A Short Story of Cork


A Short Story of Cork

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Keeping Cork Out of Landfills: See the action steps to consider at the end of the article.


Sixty-percent of all cork in the world is still used by vintners to serve as wine cork. Most people simply toss those corks into the waste can (since First Choice does not accept them if we throw them into our own home recycling bin) with hardly a second thought. After all, there is no worldwide shortage of cork. In fact, according to CorkReharvest, based upon current estimates there is enough cork to close all wine bottles produced in the world for the next 100 years. However, there is a much better future for used cork than centuries in a landfill.


Cork is a sustainable natural product. It comes from the carefully stripped-off bark of cork trees, most of which are grown in scientifically managed cork forests located in the Mediterranean region, primarily Spain and Portugal as well as in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, and southern France. Each tree is registered and detailed records are maintained to track the health of the trees as well as when their bark was last harvested, which occurs every nine to twelve years.

Such well-managed forests are a huge natural and economic asset, providing income and jobs to many as well as absorbing an enormous amount of carbon dioxide from, and contributing much oxygen back into, the atmosphere each year. Cork forests absorb more than five times the amount of carbon from the atmosphere than other trees, and represent extremely Earth-friendly natural as well as economic environments. Cork forests are also key habits for wild animals, barriers to threatening desertification of the land, and places of great beauty.


Properly recycled cork (not the cork sent to local landfills) is ground up to make other products, and recycling campaigns work to encourage other uses for cork in new industries and in applications. Such campaigns reduce the volume of cork that currently ends up in landfills, where it will eventually biodegrade, slowly releasing its carbon content over a century, while squandering its tremendous reuse value.

Rather than waste the high value of used wine stoppers and other cork, a growing number of environmentalists and economic developers are working to increase awareness of the value and utility of used cork, which is refined into natural, composition, granulated or cork/rubber combinations and tailor-made in all shapes, such as slabs, blocks, sheets, rolls, and grain, thereby promoting economic development and job growth for a wide range of products. This is a much better trail to blaze rather than squandering its lasting high value by filling up landfills with tons of used cork. These socially responsible recycling programs work with partners to collect and transport recycled cork without adding to its carbon footprint in the process.


According to CorkReHarvest, “in comparison to a natural cork, 24 times more greenhouse gasses are released and over and 10 times more energy is used when making one screw cap.” To a growing number of wine drinkers, that seems to be reason enough to buy wine with natural cork stoppers. Think of that the next time you think about choosing to opt for the plastic compound stoppers and screw caps, which have come to be viewed as being so much more convenient. Buying wine with cork stoppers is actually more environmentally friendly than buying wine with plastic stoppers and metal caps, especially when the wine cork is then recycled, not in land fills but rather in properly systematically integrated recycling programs.


The Green Scene has arranged for a box to be maintained in the FHA Office located in the Gathering Place where you could deposit all cork you wish to recycle. Note that the office is only open weekday mornings. We collect those periodically and take them to the Chatham Marketplace food cooperative in Pittsboro, where they have already collected over 11,000 corks to send to appropriate recycling sites. Chatham Marketplace also accepts synthetic corks for recycling.

Also, all Whole Foods stores in the U.S. (including the store in Chapel Hill) have cork recycling boxes prominently placed in their stores, where you could deposit your used cork. In April 2010, the Whole Foods Corporation has formed a partnership with the worldwide CorkReHarvest program maintained by the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance.


Tell Wineries and Retailers You Won’t Purchase Wines with Artificial Stoppers.

“I pledge to buy only wine preserved with natural cork, and encourage my family, friends, and local retailers to do the same. I recognize that artificial plastic stoppers and aluminum screw caps consume fossil fuels, and use at least five times more energy per ton to produce. Cork is not only a better closure for wine; it is the only organic, biodegradable and renewable choice.”

*Source credit: These facts were abstracted and synthesized from information produced by the Cork Forest Conservation Alliance and its partners.

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