Diageo and ecoSPIRITS go global with reusable glass packaging partnership

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Smirnoff is one of the brands using the ecoTOTE. Pic: Diageo
Smirnoff is one of the brands using the ecoTOTE. Pic: Diageo

Related tags Diageo spirits Packaging Circular economy Sustainability

Diageo and circular economy tech company ecoSPIRITS are taking their reusable spirits packaging partnership global: turning to the ‘lower carbon, lower waste’ tech for Gordan’s, Captain Morgan and Smirnoff.

Diageo’s spirits will be sent to participating bars, hotels and restaurants in a 4.5L ecoTOTE (similar in function to a beer keg), which is designed to be used up to 150 times. Once empty, the packaging is collected, cleaned and refilled with the same spirit.

Diageo has been trialing the tech since 2022 in Indonesia, where it is active in 38 bars. Now, the alcohol beverage giant anticipates piloting and scaling the packaging in 18 markets over the next three years.

Promising trial in Indonesia

Founded in Singapore in 2018, ecoSPIRITS’ tech is available in more than 23 countries across Asia Pacific, Europe and the Americas in 2,000 bars, restaurants, hotels and retailers (including Michelin-starred restaurants). 

So far, the company has found the most demand coming from bars.

The company’s mission is to tackle single-use glass in the spirits and wine industry: citing 70 billion bottles produced a year in this industry alone.

ecoSPIRTS started its collaboration with Diageo in Indonesia in 2022 and those learnings will be applied to the global rollout, explained Paul Gabie, CEO, ecoSPIRITS.

"There has been a positive response from venues involved in the Diageo pilot program in Indonesia, with affirmative feedback from different types of outlets across bars, restaurants, and hotels.

"The success of this pilot has confirmed the commercial viability of circular packaging in Indonesia.  

Glass requires higher temperatures than plastic or aluminum to melt; and is also heavy to transport (thus resulting in associated carbon emissions).

Glass bottles can be recycled, but this process uses 75% of the energy required to make a new bottle.

"The island of Bali has a deep appreciation for its own cultural and environmental uniqueness, and in recent years, this respect for the environment has included a focus on sustainable tourism and ambitious waste management targets.

"As a result, the island has been a good fit for the ecoSPIRITS and Smirnoff vodka offering, and we have seen a good acceptance of the ecoSPIRITS technology."

Reuse is key to the strategy

The ecoTOTE is, according to ecoSPIRITS, the world's first fully reusable glass packaging system for spirits and wine. 

Individual glass bottles have come under scrutiny because they require large amounts of energy to produce and recycling; as well as being heavy to transport (with associated emissions).

But in a reusable format - and in a carefully constructed closed loop model - the material is still attractive, said Gabie.

"The internal vessel of an ecoTOTE is glass, which was chosen because glass is trusted both by consumers and also by producers of premium spirits and wine.

"Part of the key to the whole value proposition is that the liquid is packaged in glass and will preserve the spirit in the same way that it has been preserved for many years in traditional glass bottle format.

"The external part of an ecoTOTE is a shock resistant aluminium chassis with a plastic shock resistant enclosure. Taken together, the ecoTOTE and its components are designed to be safe, ergonomic and long-lasting."

One of the key features of the ecoSPIRITS closed loop model is having an ecoPLANT in each market so that containers do not have far to travel.

"Closed loop systems require what is called ‘distributed production’, which involves moving the final bottling or packaging process for a product like spirits closer to the consumer. ecoSPIRITS addresses this challenge with its ecoPLANT technology," said Gabie.

"ecoPLANTs are modular spirits processing facilities, which can be located in major consumer markets, anchoring a closed loop system within a geographic range of 300-500 miles.

"The ecoPLANT is at the heart of the whole ecoSPIRITS system because it allows us to service small markets – like the Cayman Islands or the Dominican Republic – on a closed loop basis, or big markets like the UK, France, and Italy."

'Powerful cost advantages'

The average carbon footprint of spirits/wine packaging is 550g of CO2​ emissions per bottle, according to ecoSPIRITS.

The company says it can deliver brand partners a ‘powerful cost advantage and transformative carbon footprint reduction’: 95% less physical glass and cardboard waste in venues; and a 60-90% reduction in carbon emissions footprint of packaging and distribution.

Those cost advantages come from various points in the process, says Gabie.

"Brands using the ecoSPIRITS technology benefit from a reduction in packaging costs of up to 90%. ecoSPIRITS also reduces costs of goods by shipping in bulk versus glass bottle.

"These savings often cover the added cost of returning the ecoTOTE to the distributor and ecoPLANT for cleaning, sanitising and refilling. These cost savings can also passed through the supply chain to deliver the same high-quality product in new packaging technology, while maintaining margins for all partners involved."

From cruise lines to casinos

Over the past year, the company has made a series of significant steps forward. In May, it closed a $10m Series A fundraise led by New York circular economy investment firm, Closed Loop Partners: which is being used to help the company scale up its hardware, software and Internet-of-Things (IoT) research and development program.

It will also be used to expand key operations globally: including in the US, and grow its regional customer and engineering teams in Miami, London, Singapore and Shanghai.

2023 has also seen it introduce its packaging to the cruise industry via a partnership with Bacardi and Carnival Cruise Line; and in Las Vegas casinos – starting with South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa.

Each of these launches has involved adapting the format: on cruise lines, a specialised ecoTOTE 3.0C Cruise Edition has been designed for the maritime environment; while in Nevada the packaging has been made compatible with back-of-house systems known as ‘pump rooms’, which are commonplace in the casino industry.

The partnership with Diageo, meanwhile, is focusing on bringing new branding and tech to the format. 

"The ecoSPIRITS system was already suitable for Diageo’s needs and the pilot program in Indonesia did not require any tailored packaging formats," explained Gabie.

"ecoSPIRITS did,however, work with Diageo to create co-branded editions of the ecoTOTE 3.0S and SmartPour 2.0S for Smirnoff vodka and Captain Morgan rum. We are now in the process of creating co-branded editions for Gordon’s gin and have other technology innovations in the works with our partners at Diageo."

The new global collaboration is expected to reduce carbon emissions and waste: although the partners say they won’t have exact figures on this until the end of the three year period. 

However, the ecoTOTEs are designed to be used up to 150 times and are expected to eliminate the use of up to 1,000 glass bottles over their lifespan.

The first markets in the agreement are expected to go live in 2024, with more details to be revealed in the coming months.

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