Written by Mika Apichatsakol
‘The Cocktail Issue’, April 2023
To twist the controversial words of Kate Moss, “nothing tastes as good as sustainable feels”. Just as contemporary chefs are searching for ways to serve food that’s not only pushing the boundaries of taste but mindful of its carbon footprint, the bar industry is doing its own environmental introspection.
The world has a serious overconsumption and waste problem. However, most of the activism surrounding the issue of single-use packaging has been focused on plastics and while, yes, plastic pollution is a crisis, it has overshadowed the fact that glass isn’t exactly the “eco-friendly” alternative to PET bottles.
Broadly speaking, glass is energy-intensive to produce and recycle, releasing a lot of air pollution as a result. The most sustainable way to deal with used glass is to reuse it in its current form, but realistically, there aren’t effective systems in place to help the modern consumer reuse glass packaging. Perhaps you can find use in your home for a couple of wine and spirits bottles, but in the long run, most of it is just going to end up in the trash, and in a country like Thailand, where trash sorting and recycling is shabby to non-existent, that glass will likely be taking up space in a landfill.
Now imagine that on the scale that bars and restaurants run through alcohol.
In 2020, 689 billion units of single-use glass packaging were produced, 70 billion of which were spirits and wine bottles. In two years, that number is expected to increase by nearly 40 per cent, unless something drastically changes. One of the forces seeking to reduce and potentially eliminate single-use plastics in this industry is ecoSPIRITS, a closed-loop distribution system for spirits and wine that currently operates in 15 countries across the globe, including two of the world’s largest consumer economies—the United States and China.
ecoSPIRITS works by partnering with distilleries and local distributors for alcohol. Instead of shipping spirits in their standard 750ml or one-litre glass bottles, which are normally discarded after use, producers transport their spirits in bulk to a designated ecoPLANT in a local market. There, the load is sorted into conveniently-sized ecoTOTES—ecoSPIRITS’ patent-pending, tamper-proof reusable containers that carry 4.5 litres each. ecoTOTES filled with desired spirits are then distributed to bars, restaurants, and other hospitality outlets for use, while empty ones are returned to the ecoPLANT, where the process happens all over again.
It is estimated that one ecoTOTE replaces more than 1,000 single-use glass bottles over its lifetime and that a single ecoPLANT operating at full capacity can replace 40,000 bottles (22,000kg of carbon emissions) per month. As one glass liquor bottle contributes about 550 grams of carbon emissions, every ecoSPIRITS cocktail saves the earth roughly 30 grams of emissions.
The system is the brainchild of Paul Gabie, a multihyphenate businessman from Vancouver who’s based in Singapore. As a spirits distributor himself and a founding board member of the Singapore Cocktail Bar Association, Paul knows the ins and outs of the spirits and bar industry and has been confronted by the issue of single-use glass firsthand. He founded ecoSPIRITS in Singapore in 2018 with the aim of creating the world’s first closed-loop packaging technology for premium spirits and wine and the vision for spearheading a movement to end single-use glass in the trillion-dollar industry altogether.
Taking it a step further than the closed-loop bottling ecosystems we’ve seen before with drinking water and soda companies, ecoSPIRITS has created a model that encourages widespread industry collaboration and delivers to its brand partners both powerful cost advantages and transformative carbon footprint reductions. Venues embracing ecoSPIRITS technology can enjoy up to 50 per cent reduction in storage space (thanks to the design of ecoTOTES) and overall improved ergonomics and handling. As for environmental impact, ecoSPIRITS delivers 95 per cent reduction in physical glass and cardboard waste, which in turn cuts carbon emissions by 60-90 per cent.
Chatting with ecoSPIRITS APAC representative James W. Williams, the sales manager shares that one of the main challenges with expansion has been the complexity of integrating the software into a globally redistributed hardware network. “For example, we have ecoPLANTS in Georgetown in the Cayman Islands and in Auckland, New Zealand, so we had to think carefully about how to integrate automation, control, and data systems on such a board application or in this case, distance.” The company is heavily invested in developing trademark circular economy solutions to be able to fully integrate technology in its growing global network, eyeing that integration and automation will offer huge benefits in the long run, including safety, scalability, and cost-effectiveness. But there are also risks to this, the number one being cost. James explains, “Developing automation in software is a major investment, and we are involved in a multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment programme for that side of the business. The intensity of capital and time for developing these kinds of solutions are some of the biggest risks.”
Around the world, more than 1,500 leading bars, restaurants, and hotels have opted into this liquid revolution, and the number is expected to double in the next 12 months. In Thailand, ecoSPIRITs partnered with local spirits distributor Bootleggers Trading and renowned Thai craft rum distillery Chalong Bay in late 2021 to initiate the system in the country. Running the operations for a full year now, Bootleggers founder Minway Chi tells us that local outlets have been incredibly enthusiastic about adopting the technology, which is allowing them to introduce more brands, such as Plantation Rums, Widges Gin, and Tried & True Vodka, in the ecoTOTE format in the coming months. In total, ecoSPIRITS has about 100 spirits partners globally, with 400 brands on the waiting list.
As for other near-future developments to keep an eye out for from the company, ecoSPIRITS is amid activating a circular wine system in Australia with industry leader Accolade Wines. They also have their sights set for ecoPLANTS expansion in the US, specifically in California and Florida, and are planning to announce a dozen more new markets within the next weeks.
In our new issue, we’re taking a deep dive into the tantalising world of cocktails, with none other than the legendary Philip Bischoff gracing our cover.
Discover the secrets behind his incredible ‘Midas touch’ and learn how to create delicious concoctions like a pro. But that’s not all – we’ve rounded up a diverse group of Bangkok’s finest bartenders to share their mixology wisdom and insider tips.
Get notified about all our bite-sized food and drink content.
Get notified about all our bite-sized food and drink content.