Renewable and Recyclable
Most modern wine cork factories utilize cork dust from the processing plant to co-generate electricity. Larger scraps are reserved for use in agglomerated cork production. Virtually every piece of the wood harvested is utilized. Solid waste is minimal.
The process is repeated every decade for the life of the tree. Harvested trees normally live past 200 years. They are generally considered to be more healthy than those trees that have never been harvested.
Used corks have long been collected for craft purposes to make wreaths, coasters, and in one famous case - a full size sailing ship that traveled Portugal's Duoro River. They are also popular with suppliers of specialty ground covers (playgrounds) and can used in mulch and soil conditioners.
Until recently, there was little opportunity to return the wine corks to a manufacturer for recycling into second generation cork products. The reason was primarily geographic as the vast majority of cork manufacturing plants were in Europe.
This has now changed with the advent of several recycling program in North America. Two of the fastest growing have opened numerous receiving facilities in the U.S. They arrange for delivery to industrial cork facilities, where the wine corks are ground into small pieces for reassembly into cork sheets suitable for flooring, gaskets and a growing list of new products.
Precious and versatile
The precious and versatile vegetable tissue known as cork is the outer bark of the cork oak tree, not the trunk, as people might think.
Cork is most easily stripped off the tree in late spring and early summer when the cells are turgid and fragile and tear without being damaged.
The tree quickly forms new layers of cork and restores its protective barrier.
No tree is cut down. This simple fact makes cork harvesting exceptionally sustainable, leading to a unique balance between people and nature.
The harvesting cycle is 9-12 years long, and it takes at least 25 years for a new tree to become profitable.
The first stripping produces cork that is too hard to be easily handled. It’s used in products like flooring and insulation.
9 to 12 years later a second harvest produces better material, but still not good enough for cork bottle-stoppers.
Only the third and subsequent harvests produce cork with an even structure good enough to be used for wine closures.
The cork oak tree will then provide a harvest for some 200 years.
Cork’s natural properties make it eminently suitable for its principle use worldwide: as a bottle-stopper.
It is very light, yet impermeable to liquids and gases, elastic and compressible, an excellent insulator, fireproof, and resistant to abrasion.
Above all, it is completely natural, renewable, and recyclable.