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09 February 2012

Put a cork in it

When 80% of the 20 billion bottles of wine produced in the world each year use natural corks, why do nearly all wine bottles in Australian bottle shops seem to have screw caps?

Is it a reflection of Australian culture?  After all, we drink a lot of beer with screw tops, perhaps we expect to be able to casually screw the top off a beverage.

Australia and New Zealand are among the leaders in this technological "development"--and it's uptake--along with other cork alternative, the Diam petrochemical plastic cork.  Commercial reasons must be driving the change because it's cheaper and reduces spoilage.  But, we seem to be accepting the move away from hundreds of years of tradition without much fuss.  Does some small percentage of wine oxidation really matter when we are once again replacing a truly sustainable solution with an non-renewable, petrochemical answer?

James Halliday posted his views of this debate and attracted some passionate replies! Apparently, the makers of screw caps contend that an aluminium cap generates less carbon in its manufacture and transport - compared with cork that has to travel all the way from Spain!

As someone comments on the Halliday post, "How can you suggest that screwcap production has minimal carbon footprint consequences? Have you considered the environmental impact associated with mining and smelting aluminium and the total amount of energy used in the process of manufacturing screwcaps? Transport is only one component when determining the environmental performance of a product over its life cycle."

And another reminds us that the bark of a cork tree regenerates and is harvested between 10 and 14 times during its 200 year life, in the process capturing 7 or 8 times more CO2 than had the cork bark never been harvested.

Australian environmental commentator Tanya Ha explains in her book Greeniology, the disappearance of cork is an environmental tragedy. "Cork is a wonderful, sustainable resource. The cork oak survives without chemicals, fertilisers or irrigation. Cork trees aren't cut down, only their outer bark is harvested every nine years....Over half the world's cork comes from cork-oak forests in Spain and Portugal. These forests are home to the endangered Bonelli's eagle and the Iberian lynx. As the world buys more wine with plastic stoppers or screw tops, these forests are losing their markets and the farmers are having to clear the land in favour of more profitable crops."

Cork is also biodegradable and readily recyclable so it does not need to end up in landfill. We have a well established recycling stream for cork in Australia.  According to the Planet Ark cork fact sheet: 

Girl Guides Australia has been a world pioneer in cork recycling, beginning its program in 1990. Since then, this program alone collected over 160 million corks. Currently, other community organisations including Motor Neuron Disease, Friends of the Zoos and Green Collect also collect
corks for recycling.

Both Biome eco friendly stores take pleasure in accepting your corks for recycling and handing them onto the Girl Guides.

Interestingly, Australia may lead the way with screw caps, but Planet Ark says, we also have the world’s largest wine cork recycling plant run by Logic Australia. The end result are new products like flooring, memo boards, placemats, coasters, floor tiles, gaskets, horse-float mats, boat decking and inners for hockey and cricket balls.

The story of cork is a common modern eco-dilemma, but we think that it is worth standing up for nature's solution.  It may seem like you're fighting against a tsunami of change, but every purchasing decision you make sends a message.

What Australian wine is bottled using a cork?

Searching online bottle shops, no one seemed to mention whether each wine has a cork or not.  The only winery that came up in searches was Harris Organic Wines, WA, who publish a statement about their commitment to corkWay to go!

We asked this question of our Facebook fans last year and they told us:
Brown brothers Riesling, Golden Grape Estate in the Hunter Valley,‎"Stones Gold" sparkling ginger wine, Brown Brothers Zibibbo Rosa, Bleasdale Vineyards eg. for "Frank Potts" Cabernet blend.

Perhaps you can add to our list by posting the names here or on our Facebook

Homewares made from cork

Cork wine bottle stopper

You can support cork through other products of course.  We have just introduced to Biome some cork homewares made in Spain from pruned branches and bark of oak trees grown on the Iberian Peninsula - a cork wine bottle stopper, cork trivet and cork soap dish.

Why not upcycle your corks into a real cork memo board?

Find inspiration on the blog. They made the gorgeous memo board pictured here from an old door frame and corks.

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


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