At a time when protecting our planet for future generations is more important than ever, sustainability seems to be at the forefront of conversations across all industries. From agriculture to energy and even wine, the sustainable stewardship of our land and resources has reemerged from the traditions of our ancestors, to guide us through our current environmental changes. And with it comes the understanding of a shared social responsibility to make better choices about where our products come from, how they are sourced, and the environmental footprint of that creation.
After spending several years teaching others about where their food comes from, working on a sustainable and biodynamic vineyard (Black Ankle Vineyards, Maryland), and studying plant science at the University of Maryland, the sustainable stewardship of our land both in agriculture and wine is near and dear to my heart and is the foundation for many decisions I make in my life. While Matt and Teona are talking music and food, I will be diving deeper into what sustainability means across the wine industry, beginning with the cylindrical closures that have been safe guarding our wines since the times of the Egyptians – The cork.
Here at the Bin, we pop a lot of bottles. And with that comes just as many corks. Over the years Bin has continuously gathered these corks and either reused them ourselves or passed them along to family and friends for various projects. Since returning to the shop almost three years ago, I had been asking, “why don’t we have a formal cork recycling program?”
Now, I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that we have partnered with ReCork, the largest cork stopper recycling program in North America. Through this program, corks are collected and developed into new products. And since 2008, ReCork has planted more than 8,000 cork trees and recycled over 91 million corks.
Bring us your corks! And join us in supporting the most sustainable and renewable forestry resource!
Why recycle cork?
A responsibility for our environmental impact is one of the most important factors for recycling. Cork stoppers absorb CO2 particles that have been retained by the bark of the cork oak. When a cork is decomposed or incinerated, it releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere. Recycling enables the CO2 retention capacity of the cork to continue. For each ton of cork stoppers, around 1.7 tons of CO2 is retained. And once retailed this capacity is ensured forever, as the reuse of this raw material is unlimited.
Cork is a 100% natural product that is completely recyclable and reusable. The cork stoppers used in the wine industry are biodegradable and do not pollute the atmosphere if they are thrown out. Once their first life in the wine bottle has been popped, recycled cork will never be used as a stopper again. Instead, you can find it in coverings, insulation, memo boards, high competition kayaks, badminton rackets, tennis and cricket balls, car and aircraft components, design, fashion, and a multitude of other applications. It has been said to be one of the most versatile materials available to man.
Main Characteristics of Cork
– Cork is a very light raw material, weighing just 0.16 grams per cubic centimeter, and can float.
– Each cork stopper is made up of around 800 million watertight cells. Among them is a gaseous mixture which allows it to be compressed to around half its thickness, without losing any flexibility, and to be decompressed and return to its original shape. This is what is called an elastic memory. Cork is the only solid which when compressed on one side, does not increase in volume on the other. This feature enables it to adapt to variations in temperature and pressure, without compromising its integrity as a stopper.
– Thanks to the suberin and ceroids, it is practically impermeable to liquids and gases.
– Cork is highly resistant to moisture, and therefore to subsequent oxidation and decay.
– Cork is an excellent thermal, acoustic and vibration insulator. In relation to wine, the insulating properties of cork contribute to cork stoppers being the best protection against variations in temperature.
The discovery of the amphorae has shown us that, thousands of years ago the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had already implemented cork to seal both liquid and dry products (but mostly wine) in containers. But it wasn’t until the mid-17th century did cork begin its inseparable relationship with wine; when a French monk by the name of Dom Pierre Pérignon made the choice to stop using traditional wooden stoppers, which had been wrapped in hemp soaked in olive oil, to seal his champagne. In Portugal, at about the same time, wine was first allowed to age in glass cylindrical. The bottle and the cork, together at last. And the rest we say, is history.
Protecting against erosion, millions of cork oaks all across the Mediterranean basin participate in an ecology that forms one of the richest ecosystems in terms of biodiversity, second only to that of the Amazonian Rainforest. Native to the Western Mediterranean Basin, the cork oak is an evergreen tree of the Fagaceae family, to which the chestnut and oak tree also belong. They are, mainly found in temperate and subtropical regions in the Northern Hemisphere.
The cork is the bark of the oak tree. The harvesting of cork does not involve the tree to be cut down. Instead, the forests are kept alive due to the process of manual stripping, performed by specialized tradesman with simply an axe. A cork oak must be at least 25 years old before it can be stripped for the first time and after its third harvest only then can the cork be used for producing cork stoppers. From then on, the oak tree is stripped once every nine years. Cork oak trees can reach a lifespan of 200 years, during which cork oak may be harvested (stripped) around 17 times. Stripping always occurs between the months of May and August. During this time, the tree is in its most active phase of growth making it easier to strip without causing damage to the trunk. It is this stripping that allows the cork oaks to regenerate naturally while increasing its ability to absorb carbon dioxide. A stripped cork oak, on average, absorbs five times more CO2 than an unstripped one.
Fun Cork Facts and Statistics
- 70% of the world’s wines are sealed with cork, as are 89% of the World’s Top Wines (Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2016, June 2017)
- In Ancient Greece, cork oaks were revered as the symbol of Freedom and Honor. Thus, only priests had permission to cut them down.
- Portugal and Spain are the world’s leading cork producers, responsible for 49.6% and 30.5% of global production, respectively. The rest is situated in Italy, France, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. World production of cork is 340,000 tons per year.
- There is enough cork in Portugal to meet demand for the next 100 years. Under a large-scale re-forestation program funded by the EU the forests are growing by 4 per cent a year. High quality cork forests in North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco) are being brought into commercial production.
- Cork oak forests, referred to as montados, are protected by law. In Portugal, where there is the largest cork oak forest area in the world, the cork oak is the national tree and has been protected by law since the 13th
- Each ton of thick cork planks can provide, on average, 66,700 cork stoppers.
- Cork stoppers are the only closure with a positive environmental impact; and is responsible for capturing 112g of CO2.
- It is estimated that every year cork oak forest retains up to 14 million tons of carbon dioxide.
- Each cubic centimeter of cork may contain around 40 million cells. There are around 800 million cells in a single cork stopper.
- The oldest and most productive cork oak in the world is the Whistler Tree, in Águas de Moura, in the Alentejo. The cork oak was planted in 1783, stands over 14 meters tall and the perimeter of its trunk is 4.15 meters. Its name comes from the noise made by the numerous songbirds that shelter among its branches. Since 1820, it has been harvested over twenty times. Its 1991 harvest produced 1,200 kg of cork, more than most cork oaks yield in a lifetime. This single harvest produced over one hundred thousand cork stoppers.
- Cork dust can be used in the cogeneration of electricity, making a valuable contribution to improving energy efficiency. Amorim, the worlds largest producer of cork stoppers, meets over 60% of its energy needs by using cork dust (biomass), which is a CO2 neutral source of energy.
- Due to the lightness and acoustic and thermal insulation capacity of cork, it is also used in wind turbines.
- Thanks to the thermal and weak combustion properties of cork, cork oaks are more fire-resistant than other trees. The slow combustion of cork makes it a natural fire retardant, forming a barrier against fires. Its combustion does not release smoke or toxic gases.
- Nothing is wasted from the cork oak, all its components have a useful ecological or economic purpose:
- The acorn, which is the fruit of the cork oak, is used to propagate the species, as animal fodder and in the manufacture of cooking oils;
- The leaves are used as fodder and a natural fertilizer;
- The material from tree pruning and decrepit trees provides firewood and charcoal;
- The tannins and natural acids contained within the wood from the tree are used in chemical and beauty products.