Dear Umbra,

Not that I am a big-drinking old lady or anything, but I find myself with a lot of wine corks that I can’t find a recycling outlet for. All of my retired farmer friends have made all the cork trivets the neighborhood can stand. What to do with our corks, please?

Marianne de Sobrino
Eureka, Calif.

Dearest Marianne,

Here I go, focusing on the big stuff again. I found your letter charming, and it does bring up a three R’s question along the lines of, should we drink less wine in order to Reduce? Is this our moral obligation as environmentalists? I think it cannot be. Renouncing wine would set us against millennia of human culture and history, in effect divorcing ourselves from our ancestors, when the very thing we wish to do is place environmental stewardship within the context of moral human culture.

Photo: iStockphoto

Phew, settled that conundrum. Now to the second R: Reusing corks in the form of the infamous hideous trivet, coffee-table top, bulletin board, corn-skewer pincushion, rocking-chair stop, slingshot ammunition, wall-art bumper, potted-plant aerator, child craft project, and buoyant key chain seem to be over in your neighborhood. I got all these ideas off the internet, let me assure you. Except the slingshot one. I also found photos of giant wreaths made from corks. Yuck!

As for the third R, Recycling: A brief reminder that cork wine stoppers can be shredded a little and composted or used for mulch. They are an organic material, aka oak-tree bark, and could take the place of bark mulch if you use it — or any brown, carbonaceous material in your compost pile. That is the only free way to recycle cork in the United States at this time.

In the antipodes, you would not have this dilemma. Australia has cork-recycling schemes, and so does New Zealand. In Canada, the Girl Guides (who I assume are the Canuck Girl Scouts) have cork drives wherein they collect satchels and satchels of corks and sell them to a cork manufacturing plant. It’s a fundraiser for the Girl Guides, and based on the little I read seems a healthier fundraiser for all concerned than selling … oh, wait, I’m not meant to talk about health. Anyway, sounds good.

Here in the United States, there is a Missouri company experimenting with cork recycling. Yemm and Hart Green Materials needs 1,200 pounds of cork to process its first batch, which it will make into blocks of cork and slice into thin sheets for resale. So, Marianne, what you can do for your neighborhood is collect everyone’s corks and ship them to Yemm and Hart. Not only will this be a great community service, but you will then be put on their list of donors, which you can see on their website. They’re tracking the poundage donated, and at last count they had 1,194 pounds. Note: the company will accept wine and champagne corks, but not those newfangled plastic stoppers.

I foresee that someone will write in asking whether plastic stoppers, corks, or screw tops are the best for the environment, and maybe I’ll answer that question someday if the letter is charming enough. But right now all I will say on that point is enjoy your wine, and recycle the glass bottle.

Oenophily,
Umbra