If you read your Chicago city guidelines carefully, you already know you cannot recycle regular wine corks. Guess the current recycling streams don’t accommodate this material. Look up how corks are made and you might be surprised to learn that cork grows on trees as bark. Premium corks are punched right out of the treated bark. Then they chop up the remaining pieces and use a special glue to put those together into what are called agglomerate corks.
But corks are needed, even as screwcap closures become more acceptable. And yet apparently even premium corks can go bad, according to Don J. Huffman, spokesperson for a new recyclable cork called Nomacorc, who presented a seminar recently at Eataly Chicago. Nearly 1 million bottles of wine are ruined each day by closure fault. Huffman said traditional corks have a 3% failure rate, so out of 12 billion wines closed that way each year, 1 million bottles go bad every day. Yikes. Talk about a nasty cost of doing business.
Huffman said several types of Nomacorcs are engineered to gradually release gases stored inside the cork and thus allow very specific amounts of oxygen to enter the wine. Which means the winemaker can tell consumers when the ideal oxidation point will be reached after bottling. An impressive technological accomplishment in an artistic industry like winemaking.
Huffman gave more background on the environmental impact of wine. Production of wine, he said, along with distribution and glass bottles, constitute 99% of a wine’s carbon footprint. The closure (at less than 1% of that) isn’t a big deal in terms of a wine’s environmental impact. But the new closure type by Nomacorc gives wines consistent, reliable protection from cork taint and oxidation while minimizing the use of plastic raw materials. They use a highly engineered polyethylene foam product that recycles with ease, and they use it in a co-extrusion process that incorporates 60% air, which at this time in history is still a renewable natural resource.
The company is committed to sustainability in its locations all over the world. As their sales keep growing, they’re actually reducing their energy use (via wind power and renewable energy sources) and using LEAN Six Sigma best practices in all their operations. Part of that is using very little water in their operations, and they are constantly encouraging innovation to reduce even the amounts they do use.
Another way they are reducing their carbon footprint is by purchasing materials locally whenever possible and using rail transport more often. Plus, their closures can be recycled right along with other plastics in the usual way. For more information, visit http://www.nomacorc.com/.
P.S. An alert reader sent me a note about ReCORK that recycles regular natural corks. Here in Chicago, drop yours off at a partner restaurant, Devon Seafood Grill, 39 E. Chicago Ave.