When I first discovered a plastic cork inside a bottle of wine, I was terribly naive to the true reasoning behind it. I guessed it was some savvy trend winemakers were producing or as an easier way to open wine. I was surprisingly impressed to first see a screw cap as the bottle opener. A friend from Europe finally reminded me about such problems as the increasing unavailability of cork trees in the world today as well as the cost of production.
The problem alone really made me think of so many questions. What does cork essentially do to the wine? What makes cork so amazing if we now have alternatives, some of which now claim to be better than cork? Are we doing anything else besides inventing other types of corks? How about preserving the trees or even recycling? Overall, what is being done to save this popular material that helps our wine stay so good?
Cork is still the most environmentally reliable wine stopper in the industry and continues to be most often used in bottling production despite the modern plastic corks and screw caps. Yes, corks have the risk of tainting wine, but some of the alternatives can actually degrade the wine rather than preserving it. Plus, corks are simply organic.
In 2008 CorkReHarvest was founded and has led the cork recycling movement in the US and Canada, helping to collect and recycle some of the billions natural corks that are produced each year. And since 2010 Whole Foods has been partnering with them on a cork recycling program, where customers can drop off their corks just as much as their plastic, paper and glass products. Different regions in the country ship the corks to different companies where they are produced into materials such as cork tiles and wine shippers. Hopefully, this recyclable option will help consumers become more aware of their resources, even if it is just a cork.
The cork may be fighting its own existence with the rising popularity of plastic and screw caps, but it remains not only the top wine stopper but the most renewable one, too.
Editor’s note: Updated from original post March 26, 2013