PHOTO COURTESY OF SOKOL BLOSSER WINERY
Cork is an important part of the wine industry. Maybe not as critical as the grape, but hard to think of a bottle without it. Salem-based Cork ReHarvest, an environmental nonprofit, is working to bolster cork’s importance as a manufactured good with a new cork recycling program.
The Cork Quality Council estimates 13 billion corks are used worldwide each year, and 1 billion in the U.S. Only one-third are recycled. “It’s a throw-away for most people,” says Cork ReHarvest executive director Patrick Spencer. There is enough used cork currently in the industry to put a cork in every bottle of wine consumed in the U.S. for the next 100 years.
Spencer founded Cork ReHarvest in 2008. To create the recycling program, Spencer created partnerships between Cork ReHarvest and wineries, Whole Foods, and Corvallis-based molded fiber manufacturer Western Pulp. Consumers bring corks to collection bins at Whole Foods stores. Trucks take the bins to Whole Foods distribution centers and then they are shipped to Western Pulp. Western Pulp expects to receive approximately 1.35 million recycled corks in 2010. It grinds down the corks and combines them with newspaper to make wine-shipping boxes.
It’s not clear whether the recycling program will financially impact the wine industry. Cork becomes contaminated once a wine bottle is opened, and cannot be reused to cork another, even if it is recycled. Spencer says recycled cork has a number of uses, including in flooring, shoes and packaging.
Winemakers hope the recycling program helps reverse a trend of using plastic corks or screw caps as closures. Cork has come under attack because it can ruin a bottle of wine with “cork taint.” In response, says Susan Sokol Blosser, founder of Sokol Blosser Winery, “there’s been a concerted effort to develop other closures.”
Even though plastic corks and screw caps are cheaper than corks, winemakers readily use corks because they are renewable, sustainable and create jobs for people living in the Mediterranean area where cork trees grow.
“Cork is one of the few renewable resources that we have available to us in the wine industry,” Sokol Blosser says.