What do you do with that cork you just popped out of a wine bottle? Most likely you throw it away (you certainly don't sniff it). Cork is a renewable crop; cork tree barks grow back nine years after harvest. Why not keep the cycle going with used corks? We all pop more than 13 billion corks every year.
Cork comes from Cork Oak trees, and Portugal is the largest producer of cork worldwide. There's the ongoing debate about cork being the best closure for wine bottles. It gets points for being sustainable and biodegradable, and for allowing a little air into wine to help it age. Downsides include cork taint, trichloroanisole (TCA), and over time, cork can dry out and often crumbles when when you try to pull it out of an older bottle of wine.
You know you can recycle wine bottles (and if you don't, Earth Day on April 22 is a good time to start). You may not know that you can also recycle corks, but you can. And I'm not talking about home crafting them into coasters or bulletin boards.
ReCORK by Amorim claims to have recycled 14,568,152 corks since they started their program in 2007. They get corks from wineries, restaurants and individuals. Used corks are ground up to be used in products ranging from floors to sporting equipment to shoes. WineFashionistas should check out shoes being made with cork by SOLE.
The Cork Forest Conservation Alliance (CFCA) advocates the protection and preservation of cork forests. CFCA began its recycling program, Cork ReHarvest, in 2008. They have collection boxes at grocers, wine shops and winery tasting rooms. Recycled cork does not go back into wine bottles, but instead is turned into insulation, cork bobbers for the fishing industry and other consumer products.
For Earth Day 2011, Kendall-Jackson Estate Winery in Sonoma County takes a stylish approach to recycling cork. The winery donated 1.75 million corks to Anthropologie, a sustainable-minded fashion retailer. You're probably thinking what in the world would Anthropologie do with all those corks.
Anthropologie's display project manager Erika Sorgule came across a cork recycle box at Whole Foods, one of Cork ReHarvest's boxes from the CFCA. She was inspired to find a way for Anthropologie to contribute to saving cork forests and educating the public about recycling cork. Thus, the display windows full of artwork made from used corks.
You can see those corks in action now in window displays at all 153 Anthropologie stores in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom. Colorful artwork made of painted corks is the backdrop for mannequins in head-to-toe Anthropologie outfits. Kendall-Jackson wasn't involved in the display designs. "Our artistic skills are limited to making wine," says Robert Boller. "Anthropologie's window designs are amazing and it's been a treat to just sit back and watch them work their magic with corks!"
I checked out the windows at Santana Row store in San Jose, CA. If you didn't know, you can't tell right away that the display art is made of cork. Get closer and you can see the many corks and how they're painted and cut and arranged. Too bad there's no signage explaining the windows and the cork recycling project. These displays are on view now through the end of May.
What happens with the corks after the displays come down? K-J and Anthropologie say the corks will be recycled by Cork ReHarvest into other products. There may be an auction of the cork displays, with proceeds going to help CFCA efforts.
I love this pairing of wine and fashion and hope other wineries will look for creative ways to recycle cork.
You too can get involved by saving your used corks. You can take the corks to a collection center near you. In San Jose I can drop off my corks at Whole Foods Market. You can send used corks to ReCORK, but they suggest you wait until you've collected 15 pounds of cork (get your friends to pitch in). Yemm & Hart encourages consumers to ship their used wine and Champagne corks to them for a line of wine cork tiles.
Encourage your local wine bar, retailers, and your friends and family to get in on the act. Corks have a second and third life, and it's a shame any end up in a landfill.
Follow Mary Orlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/WineFashionista