EarthTalk: I am a retailer and have had customers
ask whether the plastic bags in wine boxes are BPA free
or not. What can I tell them?
—Chris Tod, via e-mail
wines have many environmental advantages over bottled,
but some of the plastic bags inside the boxes contain
BPA, a synthetic chemical that has been linked to
a range of human health problems. Bota Box, pictured
here, and many other box wines come in BPA-free
packaging. The simple way to know is to read the
labels when you’re wine shopping.
© Peter Knocke, courtesy Flickr
short answer is: “It depends.” A fairly recent
innovation in wine packaging, the so-called Bag-in-Box (BIB)
dispenser makes use of a plastic bag with a nozzle surrounded
by a corrugated cardboard box. The whole package sits easily
on a shelf and usually features a built-in spout for easy
pouring and resealing. The main benefit is that each box
can hold about four bottles-worth of wine, and the BIB technology
prevents oxidation, keeping the wine fresh for up to six
weeks after the seal has been broken initially.
costing less to manufacture than glass bottles, the Bag-in-Box
apparatus, invented by Scholle packaging a half century
ago, weighs significantly less, stacks more efficiently
(meaning more wine can go with each container load) and
will not shatter if dropped. As such, they are easier to
transport, which keeps costs down and reduces the carbon
footprint of the entire distribution process. While U.S.
wine buyers traditionally have viewed wine in a box as cheap
and unsavory, several American and European wineries are
working to turn that view around by putting out award-winning
vintages by the box. Eco-conscious yet no less discriminating
wine consumers are helping to drive the growing demand for
boxed wines in the U.S., which currently command about 10
percent of U.S. supermarket wine sales.
boxed wine may have an environmental dark side: Some of
the plastic bags inside the boxes contain Bisphenol-A (BPA),
a synthetic chemical that has been in use for four decades
to strengthen plastic food containers and other items but
recently has been linked to a range of human health problems.
“A growing amount of scientific research has linked
BPA exposure to altered development of the brain and behavioral
changes, a predisposition to prostate and breast cancer,
reproductive harm, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular
disease,” reports the non-profit Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC).
bags are made out of #7 plastic, a catchall category typically
containing mixed types of plastic (“polycarbonate”),
combined for various practical reasons. As more and more
research comes to light, many environmentalists and public
health advocates are warning consumers to avoid storing
any food or drinks in containers made out of #7 plastic,
as there is likelihood that BPA could be part of the mix.
wineries offering boxed wines make it clear if their plastic
bags do not contain BPA. For one, Scholle Packaging, inventors
of the BIB system and one of the largest wine box manufacturers,
uses only BPA-free #7 plastic in their bags. Perini, Campo
Largo, Bota Box and many other box wines come in BPA-free
packaging. The simple way to know is to read the labels
when you’re wine shopping.
don’t think that by avoiding boxed wine you are necessarily
avoiding BPA. Researchers have found that the plastic stoppers
so many of us use to cap an unfinished bottle, not to mention
the lining of concrete vats used to store wine at many wineries,
contain and can leach BPA into your glass. That’s
not to say that all wine contains BPA; quite the contrary,
in fact, as most bottled wine still never comes into contact
with plastic and as such does not carry any BPA-stigma.
Regardless, the more you know, the safer you can be—so
that the worst thing you get from your wine is a hangover.
EarthTalk: What is a “dead zone” in
an ocean or other body of water?
—Victor Paine, Tallahassee, FL
the most infamous U.S. dead zone is an 8,500 square
mile swath of the Gulf of Mexico, not far from where
the nutrient-laden Mississippi River, which drains
farms up and down the Midwest, lets out.
© Robert Simmon, NASA
zones are areas of large bodies of water—typically
in the ocean but also occasionally in lakes and even rivers—that
do not have enough oxygen to support marine life. The cause
of such “hypoxic” (lacking oxygen) conditions
is usually eutrophication, an increase in chemical nutrients
in the water, leading to excessive blooms of algae that
deplete underwater oxygen levels. Nitrogen and phosphorous
from agricultural runoff are the primary culprits, but sewage,
vehicular and industrial emissions and even natural factors
also play a role in the development of dead zones.
Dead zones occur
around the world, but primarily near areas where heavy agricultural
and industrial activity spill nutrients into the water and
compromise its quality accordingly. Some dead zones do occur
naturally, but the prevalence of them since the 1970s—when
dead zones were detected in Chesapeake Bay off Maryland
as well as in Scandinavia’s Kattegat Strait, the mouth
of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the northern Adriatic—hints
at mankind’s impact. A 2008 study found more than
400 dead zones worldwide, including in South America, China,
Japan, southeast Australia and elsewhere.
Perhaps the most
infamous U.S. dead zone is an 8,500 square mile swath (about
the size of New Jersey) of the Gulf of Mexico, not far from
where the nutrient-laden Mississippi River, which drains
farms up and down the Midwest, lets out. Besides decimating
the region’s once teeming shrimp industry, low oxygen
levels in the water there have led to reproductive problems
for fish, leading to lack of spawning and low egg counts.
Other notable U.S. dead zones today occur off the coasts
of Oregon and Virginia.
dead zones are reversible if their causes are reduced or
eliminated. For example, a huge dead zone in the Black Sea
largely disappeared in the 1990s following the fall of the
Soviet Union, after which there was a huge spike in the
cost of chemical fertilizers throughout the region. And
while this situation was largely unintentional, the lessons
learned have not been lost on scientists, policymakers and
the United Nations, which has been pushing to reduce industrial
emissions in other areas around the globe where dead zones
are a problem. To wit, efforts by countries along the Rhine
River to reduce sewage and industrial emissions have reduced
nitrogen levels in the North Sea’s dead zone by upwards
of 35 percent.
In the U.S.,
dead zones have also been reduced in the Hudson River and
San Francisco Bay following clean-up efforts. Hypoxic conditions
continue to plague the Gulf of Mexico, however, with matters
made worse by pollution unleashed by Hurricane Katrina and
the BP oil spill, as well as by a federal push to increase
Midwest corn production, which effectively loads even more
algae-inducing nutrients into the already overloaded system.
The Mississippi Basin/Gulf of Mexico Water Nutrient Task
Force, a coalition of federal, state and tribal agencies,
has been busy monitoring the dead zone and recommending
ways to reduce it since its formation in 1997. But with
industrial and agricultural activity throughout Gulf and
Midwestern states only increasing—and Mother Nature
not making the job any easier—the task force has an
uphill battle on its hands to say the least.
Basin/Gulf of Mexico Water Nutrient Task Force.
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