Did you know that in 1986 Rhode Island was the first state to pass a mandatory recycling law? However, back in 1986 no one thought of recycling cork. In fact, it was during this time that the wine industry began dealing with an increase of tainted cork. But why?
According to George Taber, a Block Island local and author of To Cork or Not To Cork, political upheaval in Portugal (the world’s largest cork supplier) caused the increase of wine spoilage.
During the 1970s, while Portugal went through “revolutionary chaos,” insurgents took over the cork industry for its economic value. Inexperienced in the manufacturing of cork, the liberators, who wanted to get the most out of production, used chlorine to whiten cork which contributed to and may have been the cause of the taint (Taber).
By the mid 1980s the use of chlorine stopped, however, tainted cork was already in the marketplace. Both spoilage and alternative bottle stoppers were not new to the industry, however, with cork trees harvested once every nine to twelve years and contaminated cork stoppers covering the globe, there was now a greater need for many wine producers to use screw caps or synthetic corks to protect their yield.
Today, industry experts still argue over which is better for wine: natural cork, screw cap, or synthetic cork. Although alternative stoppers do not seem to make much difference for wines meant to be drunk young, the science is still inconclusive on how they affect cellared wines (Taber). Currently though, there is only a recyclable program available for natural cork, and cork proponents believe cork enclosures are the only environmental-friendly solution.
Natural cork is a 100% biodegradable and is hand-harvested by bark stripping instead of cutting down trees. Cork can be reused to create composite cork for wine-shipping containers and cork floor tiles.
In 2008, Willamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon began the non-profit Cork ReHarvest program. Last year Cork ReHarvest started a pilot program with Whole Foods for natural cork drop-off sites. Earlier this month, Whole Foods announced that the program has expanded to all of its 292 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
In celebration of Earth Day this April 22, 2010, start saving natural cork stoppers and drop them off at your local Whole Foods.
Rhode Island Whole Food locations:
151 Sockanosset Cross Road
Cranston, RI 02920
261 Waterman St
Providence, RI 02906
601 N Main St
Providence, RI 02904