Wineries uncork recycling effort
What happens after a cork is yanked out of a bottle of wine? Turns out corks can be ground up and turned into other products, including flooring and wall coverings. A new program is working with a some wineries and stores to collect the old corks.
The Associated Press
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NAPA, Calif. — Something fresh is popping up in wine country, a save-the-cork effort that puts a new twist on recycling.
"All of a sudden we found that we had a product that had another life in it," says Roger Archey, program manager of the ReCORK America program that has signed up nearly 200 wineries, restaurants and retailers on the West Coast.
At issue is what happens after a cork is yanked out of a bottle of wine. Turns out corks can be ground up and turned into other products, including flooring and wall coverings.
But it takes a lot of corks to create much of anything useful. About 300,000 corks make up a ton. Collecting and gathering all those corks can be costly and time consuming.
Getting around that was the impetus for ReCORK, which is sponsored by Amorim, a major Portuguese cork manufacturer.
The group, which collects natural corks only, asks wineries, restaurants and retailers to serve as collection centers, gathering not only their own corks but also those of shoppers, diners, even employees. It's often as a simple putting as a big box in a corner.
The program began as a pilot effort in Oregon about 18 months ago and interest has picked up in recent months, says Archey, who is based just north of San Francisco.
Currently about 100 wineries are participating, mostly from California. About 80 restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area are collecting corks, along with Northern California stores of Whole Foods Market, which also is exploring ways to expand the effort.
The program appears to have tapped into bottled-up recycling desires.
"We have people coming in with bags and saying, 'Here are the corks I've been collecting for 10 years. Please do something responsible with them,"' says Adesina Stewart, regional green mission specialist for Whole Foods.
For wineries, the program is a chance to save surplus corks from bottling lines, used corks from tasting rooms and even corks employees bring in from home.
"Our employees have been very positive about it. It's great to get that chance to do one more good thing for the environment," says Allison Simpson, spokeswoman for Foster's Wine Estates, which has a number of wineries participating, including Beringer Vineyards and Château St. Jean.
The next step for Archey is finding more commercial uses for the corks in the United States. (What they won't be used for is sealing bottles, that's a one-and-done thing.)
In December, Archey shipped 1.7 million corks to a recycling facility in Portugal. About another 1 million have gone to Napa Recycling and Waste Services, which has been experimenting with whole corks in its compost. The recycling company now is looking into getting the special grinder needed to pulverize corks, says company public education manager Tim Dewey-Mattia.
Don't live on the West Coast? Other companies also are making it easy to give new life to old stoppers.
New Jersey-based TerraCycle, for example, invites companies and consumers nationwide to mail in their used corks, synthetic or natural. The company turns the corks into, logically enough, corkboards.
Saving the corks from landfills is worth it, says TerraCycle spokesman George Chevalier. "Any case where you can pick up some efficiency by reusing, it's a great gain."
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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