Corkfinger and cork recycling

2504578128_0c39415c60_mIn the classic Bond film, Goldfinger tries to corner the world market for gold. Is Amorim trying to do the same thing for cork?

Already the largest producer of wine bottle corks, ripped from the bark of trees in Portugal, now they want their corks back!

Amorim operates a newish program under the name ReCORK America that claims to keep post-consumer corks out of landfills, a laudable goal. They have already signed up some Whole Foods locations in Northern California and they recently announced the addition of American Airlines Admirals Club lounges. Soon to be heard in taxis everywhere, “Yes, honey, I’ve got the passports but let’s go back and grab the corks and bring them to the lounge!”

Despite language in the press release to the contrary, ReCORK America currently has no specific plans on what to do with the corks they receive other than to store them in a warehouse in Napa, as stated on their web site. Contacted via email to see if their plans had congealed, they only pointed out that their partners pay to ship the corks back to the warehouse.

By contrast, the green building firm in Missouri, Yemm & Hart has collected almost 8,000 pounds (about one million corks) of post consumer corks since 2004. They make them into cork tiles for flooring and are still accepting donations. Let’s hope one day they start making cork iPhone cases!

With 13 billion corks pulled from wine bottles every year by Amorim’s estimate, there are still a lot of corks headed to landfills. Because corks are a natural product, they can also be shredded and used as mulch in the garden or added to compost as a way to keep them out of landfills. And don’t forget cork art!

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23 Responses to “Corkfinger and cork recycling”

  1. I’m not overly sensitive on the issue of carbon footprints, but if the corks have been shipped from Portugal to California, placed in bottles, shipped out to me in Tennessee, is it a good idea to burn up some more gas sending them back to California?

  2. If global warming’s still going to momentarily melt the icecaps, cornering the market on nice floaty corks could be a winning strategy. If we’re instead headed for a long Winter they still have good insulating value!

  3. I thought they were all being used for your blog’s wallpaper Dr. V…

    This is greenwashing and greenwashing only.

    I have actually been surprised by the number of other blogs and publications that accept the “recyclable” product claim of the cork hook line and sinker.

    Recyclable into what? Where exactly do I recycle them?

    As with anything – all you have to do is to follow the money. Can they make new wine corks out of them – probably not, maybe new technical corks. It it cost effective to collect and do that? No way.

    The only motivation that makes sense is to convey the impression, but not the substance of being green.

  4. Check out Cork ReHarvest, a truly green program.

  5. I saw a great way to save corks. Put them in planters on top of the dirt. It helps conserve water, and you can look at them occaisionaly for the memories.

  6. Ed – hahaha

    Tim – indeed! The background of this blog is 100% recycled.

    Christine – Congratulations on launching Cork ReHarvest. You call “truly green.” Yet in the link you posted here, it sounds as if the program is still in development. (“Though the testing and evaluation process is ongoing, there is a high degree of confidence that these shippers will be viable product for Western Pulp and the wine industry.”) Could you explain?

  7. Hey wouldn’t it be cool if an entire wine store was made of corks? I mean everything from the ceiling to the floor tiles.

  8. Nice idea Amanda! How many corks you think, lol?

  9. Christy is closest, Amanda.

  10. Rather than an entire wine store, I’d like to see an eccentric billionaire create a private floating island from cork.

  11. I think this is the money quote:

    “Are all wine corks recyclable?
    No. Not all wine corks can be recycled. Only corks made from the bark of a cork oak tree are recyclable at this time. Synthetic corks made from petroleum-based products and aluminum screwcap closures are not recyclable and generally find their way into landfill. It is because of the difficulty of recycling plastic and metal that we are limiting the program to natural cork only.”

    We’re natural! We’re recyclable! Screwcaps bad! Corks good!


  12. Recycling is good. Green is good.

    But I always thought that the real issue was the protection of the wine. If cork cannot show that it is a better protector, it will go the way of the dodo bird.

    On the other hand, if any and all of the replacements for natural punched corks cannot show that they are better, they will go away.

    We have already seen that the plastic plug stoppers have not lived up to their billing. How long ago was it that Randall Grahm held a wake to memorialize the death of the cork, declaring instead that the plastic plug was its replacement. A few years later, when all those wines with plastic plugs had oxidized prematurely, the wake itself turn out to be as incredibly premature as the death of his wines.

    Still, for all that, I have never really understood why the cork industry has resorted to this argument when the real issue was the efficacy of cork. Go prove that premise boys and you win. Fail to prove it and you will fade away and your cork trees will get replaced with eucalyptus.

  13. Hi Charlie,

    A nice line of argumentation for cork manufacturers. Of course corks do have their problems too, such as premox and TCA, which is what gave the opening to screwcaps (Stelvin closures).

    Btw, as a point of clarification, those are what Grahm replaced his corks after the ceremonial funeral(s). I asked him about his decision earlier this year and he still thinks it was the right way to go.

  14. Tyler–

    Randall did move to Stelvin but his 1996 Cigare was closed with a plastic plug and was badly oxidized in a relatively short time because of it.

    As for cork’s problems, there is no doubt that the industry brought its problems on itself by ignoring TCA until alternate closures became a threat to its monopoly. I doubt cork will ever again have the market share it once had.

    In any event, as a wine lover, I don’t care what the stopper is made out of as long as it works to protect the wine, does not add its own character and allows a gentle aging curve at temperatures that are also beneficial to wine.

  15. Aha, Charlie, I didn’t realize Grahm tried out the plastic corks first.

    I just saw a news item that Annapolis’ Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs is collecting wine corks for recycling. The partner is a company called Terracycle that seems interesting even if they appear quite brand driven. Oh, and there are more things you can make from corks than simply cork boards!

    They pay $0.02 a cork. So, literally, you can give them your two cents worth!

  16. This just in from Roger Archey of ReCORK America:

    18 September 2009

    Dr. V,

    As a member of Amorim’s ReCORK America project team I would like to comment on your September 17 “Goldfinger” posting.

    I take exception to your description of “ripping” the bark from the trees. Mature cork oaks are harvested approximately every 9 years for the life of the tree (175+ years). The removal process does not injure the tree and is done with surgical accuracy by very skilled craftsmen. And by the way, the trees are not cut down in the process.

    I acknowledge that the ReCORK Web site needs updating. Here is some fresh information:

    Since the program’s inception in 2007 we have collected approximately 3 million corks. Half of these corks were sent to Amorim’s reprocessing facility in Portugal to test the viability of remanufacturing in Europe. Because of carbon footprint issues and shipping costs, our conclusion was to find a home for future shipments here in North America. To that end, we recently shipped 9 tons of cork to a footwear manufacturer in Vancouver, B.C. We have also identified several additional recycling partners in the US.

    In defense of Amorim’s “green record.” Amorim is the first cork manufacturer to go on record with a sustainability report. Their 2008 report was awarded top honors for environmental stewardship from and Drinks Business, a major UK drinks trade publication.

    A copy of Amorim’s 2008 Sustainability Report + a wealth of information on the company’s green initiatives, and cork in general, can be found at

    We are proud of what we have accomplished at ReCORK America and encourage your readers to join us in our recycling effort.


    Roger Archey

    ReCORK America

  17. Hi Roger,

    Thank you for your reply.

    One point of clarification: I stated that wine bottle corks are “ripped from the bark of trees in Portugal” not that the bark was ripped from the trees.

    Thank you for the update about ReCORK America. I’m at a loss as to why you didn’t provide that information when I originally inquired via email on 8/31. But I’m pleased to learn that you are, in fact, doing more than hoarding corks in a warehouse in Napa.

  18. As Director of Cork Re-Harvest.Org, I would like to take this opportunity comment on some of the issues raised in this Blog. The goal of our program is to recycle the 13 billion wine corks that enter the US every year, and to do so without increasing our carbon footprint. It makes little sense to specifically ship used cork by mail or other carriers to California or elsewhere and thereby increase emissions. In and of itself, cork in landfills is not necessarily a bad thing, but increasing the use of fossil fuels to transport it negates the recycling effort.

    At Cork Re-Harvest we have developed a program where all cork collected at Whole Foods Markets and other collection centers across the US and Canada are backhauled by trucks already going to recycling centers. We are working with wine distributors who already make deliveries to these stores. We are also working on a delivery model that involves other partners that will keep the carbon footprint increase to almost zero. As the program expands we will implement this model in every region across North America.

    The other aspect of our program is to help educate the public in the US about the potential devastation of the Mediterranean cork forests and to correct the misinformation about cork closures and the cork forests. The cork forests of the Mediterranean are a vital source of income for thousands of people and they support one of the world’s highest levels of forest biodiversity, including endemic plants and endangered species such as the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Imperial Eagle, and the Barbary Deer (symbol of the Maghreb). The loss of these forests would have a devastating effect on out planets ecological health. As our website is under construction, for more information about the cork forests please go to and

    One aspect of this debate that often gets overlooked is the screw cap’s environmental issues. It takes 12 times the energy to make a screw cap than a natural cork. There are 24 times more greenhouse gasses released in making a screw cap than a natural cork. Also most recycling centers do not recycle screw caps due to the plastic sealer in the top. Not to mention the devastation Bauxite mining causes to the earth ecological balance and the enormous amounts of energy the aluminum industry uses (1% of all electricity generated in the world).

  19. Tyler,

    What great discussion your post has generated! I work with Nomacorc, the leading producer of alternative wine closures (we produce more than 2 billion closures each year globally).

    We partnered with TerraCycle in January 2009 (you mentioned them in one of your comments above). TerraCycle is an eco-friendly company that collects pre- and post-consumer material nationally and “upcycles” it into unique home, office, and school products sold at major North American retailers including Wal-Mart, OfficeMax, The Home Depot, and Whole Foods.

    Through our joint program, Nomacorc closures collected by TerraCycle nationwide will be collected and upcycled into consumer products.

    The products TerraCycle has developed from reprocessed Nomacorc closures are recyclable and made via low energy consumption means.

    Retailers around the country (including Spec’s in Texas and ABC in Florida) are collecting post-consumer use Nomacorc wine closures with bins at retail locations.

    In addition to the Nomacorc closures collected in Spec’s and ABC locations, TerraCycle has 1,000 “brigades” across the United States that collect post-use synthetic wine closures.

    Like you said in your earlier post, every wine closure collected and sent to TerraCycle adds $.02 in charitable giving to the retailer or brigade’s charity of choice. TerraCycle takes natural cork closures as well to make it as easy as possible for consumers.

    It is also important to note that all Nomacorc products are 100% recyclable with LDPE food packaging (U.S. RIC 4). In addition, Nomacorc recycles all waste material from production and converts it into industrial products.

    Last but not least: while it’s key that we all do our part to be efficient and environmentally conscious, and this is an interesting topic to explore, in reality the closure is a minimal part of the environmental impact of wine.

  20. As happens with the best blogs, there are many views shared and spirited dialogue abounds. As such, I’d like to continue it with some thoughts about Katie’s post. I applaud the efforts of TerraCycle to remove as much recyclable material from our landfills as possible, not to mention their generous payment for those items. This is the kind of business model that is long overdue in our country and is a major leap forward in the commitment to our planet’s sustainability. Though recycling is not new, it is through the efforts of companies like TerraCycle that new ideas about what is recyclable, are being born.
    The idea that because a synthetic cork company aligns themselves with an eco-friendly company, they are somehow eco-friendly is green washing at best. The fact is that in manufacturing a synthetic cork, both green house gasses and carbon footprint is increased 10 fold over that of natural cork. This should send a message about a company’s eco friendliness, facts that a company whose competition is a natural, sustainable product may fail to mention.
    In closing I’d like to address Katie’s statement, “Last but not least: while it’s key that we all do our part to be efficient and environmentally conscious, and this is an interesting topic to explore, in reality the closure is a minimal part of the impact of wine”. I would suggest Katie, that you read the reports on the cork forests of the Mediterranean, at the websites of the Rainforest Alliance and the World Wildlife Fund. These forests are second only to the Amazonian rain forests in their importance to the world’s ecological balance. They are the home to the most endangered feline in the world (Iberian Linx, 115 left) not to mention having the second largest endemic species population in the world. The cork forests have been, for generations, the home and livelihood for thousands of independent cork farmers. These facts, in my opinion, are not “a minimal part of the environmental impact of wine”, they are the responsibility of all of us who enjoy wine. Wine is after all, an agricultural product and in saving one region of the world, we in fact act to save them all.
    BTW, how many times do you have to mention your companies name before it becomes a commercial?

  21. […] & Hart in Missouri has converted 8,000 pounds of used cork into flooring tiles since 2005, and the TerraCycle Cork Brigade has 1,000 collection […]

  22. It never even crossed my mind to recycle corks. I have thrown away more then I care to admit. I will look into what I can do. Thanks for the article. I love new little tips like this. Keep up the good work.

  23. Bamboo root barrier…

    […]Corkfinger – Amorim, ReCORK America and cork recycling | Dr Vino's wine blog[…]…


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