Student Teams Explore Feasibility of Reusing Wine Bottles for New York Wineries
In an effort to address a significant sustainability problem facing New York state’s wine industry, three student teams from Cornell University are working on a solution: reusing wine bottles. Undergraduates from the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business are investigating the potential for a startup wine bottle washing and reuse facility, aiming to find a solution that is both environmentally friendly and economically viable.
Led by Kerwin Xu and his classmates, the student teams are applying a design thinking approach to problem-solving. They are following specific customer discovery strategies and have conducted interviews with redemption centers, wine consumers, winery owners, and restaurants to identify any potential roadblocks and partnership opportunities.
Recently, the student teams had the opportunity to meet with Peter Saltonstall, co-owner of Treleaven Wines, the primary client for this project. The main goal of the teams is to determine the feasibility of implementing infrastructure for wine bottle washing, including procedures, finances, and operations, not only for Treleaven Wines but for all New York state wineries.
During their visit to Treleaven Wines, the students gained valuable insights by observing the various production processes, such as grape crushing, wine casks, bottling lines, and storage space. Xu expressed his surprise at the significant amount of space devoted to wine storage, highlighting the need for efficient solutions to the bottle reuse challenge.
At the end of the semester, the student teams will present their ideas to Saltonstall and other winery owners. This project is part of the Grand Challenges curriculum, which aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and focuses on experiential learning.
The proposed New York state legislation regarding extended producer responsibility has served as a catalyst for this engaged learning project. If adopted, the legislation would require businesses to develop and implement strategies for promoting recycling, reuse, and recovery of their product packaging. Saltonstall and other winery owners became concerned about the potential impact of this legislation on their businesses and the entire state’s wine industry.
A wine bottle washing and recycling facility would face various logistical challenges, including receiving and handling thousands of empty bottles, removing labels, sterilizing the bottles, and ensuring customers accept used bottles. Additionally, the cost of a reused wine bottle would need to be comparable or lower than that of a new bottle to be a viable solution for wineries.
Xu emphasized that this project goes beyond legislation and is a truly entrepreneurial endeavor. The student teams are addressing a significant problem and striving to scale their solution. The Grand Challenges curriculum prepares students to work with actual clients and consider the broader implications of their projects on the world.
Unlike aluminum cans and plastic bottles, there is currently no redemption program for wine bottles in New York state. Recycling wine bottles individually incurs environmental costs as the glass must be crushed, melted, and manufactured into a new product. The student teams’ efforts aim to find a more sustainable and efficient solution for the wine industry.
As the student teams explore the feasibility of reusing wine bottles, they are contributing to the ongoing global efforts to promote sustainability and reduce waste. By tackling this challenge, they are taking a step towards a more environmentally conscious wine industry, benefiting both New York state wineries and the planet as a whole.
The innovative approach and dedication of these student teams highlight the importance of collaboration and creativity in finding solutions to complex sustainability problems. Through their efforts, they are not only influencing the wine industry but also inspiring others to think critically about sustainability across various sectors.