Useful and Fun Ways to Recycle Wine Corks
First and foremost, let's answer the question what is cork and where does it come from? There are about 2,200,000 hectares of cork forest worldwide; 33.5% in Portugal, and 23% in Spain. Annual production is about 340,000 tons; 52% from Portugal, 32% from Spain, 6% Italy. Once the trees are about 25 years old the cork is stripped from the trunks every nine years. The trees live for about 200 years. The first two harvests produce poorer quality cork. The cork industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly. The sustainability of production and the easy recycling of cork products and by-products are two of its most distinctive aspects. Cork Oak forests also prevent desertification and are the home of various endangered species.
Most likely there is only a minimal population out there that collects corks from personal use at a frequency that might warrant a recycling project, but for those of you that do collect them (or after reading this feel the need to hit the local wine bar and request a box of their corks - it's easily do-able, trust me!). There are a number of technologies that promote the use of cork, along with some fun, unique ways that you can use -- or rather, re-use them around your house. Here are some of these ideas!
Knife Holder and Cleaner: Corks work great as knife holders to organize and arrange them neatly and safely in your kitchen drawers. Simply glue the desired number of corks together in a row, and then place slits in the top of each cork and slide the knives in. Additionally, spare corks work well to clean knives in combination with a little cleaning solution and the lightly abrasive nature of the cork.
Cork Wreath: Very unique and especially if you've collected special corks from wineries or special bottles you have opened, this is an especially cool re-use project. Just purchase a grapevine wreath from the local craft store for a few dollars, get a big container of Elmer's glue and adhere these a section at a time, let them dry and reposition for the next section. Decorate with ribbons and plastic grapevines for an extra holiday touch!
Card Holder: You'll need a straight, sturdy cork for best results, but if you insert of slit in the top end of a cork these work great for displaying a business card, or even place cards at a formal dinner party.
Bobber for Fishing: I tried this over the summer when my six-year old lost all his bobbers, a wine cork is the perfect bobber replacement, although we don't know whether fish prefer red or white wine!
Cork Trivet: Glue them together in whatever pattern fits your decor, and you've got a stylish, safe place to set those hot dishes at parties or on the dinner table.
Cork Curtain: This one might be a little too "1960's", but it sure sounds cool! Drill holes thru the centerline lengthwise, and string them end to end and hang from a doorway. I haven't tried it yet, but it sure sounds unique! (And what a great entryway into a wine room or cellar, no?)
Corkboard: Just a cool collage of your corks nestled within a frame can be a great conversation piece and home decor item!
Mulch for Your Planter: Due to the natural porosity of the cork material, it will maintain moisture in your planter or garden. Grind it up really well in your blender or food processor first, then mix it in the soil.
Bottle Pouring Control: If you have a bottle of olive oil or something viscous that you always seem to have trouble over-pouring, cut a section of cork and jam it in there to help control the rate of the pour!
Cat Toy: I know, just about anything attached to a string can substitute as a cat toy, but kitty can play in style if you tie a line around a champagne cork, especially if you roll it in some catnip first!
Ice bucket: One of my personal favorites, I obtained an inexpensive, plain ice bucket (translation: I think it somehow ended up in my luggage after a hotel stay). Slice a bunch of corks in half, and glue them in an orderly fashion around the perimeter of the bucket in rows. Your guests will be impressed!
Wine Cork Baseboard: Like the "cork curtain" project, this one takes a bit of diligence and a huge appreciation for the love of wine, no doubt. Gluing wine corks (or split wine corks probably would look the best, like the ice bucket) all along the baseboards in one room will take some time, but will no doubt be a unique addition to your decor!
There are infinite number of ideas for utilizing and re-using wine corks, this is just a start! We here at Altfuelsnow would love to have you email us things to add to this prelimary list. If you would rather simply contribute to the re-use and recycling of this wonderful natural resource (and the beverage they preserve so nicely), here is a list of information about groups that recycle and/or re-use corks:
Yemm & Hart: This cork recycler utilizes the material for production of adhesive cork tiles for flooring and other miscellaneous household uses. To donate, send them by mail -- if your contribution exceeds ten pounds you'll receive some payment for it even! From their website: Yemm & Hart is collecting wine cork stoppers with the goal of converting them into a useful self sustaining product - to extend the useful life of this natural resource for decades and to raise awareness of the cork oak tree and its eco-system. At the end of 2007, approximately 3,000 Lbs have been received.
Recork America: This program is focused on obtaining used and surplus corks from winery tasting rooms, bottling lines and quality assurance laboratories. In addition, collection locations are established with key retailers and restaurants in larger metropolitan areas. A list of current collection locations is available on this Web siteNatural Cork, the kind of cork used in wine closures, is a perfect choice for recycling. Itís 100% natural, biodegradable and renewable. There is absolutely no reason natural wine corks should end up as landfill when recycled cork can become flooring tiles, building insulation, automotive gaskets, craft materials, soil conditioner and sports equipment.