Can you compost wine corks? Or do you recycle wine corks? Both are possible. Cork itself is an incredibly unique wood that can be harvested in a sustainable manner. It doesn't even harm the tree. If you understand what makes cork so special, you'll also understand the proper ways to compost or recycle it.
Cork is made from cork oak, a tree that grows up to 65 feet tall. Yet the tree doesn't need to be cut down in order to harvest it. It can keep on standing and growing. Cork oak regrows its outer bark. About once a decade, the bark can be stripped off an adult tree without causing any harm. On average, a single cork tree can see its bark safely harvested 16 times in its lifetime.
Many cork producers are also working with the Rainforest Alliance. While these trees grow in Southwest Europe and Northwest Africa, the Rainforest Alliance itself is helping cork producers to earn Forest Stewardship Council certifications. These educate producers and place requirements on them to meet both social and environmental standards. This will help conserve cork oak safely into the future.
What makes cork so special? Why can't you use any old product to seal wine? Cork is light and possesses elastic qualities. This allows it to serve as a stopper in many bottled products. It's also impermeable so gases and liquids can't pass through it. This keeps whatever is sealed in a corked bottle fresh and unspoiled.
Make sure that the cork isn't actually a synthetic material made to look like cork wood. You can cut the cork open to check. Synthetic corks are foamy and look very uniform inside. Do not compost a synthetic cork.
If it's a real cork, remove anything artificial attached to it. This can include foil covers, plastic, or screw lid material. Anything plastic, from a synthetic cork to a plastic screw cap, can go in the recycling bin.
To compost wine corks much more quickly, chop the cork up to help it break down. As in any compost material, the more green elements (like grass, plant clippings, or leftover vegetable scrap) added into the compost, the quicker non-green materials will break down.
You can even do this with other cork materials, such as a notice board. Just make sure that they don't have glue or paint on them. You can cut these parts out and still recycle the parts without paint or glue.
Real cork can be recycled, but don't throw it in the recycling bin. Many stores have programs to recycle wine corks – you can take your corks into Whole Foods, for instance. Look for a store with Cork Reharvest Boxes.
There are also companies that have drop-offs at other businesses, such as ReCork and Cork Forest Conservation Alliance. You can search online for the nearest drop-off locations. If these locations are too distant, you can mail your corks in at no cost to CorkClub. There are other businesses that may offer these services, so don't be afraid to check. These are simply the ones that are accessible to the most people.
Of course, you can also reuse corks in home art projects. If you're recycling corks that were used in these projects, cut any parts with paint or glue off them before bringing them in for recycling.
So uncork a bottle of your favorite wine and explore your possibilities!