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How Boxed Wine Is Better Than Bottled

January 14, 2024

Climate Change Will Cause River Flows in the Headwaters State of Colorado to Be Lower

Colorado is known as the "Headwaters State” because eight major rivers originate there, including the Colorado,  Arkansas, Rio Grande, and Platte. Unlike many other states in the U.S., all of the water in Colorado comes from snow and rain, which is a source of water for many other states.

The Southwest and Northeast saw the greatest loss in spring snowpack between 1981 and 2020, raising concerns about water scarcity and economies reliant on winter recreation. The numbers at bottom correspond to the percentage of spring snowpack lost (red) or gained (blue) per decade, with losses concentrated in populated regions. |  Image Credit: Justin Mankin and Alexander Gottlieb

Now, a new report from the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University shows that river flows in the state could decrease by up to 30 percent over the next 30 years compared to period between 1971 and 2000. According to the report, the reduction in stream flows and the water that comes from snowpack is strongly linked to human-caused climate change that is making the state hotter. The average temperatures in the state warmed by 2.3 F from 1980 to 2022.

It’s not just a Colorado problem. A new Dartmouth study shows that snowpacks in most of the world’s Northern Hemisphere have shrunk over the past 40 years because of human-caused climate change. The researchers say in a release that the sharpest reductions in the U.S.—a decrease of up to 20 percent—were in the Southwest and the Northeast.

They add that the loss of snow puts people who depend on it for water, not just in North America but also in Europe and Asia, on the precipice of a crisis that will be amplified as warming continues.  By 2100, they expect the Southwest and Northeast of the U.S. to be close to snow-free by the end of March.

Shippers Abandoning Red Sea Route Raises Fears of Inflation and Increased CO2 Emissions

The Red Sea that lies between the east coast of Africa and the west coast of the Arabian peninsula is crucial to maintaining the political and economic stability of many countries, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. It’s one of the busiest shipping lanes with more than 30,000 vessels passing every year and comprising 12 percent of global trade, including about 30 percent of all container ships. It’s the shortest route by sea between Europe and Asia via the Suez Canal.

Now, there are fears that spillover from the war in Israel will lead to more inflation and disrupt supply chains. The volume of freight passing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal has dropped significantly because of attacks on ships by Houthi rebels in Yemen, of which there have been 27, according to the Biden administration. The Houthis, backed by Iran, have said they attack ships to protest the killing, destruction, and siege in Gaza. U.S. and British planes, ships, and submarines struck Houthi targets in Yemen last week in retaliation.

Many shipping companies are now avoiding the Red Sea route and taking a much longer journey around the southern tip of Africa, which burns more fuel and emits as much as 2,700 extra tonnes of CO2 for every ship that goes around the cape instead of through the Suez Canal. Last week, electric carmaker Tesla said that it would pause production in Germany for two weeks because of a lack of parts due to the shipping problem.  

There are also problems for shipping through the Panama Canal, where drought continues to slow operations. The number of ships that pass through daily is down from 36 to 22 and could go lower. Reuters reports that El Niño weather patterns have worsened the drought, which results in the canal not having enough water to sustain normal traffic levels.

A Single Bottle of Water Has 240,000 Nanoplastics That Can Pass into Blood, Cells, and the Brain

Microplastics have been found everywhere on Earth from the deep ocean to the tallest mountains—and they’re also in us from what we eat and drink. Plastic leaches from food packaging, is in fruits and vegetables we eat that are irrigated with contaminated water, and is in fish we consume that might have ingested the particles floating in the ocean. A new study by researchers with the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy and the University of Toronto found microplastics in nearly 90 percent of protein food samples tested.

Using newly refined technology called stimulated Raman scattering microscopy, researchers are able to see nanoplastics.  |  Image credit: Naixin Qian/Columbia University

How much are we taking in? Researchers at Columbia University found that a single bottle of water contains, on average, some 240,000 detectable plastic fragments—a figure higher than previously thought because the team used new technology called stimulated Raman scattering microscopy to assess nanoplastics, pieces one micrometer and smaller, which are less than one-seventieth the width of a human hair. Microplastics don’t degrade quickly—instead they just keep getting smaller and smaller—splintering into nanoplastics, which are then tiny enough to pass through our intestines and lungs directly into the bloodstream, traveling from there to organs including the heart and brain.

The researchers tested three popular brands of bottled water sold in the U.S. and found polyethylene terephthalate or PET plastic—which makes sense since that’s what many water bottles are made of, as are containers for sodas and products like ketchup and mayonnaise. The team thinks the plastic gets into the water when the bottle is squeezed, gets exposed to heat, or when the cap is repeatedly opened and closed, which causes particles to break off.

The most common plastic they found was polyamide, a type of nylon, which ironically, said coauthor Beizhan Yan, probably comes from filters used to purify the water before it’s bottled. Other common plastics the researchers detected were polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and polymethyl methacrylate, all used in various industrial processes.

The danger posed to humans has been hard to assess, given the numerous types of plastics, but another new study also out last week, tried to put a figure on it. Researchers at NYU found certain endocrine-disrupting plastic chemicals were contributing to chronic disease that cost the U.S. healthcare system almost $250 billion in 2018 alone.

The water bottle study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

How to Box In the Wine Industry’s Carbon Emissions

If you’re a wine drinker, would you consider buying a Cabernet or Rosé if it came in an aluminum can or box rather than a bottle? Would you if you learned that bottles have higher carbon footprints? Research led by the University of South Australia wanted to find out if alternatives like bag-in-box or cask wine would appeal to consumers if they knew that the environmentally friendly options were up to 51 percent more carbon efficient than glass.

Credit: Kelsey Knight/Unsplash

The biggest source of carbon emissions for the wine industry are conventional glass bottles with the manufacture of a single one generating 1.25kg of CO2. Their production and transport makes up more than two-thirds of the sector’s total carbon output.

The study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, showed there is a bit of snobbery with shoppers who associate alternatively packaged wine as of lower quality when compared to glass bottles that come with a sense of heritage and luxury. Younger consumers were more likely to choose eco-friendly options.

Beyond the environmental benefits of being easier to recycle and ship, boxed wine can last longer after being opened and offers greater savings by containing the equivalent of four bottles. Also, a box takes less energy to produce than a bottle.

A British company is replacing glass wine bottles with more sustainable paper bottles, hoping the reduced carbon footprint and unique shelf appeal will be attractive to producers and consumers alike.

If you still prefer bottles and live in California, starting on January 1, consumers are paying a bit more for wine and spirits. Prices include a deposit, which is recovered if the bottle is returned empty, in the same way aluminum cans are currently redeemable. The program is meant to improve California’s recycling efforts and divert more waste from landfills.