Thirteen billion bottles of wine are consumed annually -- that’s a lot of corks left over when the drinking is done! At present, the majority of corks end up in landfills instead of in re-use applications; in the hands of ReCork, they can have a second use. ReCork is North America’s largest cork recycling initiative and is giving wine corks new life in the form of footwear and other upcycled products.
With the help of over 1,700 recycling partners, ReCork has collected over 44 million corks. ReCork frequently partners with wineries, restaurants, wine bars, grocery stores and hotels to collect natural corks. Once collected, the corks are ground down and repurposed for use in new consumer products. SOLE, ReCork’s parent company, produces cork-soled footwear for women and men. In addition to shoes, recycled cork can also be used in flooring, gaskets, bulletin boards, sports equipment, and even used as a soil amendment in compost (natural cork is a valuable source of CO2 retention).
Compared to aluminum screwcaps and petroleum-based plastic plugs, the production of traditional cork wine stoppers has the smallest environmental footprint. While some alternative closure manufacturers are beginning trial recycling efforts, natural cork is still the easiest and best material to recycle: it is biodegradable, renewable, energy efficient, sustainable and 100% natural.
Unlike many forest products, cork oaks are never cut down for their bark. Cork oaks (Quercus suber L.) provide an ideal sustainable crop during a life cycle that lasts over 200 years. A mature, 50 year-old tree can be harvested approximately every 9 years for the life of the tree. Here in California, you can find giant cork oaks on the grounds of the State Capital in Sacramento, on the campus of UC Davis, and a few scattered around as specimen trees in Mendocino County. However, the Mediterranean basin is where most of the world's cork is sourced. There are nearly 6 million acres of cork forests in the Mediterranean regions of Portugal, Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia and France, with Portugal being the largest producer by far. The Mediterranean cork oak forests are the basis of an ecosystem which is unique in the world, and which contributes to the survival of many native species of plants and animals, including the endangered European gray wolf and the Mountain Iberian wild goat. It is also a source of employment for tens of thousands of agricultural workers. In addition to their recycling program, ReCork has partnered with QUERCUS (the Portuguese National Association for Nature Conservation) and Criar Bosques, a tree planting initiative in Portugal, and planted over 8,000 cork oaks in the Mediterranean.
Want to know how to get involved? The simplest way is to drop off your corks at a ReCork Public Collection Partner in your area. We’ve been collecting our corks at the Frey Ranch and then dropping them off at our local Ukiah Food Co-op, but you can use ReCork’s nifty drop-off locater to find a location near you. If there is no partner in your area, you can send your corks directly to ReCork in 15lb increments, shipping charges paid. 15lbs equals about 1650 corks (that’s a lot of Frey wine!) so we recommend banding together with your neighbors or workplace to make a joint effort in collecting. By recycling a simple cork stopper we can visualize the product source, its evolution into a useful natural product, and its potential for an extended life far beyond its first use in a bottle of fine wine.