Pop Those Corks

Wine corks have a lot of reuse potential if they’re sent to an organization like ReCork, which transforms them into flooring tiles, building insulation, automotive gaskets, and, now, sandals.

corks, credit: bill koplitz, flickrCC

Drinking wine can have an environmental benefit—if you save the cork. Through the ReCork program, sponsored by Amorim of Portugal (a wine cork maker), almost 15 million corks have been collected for recycling into flooring tiles, building insulation and automotive gaskets. Right now, ReCork is partnering with footwear manufacturer Sole to produce sandals made from wine corks

Cork oak trees—which grow primarily in Europe and North Africa—are stripped, not chopped. Once a tree reaches about 25 years old, harvesters remove half of the thick bark by hand, and repeat the process every nine years without harming the trees. Cork oaks can live to be 250 years old.

But not all wine corks are created equal. Some corks contain metal or plastic and can’t be recycled. The campaign 100% Cork (at 100percentcork.org) has an online petition asking companies to stop adding non-recyclable materials into corks. Wines with plastic, synthetic or aluminum screw-top closures face similar problems with recyclability. According to a detailed report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, wines with aluminum screw-cap closures require 24 times more carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to make than wines with corks, and wines with petroleum-based plastic closures require 10 times more CO2 emissions. Because cork oaks act as important “carbon sinks,” meaning they transform atmospheric CO2 into oxygen, and since 50% of a wine cork is carbon, each wine cork can actually be said to offset carbon emissions—collecting nine grams of CO2 in its lifetime.

Once you start saving your wine corks, ReCork asks that, for environmental purposes, you only ship boxes with 15 pounds worth of corks in them to keep the resulting carbon emissions low. They even pay for shipping. Depending on your wine consumption, you may need to enlist cork donations from friends and neighbors to reach the requisite weight—or check on ReCork’s website for a nearby collection location.