Dear 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
The 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.
Besides 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.
But 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).
The 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.
Most 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.
Also, 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.