Apr 7, 2010

Recycling Wine Corks

I just learned, to my great shame, that wine corks can and are being recycled. I’m ashamed because I figure I’ve needlessly put one or two corks into landfill over the years.

I found out about cork recycling while writing a small piece on Cuvaison Estate Wines in Napa’s Carneros region. Among that winery’s many sustainable and green initiatives is a serious commitment to increasing consumer awareness about cork recycling.

Last July, at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Cuvaison kicked off its nation-wide cork recycling program by collecting more than 5,000 corks. According to the winery’s President Jay Schuppert, “Once people saw our cork recycling boxes…they went out of their way to make sure their corks came to us instead of the garbage. We kept hearing ‘it’s about time’ and ‘great idea.' "

It is a great idea! Each year 34,000 tons of cork are harvested to make 13 billion wine stoppers around the world—and most end up in landfill. True, many vintners have gone to screw-off caps or plastic
stoppers, which will reduce those numbers. But the caps and plastic stoppers aren’t as readily recycled as corks—which are, after all, a natural product.

How to Recycle Corks

An easy way: send them to a cork recycler like Missouri’s Yemm & Hart, which transforms them into attractive 36” square cork tiles (photo below). The Y&H website offers a lot of interesting detail about the process, as well as mailing directions.


Many organizations have begun supporting Yemm & Hart’s undertaking. Cuvaison, for one. A large vacation rental company, Twiddy, collects guest corks and sends them on to Y&H—last year they collected more than 38 pounds of cork. The City of St. Louis encourages residents to send corks to Y&H. On the Huffington Post, Eco Etiquette blogger Jennifer Grayson encouraged readers to turn in their corks to Y&H. And so on—and this trend is just starting its upswing.
And just this month Whole Foods Market announced that it’s implementing a company-wide cork recycling program throughout the US, Canada, and the UK. WF will set up designated drop boxes in all stores.

How to Re-Use

Apparently there is a large cork-crafting community out there. Who knew? People make potholders, necklaces, dart boards, wreaths. A New York City wine shop covered one entire wall with corks--it looks terrific, perfect backdrop inside such a store. An artist named Jan Elftmann took a bowling ball and covered it with corks facing label outward (very cool-looking thing). Someone made a couch out of corks. Another person made a nice cork cover for his iPhone. 

And so, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say, it goes…

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