We rarely realize how much trash a single household is able to produce in one day. Now, if you are a big wine drinker, a restaurant or a bar, then you know that you throw away a lot of corks and a lot of glass. In an effort to help out the environment, why don’t we try to reduce what we throw away and do more recycling? Granted, there are communities that insist on recycling, but these are few and far between. One way that we can do this as wine drinkers is to recycle our wine corks.
A company in Fredericktown, Missouri called Yemm & Hart Green Materials is doing just this. Wine cork recycling has been practiced for years in Australia and Europe and they are making strides to begin the process in the United States. If wine consumers will send their wine and champagne corks to Yemm & Hart, they will ensure that they are recycled.
Yemm & Hart is conducting an experiment by offering to take the corks until there is enough corks to process. They will require approximately 160,000 wine corks and approximately 60,000 champagne corks for processing. The cork will then be processed in to thin sheets for tack boards, award plaques, coasters and other items made of cork. They are also considering producing wine cork floor tiles.
Once a package of corks is received they are unpacked sorted. Corks are sorted into pure, plastic and contaminated. Plastic wine corks are then donated to teachers for art projects. Those that are contaminated are manually decontaminated. Champagne corks with the wire will have the metal recycled. Those who contributed cork will receive samples and discounted pricing on those products produced from the recycled cork.
It is interesting that recycling of cork has not been brought up in the past. There are various uses for the material that seems to be so rare. This might leave you pondering – what exactly is cork? Cork is made from the bark of the Cork Oak tree. Portugal is a large producer of cork. There are numerous little unknown facts about cork such as that it is fire resistant, insulating and although porous, cork is able to provide barrier between air and liquid. The cork oak tree is also unique in that the tree not only produces oxygen, but the tree’s unique cell structure allows it to store carbon dioxide, which is the main cause of global warming. The Cork Oak tree also provides homes to rare birds such as the eagle and is an important part of the ecosystem in Portugal where the majority of the Cork Oak forests can be found.
Essentially cork is environmentally friendly, as they are biodegradable, natural and can be used again and again. Because of this, we should be more active in recycling the cork. This is common in Europe and Australia where wine drinking is part of many meals and they even have drop-off spots for the people to drop their wine corks at. The cork is then cleaned and decontaminated so that it can be used in a variety of different products such as:
- Pin boards
- Engine gaskets
- Hockey balls
- Safety Mats
- Boat decks
- Floor tiles
- Shoe Soles
- Art and Design materials
- Fishing rod handles
- Leather goods
- Protective helmets
- Table tennis rackets
- Dart boards
- Life jackets
- Even the little balls in whistles
It is odd that the United States would not take part in such an environmentally friendly procedure such as recycling cork. In addition to sending your corks off to Yemm & Hart for recycling, wine drinkers can also recycle their wine corks in their own unique ways.
Many people have donated corks to children’s museums while others make use of them in their home. Wine corks have been used for knife scrubbers, pin cushions and even wired together for hot pads. Slices of cork can be glued to the bottoms of lamps, vases and other knickknacks to prevent the scratching of wooden furniture. Corks have been used to create wreaths and decorations to displays and dioramas. Recycling cork is easy, you just have to get a little creative.
Each year there are an estimated thirty tons of corks that are collected for recycling in Australia. In their society, cork recycling is part of fund raising activities for voluntary organizations. These organizations collect the corks from various hotels and restaurants, wineries, clubs, hospitals and individuals homes. These corks are then sold to companies that manufacture products from recycled cork.
Several other countries are taking advantage of cork recycling as well, including Germany, Belgium, Canada and Portugal. Each country has it’s own unique way of collecting the cork and each program has its own website with more information on recycling your wine corks.