% in on trade sector
• Reach return rate of 60% in off trade sector





Company Summary:

Sustainable Wine Solutions is the ultimate sustainable service provider for the wine trade. We provide quality driven sustainable wine systems that eliminate wasteful packaging and promote reuse:  wine-on-tap keg systems using reusable Ecofass kegs, 100% reusable stainless steel kegs and a 10L ‘VinoTap™’, and the Bottle Return Scheme. We are the only U.K. wine on tap company working with reusable kegs and returnable bottles. We work with independent, sustainably minded winemakers to deliver our Zero Waste wine list, with a wide selection of organic, biodynamic, natural and vegan wines. Our in-house team of operations and winery experts manage all elements of the supply chain from producer to customer, ensuring watertight quality control every step of the way.

Reason Why/Motivation/Background:

We have been innovators for sustainability in wine since day 1 of our straight-from-the-tap model at Borough Market. As we developed Zero Waste solutions for wine-on-tap, we also wanted to bring the reuse ethos to the traditional cork sealed glass bottle. A collaboration with Damien Barton of Bordeaux’s prestigious Barton-Sartorius wine dynasty opened our eyes to the possibility of a new life for an old system: the Return Bottle. By taking control of the supply chain we could eliminate waste and provide a tangible sustainability USP to our customers, with a shelf life as long as any other traditional wine bottle. Each bottle is filled, labelled, delivered, replaced and reused by us: we estimate that 30 uses of the same bottle can reduce the CO2 footprint by 95% compared to a single use. Working with sustainably minded, independent winemakers we have developed a diverse range of wines that offer customers a traditional wine drinking experience with significantly reduced environmental impact, incentive for return footfall and a highly marketable USP.

Project Description:

Full supply chain approach

Refuse and reuse aspects of the circular economy / Import in small bulk /make big scales / processes work on a small scale/ Full control of the reverse logistics nationwide /0 packaging

Scale up by scaling out / Our model works best within a radius of 300 km / the plan is to open medium-sized bottling plants across the country capable of handling 1M bottles each

  • Our business model is led by the reduce and reuse aspects of the circular economy. Recycling should be the last resort, not the go-to solution.
  • We operate using large-scale processes on a small scale, ensuring efficient and economical procedures for all steps of the bottling process.
  • Our wine is shipped in small bulk – 1000L IBCs – from our suppliers throughout Europe, and collected by our shipping partners from three centralised collection points.
  • Wine is then delivered by road to our bottling and kegging facility in North Greenwich, London.
  • Wine is analysed to ensure quality before being bottled and cork sealed under winery conditions.
  • Each ReturnBottle is marked with a distinctive chalk ‘white stripe’ to provide instant brand recognition, stand out on display units and help consumers easily identify it as a ReturnBottle.
  • A 50p deposit is levied on each bottle to encourage a continuous cycle of return. Each bottle returned in reusable condition to us has the 50p deposit refunded or subtracted from subsequent orders.
  • Off Trade customers are supplied with shelf talkers and display materials to illustrate the scheme and communicate the Return Bottle concept with their customers.
  • Our ReturnBottles are packed into sturdy, infinitely reusable crates made from 100% recycled plastic. No packaging beyond these reusable crates is required, meaning there is no plastic wrap, no cardboard and no waste. These crates can also be used as part of a display in off-trade venues and as a collection point for used bottles.
  • Deliveries in the greater London area are made via electric vehicles.
  • We are now investing in our own nationwide delivery service, ensuring full control of reverse logistics by synchronising deliveries and collections.
  • Our model works best within a 300km radius of our warehouse hub in North Greenwich; further local bottling plants will increase this radius.
  • With proper use of the recycled plastic crates, we anticipate each bottle can be returned and reused around 30 times. So long as the bottle is returned to us intact with no chips or flaws, it can and will be reused.


  • Launching Return Bottle scheme in off-trade setting in midst of COVID-19 pandemic
  • Expanding the Zero Waste Wine list to include English and Natural wine ranges
  • We have launched a lighter bottle (400g down from 550g) to further reduce the impact of the glass bottles in use.
  • Return rates across our two owned retail premises are currently around 60%
  • Anything else we want to highlight with regards to the Return Bottle Scheme?

Lessons Learned:

  • After difficulties encountered using a biodegradable label we now use FSC accredited recyclable paper labels and water based, recyclable glue. We are seeking better solutions all the time to continue to reduce waste.
  • We have developed bottle sanitising processes that are gentle enough to allow for a lighter glass bottle, further reducing our carbon footprint.
  • We have improved delivery efficiency by investing in our own delivery system to ensure no one way journeys via external courier: customer deliveries and collections synchronised.

Next Steps:

  • We intend to open strategically located medium sized bottling plants across the country capable of handling 1 million bottles each.
  • Continue to expand wines in range to provide even more choice with increased natural wines and vegan offerings in particular.
  • Campaigning for national Deposit Return Schemes to prioritise re-use over recycling.
  • Campaign for more flexibility within appellation systems to allow more freedom on bottling outside the area of production.
  • Implement a quarterly trade customer incentive scheme with prizes for top return rates.

Potential For Replication:

  • According to the WSTA, half a billion litres of wine is imported in bulk to the U.K. every year.
  • Every bottle of this wine then goes into has the capacity to become a Return Bottle.
  • Similar schemes are in progress worldwide: e.g. the Gotham Project in the U.S. and Bout a Bout in France, showing the potential for domestic projects to expand across the globe.
  • This requires engagement by the trade in treating bottles as a reusable resource, together with a refocus on simultaneous delivery and collection to collect empties and deliver new stock at the same time.

This adoption of fully reverse logistics ensures no wasted journeys, improving efficiency and the impact of emissions from transportation where electric vehicles have not yet been employed.


Sustainable Wine Solutions





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