Cork – A Sustainable Bottle Stopper

When it comes to closing a wine bottle, there are a couple of big cork vs. plastic vs. screwcap issues – which one keeps the wine better, and the eco issue. I’m just going to pretty much skip over the first one because I don’t know enough, the second is much easier to tackle though!

The one about which keeps the wine better, reduces the risk of spoiling, etc. can be up for massive amounts of debate (and frequently is). There are valid points on both sides, and from what I have read, I genuinely don’t know which is the better solution for closing a bottle with regard to keeping the precious contents in the finest possible condition.

The other argument is the environmental one and this one can be clearly and very easily won by the natural cork.

I think the easiest way to illustrate my point is just with the debunking of a few myths, so:

“Anything that involves cutting down trees has to be bad”

Debatable, but ultimately irrelevant, as harvesting cork doesn’t involve cutting down trees at all, but removing the bark, and each tree can be harvested once every nine years.

“Cork, like any other natural resource is finite.”

Pretty much everything is finite, but there is no shortage of cork. There is currently enough sustainably harvestable cork growing today to close every bottle of wine produced in the next 100 years.

“Deforestation hurts ecosystems”

Clearly, but as we already covered, we aren’t actually cutting anything down, and the plantation of commercial cork forests stop about 6.6 million acres of the Mediterranean basin from turning into desert, as well as supporting one of the highest levels of biodiversity anywhere.

“Wine producers are increasingly choosing screw caps and plastic corks because they keep wine better and are more environmentally sound”

Umm… no, producers are choosing alternative closures for financial reasons. Producing natural cork wine stoppers is much more expensive than producing plastic ones.

“Screw caps can be recycled”

Theoretically anything made of aluminium can be recycled, the problem is that with the systems currently used in most recycling sorting centres, something as small as a screw cap is not picked out and the caps end up in landfill sites. (Click to read the simple home solution to this)

“Plastic ‘corks’ are recyclable”

In exactly the same way as the screw caps, plastic corks are recyclable. The problem is that less than 1% of the plastic wine closures produced actually end up being recycled.

“Screw caps are an eco-friendly alternative”

Nothing made from aluminium is particularly friendly to the environment, due to the fact that mining for bauxite (the ore needed to make aluminium) is a massively destructive affair. The aluminium industry also uses just under 1% of all the electricity generated worldwide.

“Plastic is just a better option than cork”

There might be locic to this argument from a wine preservation point of view, but environmentally? – I think we all know by now that most plastics never really decompose or break down and once manufactured are going to be with us pretty much forever. Cork on the other hand can be re-purposed in many ways (more on that in a coming article) and will naturally break down and biodegrade, although not very quickly.

As if all of environmental reasons aren’t enough, there is also just something special about pulling a cork out of a bottle, it is part of the whole wine drinking ritual. I love that satisfying ploop noise and the smell of the cork. Plastic corks just are not the same and screw caps just feel somehow cheap and ‘not quite right’.

When the wine is sadly over and you are left alone with a pile of corks, then don’t worry, check out my suggestions for what to do with them next.

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