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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How wine corks promote sustainability: Recork, reharvest, reuse

I'm not a wine drinker but I thought these used wine corks, on their way to being recycled, created both a great visual and a great informational story.

Cork trees stripped of their bark from the CorkForest.org website.

Did you know that the cork from wine trees comes from special oak trees that can life for 200 years and grow in the Mediterranean countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria?

According to several websites I visited, including PBS.orgRecork.org and CorkForest.org, the trees not not harmed during the harvesting process, there are thousands of workers who strip the bark creating jobs for many people and the trees themselves protect the land they are on from neglect or being developed. Most people don't realize that natural corks are more eco-friendly than plastic or screw caps because the cork can be recycled into a number of products that extend the life of the material even further while the millions of acres of harvested trees soak up millions of tons of carbon dioxide, a leading green house gas. So the trees create a replenish-able, recyclable material and jobs all at the same time.

Only the bark is removed and it's harvested every 8 to 12 years. This results in a tree that helps the environment more because it absorbs five times more carbon from the air than a tree that has never been harvested. Who knew that? I didn't.

So where did I get that great picture of the used corks? At San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Tucked right in between the Ferry Plaza Wine Bar. . .

And the Imperial Tea Court. . .

I spotted these bins along the wall.

Intrigued, I stopped to take a peek and thought how cool that the Ferry Building was helping to promote the recycling of used wine corks by setting these bins out for shoppers to see.

After I got home I went to the Recork.org website and began learning all about the cork growing, manufacturing and recycling processes.

Then I found a second website called CorkForest.org that had even better photos of the harvesting process.

I just wanted to let you know that there are cork recycling programs out there :)

So I wanted to share this information with you in case you're a wine drinker or a business that serves wine and you throw your corks away because you didn't realize they could be upcycled into something new.

To learn more about how to become involved as an individual or business please visit the following websites to locate collection boxes or learn how to set one up where you work.

www.Recork.org - Zipcode locator
www.CorkForest.org - List of participating companies

For more information about the cork growing and harvesting processes visit Where does cork come from? on How Stuff Works.

ETA: The only downside I could find about using natural corks vs. synthetic corks is that the natural corks can sometimes make a good wine go bad when the cork is infected with a fungus called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). The resulting "cork taint" can result in a wine that tastes musty or moldy and can affect anywhere from 5% to 12% of wines depending on whose article you're reading. For some boutique wineries and wine connoisseurs this is a deal breaker and they will opt for the synthetics. For a guaranteed success rate at protecting the wine from TCA, synthetics are the definite choice. And while a bad cork can ruin a bottle of wine, the overall consensus of the articles I read online is that natural cork is more eco-friendly than synthetics.

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